By Nick Brothers
It was all kind of magical. For Friday night’s purpose, The Backspace, a DIY venue, became a low key sound house. While the 13 member Ozarka Orkestra — sitting in the middle of the floor of the 800-square-feet venue — acoustically played their Balkan folk music, members of the crowd danced all around them. Their music had an enchanting charm about it, and despite the cops being called on this house-party-of-sorts 40 minutes prior, everything seemed to be going well.
“Everyone! The band is starting, please come inside,” said Zane Placke, one of the Backspace organizers, like a ringmaster.
Friday night was just getting started at The Backspace after Dana Louise cleared the stage for the final performance of the Ronald Rayguns. Located in the Trailside Village behind Theater Squared off Meadow Street, people of all styles, backgrounds and hair length milled about, smoking cigarettes, fiddling with their phones, and catching up with friends new and old outside.
For tonight, The Backspace’s insides are bare. Depending on the requirement of the event, the venue’s two couches, futon, assortment of lamps and ad hoc tables are set up to create a performance space, dance floor, meeting space or movie theater. Tonight, the furniture sat outside. The roof’s rafters are questionably held together by seemingly a trial and error of parts. There’s also an old handmade wheelchair in the corner, which was bought at Potter’s House for $15.
As the Ronald Rayguns, the band that Placke announced, rolled through their set of sing-along originals such as “Arkansas State Senator” and classic hits such as “Ophelia,” and “Don’t Let Me Down,” Samantha Sigmon — the director of The Backspace and executive director for the Fayetteville Underground — moved about making sure everything was operating without a hiccup. The music was goofy at times, but it contributed to the charm of The Backspace. It’s worth noting that the sound inside the shed sounded better than many of the venues in town thanks to the soundproofing by Sigmon, Placke and friends.
Afterwards came the debut of The Alaskan Firedogs, a completely improvised band. Like the venue, their energy was experimental, interactive and energetic. They sang songs about Dan Marino the wizard, Jesus Christ on a Saturday night, and Uncle Michael in Dream Land, getting the crowd to stomp along. The set culminated in the lead singer in his underwear and a Santa hat singing to a thin blonde dude in a dress while synthesizers sound-tracked their love.
Afterwards, Ozarka Orkestra paraded in. Playing outside at midnight caused someone to call the cops, but Sigmon and Placke handled things like experienced managers while members of the crowd quietly told occasionally dirty one-liners to pass the time.
It was music, and it was art. Most of all, The Backspace was an experience that night.
Sigmon grew up with the DIY scene in Fayetteville, and eventually went on to write her master’s thesis in DIY venues for her cultural anthropology degree. Because there weren’t any other DIY venues that were consistent other than La La Land in town, and with her new position at the Underground she decided to help give back to the arts community in Fayetteville and open up her own studio space for whatever people needed it for.
When Sigmon saw the place for the first time in March, a local artist was using it as a studio space. The walls were covered in paintings everywhere, and in one corner sat a stripped twin bed. What she could see of the walls were painted a “horrible” green color.
“It was a perfect little space in its dinginess,” Sigmon said. “That’s the charm about it, it’s just this unofficial little space on the side.”
Sigmon signed the lease soon after. The first event was a low-key fiction reading by Gabrielle Idlet, that Sigmon said turned out better than expected. After painting over the agitating green walls, The Backspace began to take on different forms for the myriad events it would host.
“I love how it works with every single event, and to have people that really respect and love what’s going on there is really nice,” Sigmon said. “I love how different it can be. If you just do music, it makes you into a certain kind of space. We can do anything.”
When necessary, Sigmon and Placke have had The Backspace house about a half dozen of touring bands from JR’s Lightbulb Club without a place to stay. The bands are usually pretty excited about the air conditioning, heating and furniture to sleep on, Placke said.
Renting the space costs $400 a month for Sigmon, but at every show there’s a donation jar to help keep the doors open. As far as helping run the place, Sigmon said at least 20 people are involved in helping her organize for every event, and Bottle Rocket Gallery, a local non-profit, pays a stipend to use the space occasionally.
“That’s what’s so good about Fayetteville, you can create a community without a lot of money,” Sigmon said. “Thankfully I have a group of friends who I can give the go ahead of ‘if you see anyone fucking with shit, kick them out.’ You have to deal with people being drunk and annoying or being too young. Sometimes we have to be like ‘Dude, this is a really important thing to us, don’t mess it up.’”
The Backspace has since grown to become a place for (lack-of-a-better-word) weird art and square dancing, and bands such as Rat Brats, The Who in the Fucks, The Brothel Sprouts, Theta Theorem and Ghandi’s Ballsack. Even with some unusual acts, the people there are supportive and interested.
“You’re at a place with people who want to to be at a DIY,” Placke said. “It’s just fun to be with people who share your thoughts on what’s rad.”
If interested, booking can be done by contacting Sigmon at firstname.lastname@example.org or by messaging her through Facebook on The Backspace’s webpage.
This weekend will start with the monthly Friday square dance hosted by May Bell Music. The music is live and instructors are there to teach how to square dance, keeping the Ozark tradition alive.