You probably won’t be able to get into the newest concert series at Indiana University. Not because it’s exclusive, or because you need to make it on a list. You literally won’t be able to fit into the venue.
On a Friday afternoon, at the end of a Briscoe Residence Center hallway, past the equipment cases lining the walls, about a dozen people – musicians, audio technicians and videographers – were all packed into a single dorm room for the filming of the inaugural episode of Tiny Dorm Concerts.
Too small for any actual crowd, this first performance from local band The Side Hustle was recorded and edited specifically for YouTube – maybe to the relief of some hallmates.
“A lot of them thought we were going to be bringing in concert attendees and things like that,” said co-creator Natalia Almanza. “Obviously, we are limited to a small amount of space.”
Tiny Dorm Concerts isn’t shy about the amount of inspiration it takes from NPR’s Tiny Desk. In fact, Almanza said the idea came from bingeing the series over the summer and wondering if the same feat would be possible in a college dorm instead of an office.
Almanza sent a few texts to her friend and co-worker Eric Ashby to talk logistics. She and Ashby are both sophomore arts management majors, as well as peer mentors in the Civic Leaders Center living-learning center.
Ashby was in. He thought it would be a great way to highlight local musicians, “especially for first-year students who come in not really knowing about the music scene in Bloomington, which is actually really rich,” he said. “There’s a lot of really talented people.”
With some help from other co-creators Linnea Holt and Matt Lyko, Tiny Dorm Concerts became a reality.
It was Almanza who ended up making the ultimate sacrifice: offering up her own dorm room to host the taping. But she’s no stranger to this open house-style gathering. Last year, she held a mock art gallery of works by her friends in her bathroom. She lovingly called it “Bath and Body Works of Art Museum.”
“It was kind of a way to make art more accessible,” Almanza said. “[Tiny Dorm] felt like a natural progression from something like that.”
Friday, her room was jammed with equipment and people: amps tucked under bookshelves, a keyboard player posted up on her bed, a videographer pressed up against the sink – not exactly a fire marshal’s idea of a good time.
That claustrophobia is part of what gives Tiny Dorm Concerts its underground vibe. Well, that and the fact that Tiny Dorm Concerts is not an official group at Indiana University.
But Ashby says the group has tried to go about organizing the show in the most official manner possible, getting permission from the building manager, resident assistants and other leaders in their LLC.
Most importantly, they gave a heads-up to all their surrounding neighbors. “Everybody in this building who has been notified is cool with it,” Almanza said.
“Our first priority is [that] people live here. This is their home, and they have priority to do what they want in their own home. We try to be as accommodating as possible,” Ashby said. Part of that comes with scheduling performances as far from peak study and sleeping hours as they can.
Lead vocalist for The Side Hustle and senior jazz voice major Jared Griffin is taking that unofficial feeling in stride.
“I jumped at [the opportunity],” he said. “I just thought it would be hilarious – I just had this image in my head of somebody knocking on the door – ‘Hey, could you guys keep it down?’”
When it came time to record, The Side Hustle let loose with what Griffin calls a “smooth jazz-influenced approach to R&B.”
And weirdly enough, the acoustics in the roughly 10’ by 15’ room were surprisingly good. Despite being admittedly the weirdest place they’ve performed, Griffin said, “The sound is pretty nice in the dorm. It was better than some of the actual venues I’ve played in.”
Four songs later, Ashby was more than pleased with how it all turned out. He’s in the unique position of acting as both organizer and performer, playing drums for The Side Hustle. It’s plenty of work, he says, but it’s worthwhile.
“It’s really rewarding. I’m sending emails trying to book people, but then I’m running to rehearsal trying to get our music set, and trying to get my drums set up while I’m letting people into the building,” Ashby said. “It keeps me busy, and I love doing both… I love the chaos.”
As for the future of Tiny Dorm Concerts, the four students in charge are working to solidify the organization’s structure and standing with the university so it can run more smoothly, even after they have graduated.
While the dorms aren’t getting any bigger, Ashby is excited to see Tiny Dorm Concerts expand as a group.
“It’s turned into a really awesome community of people who have pitched in to make this happen,” he said.
Find more stories from Peyton Knobeloch on digital1229