When members of the Salt Lick Denver moved into their new digs, the plumbing conditions at the time helped them come up with a name for the space and their online concert series: Songs From the Pond.
“We decided to call it the Pond because it was kind of unfortunately a pond at the time,” says founding member Jason Edelstein.
Edelstein, who is also the collective's cinematographer, editor and marketing person, says that the Salt Lick Denver came into being last summer and has so far hosted three bands — Mad Wallace, Immigrant's Child and Bear and the Beasts — in its DIY studio and venue, situated in the basement of a Denver house.
“Being a musician myself, I had noticed there’s so much talent and diversity in in the music scene here,” Edelstein says. “I wanted to create a collective to take all the different bands in the music scene and kind of put it under one name."
Edelstein sees the collective's shows as akin to online concerts series like National Public Radio’s Tiny Desk Concerts. The Salt Lick Denver isn't booking concerts based on genre, though most of the bands fall under the general indie-rock umbrella. The collective is already getting inquiries from out-of-state bands, but is currently focusing only on locals.
”The Denver scene has a lot of focus already and a lot of national attention right now for jam bands and electronic music,” Edelstein says. “We are shifting away from that and showing there is a different side to the Denver scene that people outside of Denver don’t know about.”
The Salt Lick streams its concerts on its YouTube channel, with the goal of tapping into certain algorithms on the site in an effort to give the Denver bands more national reach.
“All of the bands that are part of Songs From the Pond are benefiting from each other’s success,” Edelstein says. “The idea behind that is that anytime you have a large audience checking out one of our Songs From the Pond videos, they’re going to see all the other sessions we’ve done with other bands.”
The collective includes Edelstein, audio engineer Chris Voss, set designer Andrea Hoang, talent-discovery person Maya Bennett and audiovisual-production assistant John Baldwin. Edelstein says all the members are musicians, and at some point, they would like to include entire bands among their ranks. For now, it's just the five of them.
“Right now, we are focused on building up Songs From the Pond,” he says. “We try to support any band that we’ve hosted...so any time they put out a release or have some kind of new news, we will try to support them through that. In turn, they have been really supportive of us, too.”
As for the Pond, Edelstein says, Hoang painted a mural on the walls with a frog as the centerpiece and images of beans and squash and other random, trippy details in an effort to spruce up the space and give it more charm than an average basement.
“The frog actually glows in the dark,” he says. “Andrea has been scouring Facebook Marketplace and antique stores finding different, unique decorations for the space, so that even if it is a basement, it still feels like a really creative space.”
A centerpiece of the decor is a mannequin the group procured from a local antique store after a bit of haggling with the owner because the item wasn’t actually for sale. (Fifty bucks did the trick.) Bands can dress the mannequin however they want — including in their own merch. There are some limitations, though.
“She is very tall, and she has a very wide and powerful stance,” Edelstein says, "so she can't wear pants. She can only wear dresses and, like, maybe some cutaways, but that’s it. So that’s been kind of a challenge. A lot of people have tried to put pants on her, and pants don’t work.”
Edelstein says once it’s safe to do so, the Salt Lick Denver wants to move upstairs and start throwing outdoor shows, as well as a series of videos of Denverites preparing home-cooked meals. He says a lot of cooking goes on in the house already. A Songs From the Pond podcast is currently in the works and will include interviews with bands performing in the basement space.
The sound quality and videography of the concerts is quite good, and the group is currently planning one show a month so they can put enough energy into each production to make it shine. Getting good sound in a basement is no small challenge, and Voss spends a lot of time adjusting levels to get the audio just right. The video production is also high-quality, and quite a bit of editing goes into each one. They eventually want to host one band every two weeks. Everything is currently slowed down because of COVID-19.
The Salt Lick Denver is also figuring out a way to include a small audience in the tight basement space for future concerts, to impart a necessary charm to the performances that can be lacking in livestreaming.
“I like the idea of a crowd becoming part of the art as well,” he says. “That audience and band interaction really builds up a lot of energy for the band. It’s part of what makes going to a concert really fun.”
The Salt Lick Denver is currently livestreaming a new show on the first of each month. To watch past shows, check out the Salt Lick Denver website.