Give Now

Hoosier Underground: Bloomington’s Basement Music Scene

The local music scene is not limited to commercial venues. The house show scene is alive and well in basements across Bloomington. But good luck finding a show!

My Personal Venue

The capacity at the IU Auditorium is 3,200. The Buskirk-Chumley Theater can accommodate 640. The Bishop has a cap of 200.

Mitchell Duncan’s basement can fit 50 people.

The washer/dryer is on one end of the room; the bands sets up underneath the staircase; and the audience gets cozy with the poles, low slung pipes and dips in the floor. He’s been throwing house shows for seven years, although he just moved into his current rental house.

His house isn’t easy to find. Like many hosts for house shows, he doesn’t advertise the address. Instead, houses have nicknames so people in the scene know where to go. It’s a form of crowd control and it helps them keep a low profile in anticipation of noise violations.

“This house actually doesn’t have a name yet,” says Duncan. “I don’t mind not having a name, but a lot of people are like, ‘Come on, you’ve gotta get a house name! Like, what’s the deal with that?’”

Down Low Music Shows

No address, no house name. How do you find the show? This is a community that thrives on word-of-mouth advertising. Want to break into the scene? You have to know somebody. Perhaps it’s gotten so exclusive that even Bloomington insiders don’t know about house shows.

“It seemed like the house shows stopped for some reason, or slowed down significantly,” says Dan Coleman. He books talent for the Bishop and he’s the owner of Spirit of ‘68 Promotions. He connects attendance at shows with interest in local bands, both of which he thinks are down right now. But that’s not what Natascha Buehnerkemper has observed.

There will never be anyone turned away from a house show as far as I understand. No one’s ever going to be standing at the door saying no you can’t come in if you can’t afford it or if you didn’t bring any money. The goal is to have people there experiencing music.

“There are so many house shows happening in Bloomington it seems like every band will play at least one,” she says.

I tried to attend the last house show she threw. I saw the event on Facebook. It started at 8:00pm. I contacted a friend in the scene who knew where the house was. When we arrived, it was dead. Apparently there was another show happening at another house that same night, so Buenerkemper’s show started several hours late. She says this is a pretty common thing in the house show world.

“There’s a term punk time, which basically means if you say your show’s going to start at 8:00, there’s probably a good chance that it’s going to start actually around 9:00 or 10:00,” she says.

Come One, Come All

Eventually, about 50 people attended this free, all ages event — two characteristics that make house shows special in Bloomington. Many commercial venues are 21-and-over and they almost always charge a cover.

“There will never be anyone turned away from a house show as far as I understand,” she says. “No one’s ever going to be standing at the door saying no you can’t come in if you can’t afford it or if you didn’t bring any money. The goal is to have people there experiencing music.”

There’s usually a suggested donation that the hosts collect by passing a hat around. All the money then goes to the bands, especially if there are any out-of-town groups on the bill.

Buehnerkemper is also a member of the band Ray Creature. Being a local musician, she never gets paid to play a house show, but she says the point of music for her doesn’t have anything to do with money:

My mom is constantly asking me, ‘Did you guys make money at that show, how much did you guys get paid?’ That’s never really been a concern for me… It’s really been rewarding for me just to be connected to the scene and make friends and talk music. It’s such a great community here. It’s like nowhere else I’ve ever lived.

Annie Corrigan

Annie Corrigan is a producer and announcer for WFIU. In addition to serving as the local voice for NPR's Morning Edition, she produces WFIU's weekly sustainable food program Earth Eats. She earned degrees in oboe performance from Indiana University and Bowling Green State University.

View all posts by this author »

What is RSS? RSS makes it possible to subscribe to a website's updates instead of visiting it by delivering new posts to your RSS reader automatically. Choose to receive some or all of the updates from Indiana Public Media Arts & Music:

Support For Indiana Public Media Comes From

Search Arts and Music

Stay Connected

RSS e-mail itunes Facebook Twitter Flickr YouTube

What is RSS? RSS makes it possible to subscribe to a website's updates instead of visiting it by delivering new posts to your RSS reader automatically. Choose to receive some or all of the updates from Indiana Public Media Arts & Music:

Recent Popular Music Stories

Popular Music Events RSS icon

More Events »Submit Your Event »

Arts & Music is on Twitter

Find Us on Facebook

This Week on Poets Weave

Photograph: Father And Grandfather Fishing The Pier…

fishing for perch

O'Neill reads "Anniversary Poem for Ann," "Tectonic of Love," "Photograph: Father and Grandfather Fishing the Pier at Michigan City, and "One Month After."

Read more »

The Poets Weave is a weekly five-minute program of poetry reading hosted by local poet Christopher Citro.

More from The Poets Weave »

This Week on Earth Eats

Judith Barter, Farm Bill Saving (Or Not), Cranberry Cocktail

Doris Lee: Thanksgiving

A conversation about how food and alcohol have been depicted in American art with Judith Barter. Turkeys on the farm. Cranberry cocktail shake-up.

Read more »

Earth Eats is a podcast, radio program and blog of the freshest news and recipes inspired by local food and sustainable agriculture.

More from Earth Eats »

This Week on Focus on Flowers

Thanksgiving Flowers and Leaves

maple leaves

For flower lovers, a Thanksgiving table is not complete without some blooms.

Read more »

Focus on Flowers is a weekly program about flower gardening hosted by master gardener Moya Andews.

More from Focus on Flowers »