‘If it works out, I’ve rebuilt a music scene:’ Music collective books local artists

Jace Pesina, founder of the College Town Music Collective, introduces KULE Saturday at Byer’s Brewing Company, 230 E. Lincoln Highway.

By Noah Thornburgh

DeKALB — Jace Pesina, 23, pushed open a metal door to the cavernous sound of wheels on pavement inside Fargo Skatepark. The after-school crowd of kids in helmets and wrist-guards were filling up the place as Pesina explained the plan.

“This ramp will double as the stage,” he said, pointing to a 4-foot platform where he envisions a band setup. “For $5, you can stand here during the show, and for $10, you can skate on the other side.”

The skatepark, 629 E. Lincoln Highway, will soon be the second venue the College Town Music Collective has booked, after an initial string of shows at Byers Brewing Company, 230 E. Lincoln Highway.

The idea grew out of Pesina’s time at Byers, where he works as a bartender. He began hosting open mics at the brewery in October. He quickly realized DeKalbians were craving an original music scene.

“All we have is the Space,” he said, referring to the DIY venue on Seventh Street.

Especially after the closing of the House Cafe, Pesina said the cover bands promoting local bars weren’t enough to grow a thriving music ecosystem.

“Music scenes are not built around cover bands,” he said. “There’s not a single place in the U.S. with a music scene built around cover bands.”

So, he booked his first show featuring local musicians for “Black Out” Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving. Local punk act Dumb Chunks headlined, playing with fellow DeKalb-based band “Richardson” Richardson, Chicago-based Sweetie and Danny Lamborghini, of Union.

From there, Pesina’s bookings eventually became the College Town Music Collective in December and inspired a career shift — Pesina began attending Kishwaukee College and plans to transfer to NIU for audio engineering.

“I could run it as a one-man show,” he said, but that’s not ultimately what he wants for his project. “It’s about involving as many people in this project as I can.”

After living in DeKalb for 21 years, Pesina said he saw the arts scene slowly fade away. He recalls the House Cafe eventually being dominated by Kickstand Productions, who booked a lot of out-of-town bands — the shows weren’t bad, he qualified, but they didn’t promote local bands.

Pesina doesn’t make a profit from the shows, he said. The money earned from selling ad space to local businesses like Jamrah, 209 E. Lincoln Highway, and Tapas La Luna, 226 E. Lincoln Highway, goes to the bands or into flyers for the next shows.

“It’s not about me, at the end of the day,” he said. “If it works out, I’ve rebuilt a music scene — I’ve given artists a home.”

Byers After Hours

At 7 p.m. Friday, Byers Brewing Company was filling up.

The place is set up like a horseshoe, with the tap on the right horn and the stage on the left. A double-doored entrance and a staircase to the upstairs tenants separates the spaces.

Pesina roamed around, lugging speakers and plugging cables, sweating under a headband and a white t-shirt.

“There should be more, soon,” he said, looking for the 42 people that marked “going” on Facebook and the 80 that marked “interested.”

Jack Kaniewski, drummer for Lightweights, a Chicago pop-punk band, stretched his wrists in preparation, surrounded by his bandmates strumming their guitars.

Kaniewski hadn’t been to DeKalb in five years — he graduated from NIU in 2012, went back for a few homecomings and said he didn’t have much reason to come back. This is the first time Lightweights has played in DeKalb.

At 7:30 p.m., Pesina sauntered up to the stage amid a growing cloud of smoke spewing from a machine side stage.

“I didn’t move all those tables back there for you to sit,” he said.

The bar had been rearranged to make some standing room for attendees. The heavy pine tables and benches were pushed away from the stage.

“Pits are more than okay, but don’t crowdsurf — that’s all I ask,” Pesina said.

Luke Ferkovich, of Madison, Wisconsin, and the frontman for KULE, stepped up to the stage with a guitar and a Macbook.

He said his drummer was out of town, but Ferkovich didn’t want to bail on the show, so he played backing tracks off his laptop and sang along. His curly red hair was smashed under a baseball cap that covered his eyes as he sang.

“This is my first time doing this, so thanks for coming out and supporting my act,” he said.

Ferkovich said he’s glad the collective is gaining traction.

“It’s dope that they’re getting shows back in DeKalb now that the House is closed,” he said. “Playing in Milwaukee — the people suck. Then I come to Illinois,” and he stretched his arms out wide and sunk into a big, relieved sigh.

At a table in the back but in view of the stage, two Elginites sat nursing beers. Brandon Garlick and CJ Inc, who run the Mountain King Music Collective in Elgin, inspired the College Town Music Collective, Pesina said.

Garlick said Pesina came to a show a few months ago and has been supporting them since, so they’re out here paying back the favor. Two of the bands on the billing, Binx and Billow, are from Elgin.

Music collectives act as a sort of network economy, so the more vibrant the scenes surrounding the collective, the more bands step up to perform and the more people attend the shows.

No one could manage all the shows out in DeKalb or Elgin and in Chicago — that’s why we need collectives, Garlick said.

“Plus, it’s nice that it’s in a brewery,” he said and took a pull from his IPA-filled mug.