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Aquabear Legion: Made in Ohio

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Since 2004, Aquabear Legion, an Ohio music collective and website based in Athens, has worked with hundreds of bands, musicians, artists, writers and filmmakers from around the state.

Now it’s taking the next big step: becoming a non-profit organization.

Musicians Brian Koscho and Todd Jacops co-founded Aquabear and manage the day-to-day operations with the help of a dedicated crew of volunteers. The organization has promoted and staged dozens of concerts, released a handful of Ohio music compilations and featured countless articles and reviews on its website,

I spoke with Brian Koscho as he was putting the finishing touches on his new podcast, “The Moose is Loose,” and planning for the upcoming Aquabear Christmas Show at Casa Cantina.

BG: What was your motivation to start Aquabear Legion?

BK: It started with a concept that still drives it today: Ohio has a lot of great music. Todd Jacops and I both grew up in Lorain, just outside of Cleveland, 10 years apart. Todd came to Athens a few years before I got here in 2001.

We knew so many people in Cleveland making awesome music and had become involved with the unbelievable music community down here. Conversations just started happening: What could we could do to bring that all together somehow? The idea for a “loose collective” was established since we didn’t want to be a label, booking agency or a venue. We just wanted to put this music out there and maybe get a few more people to hear it. Which is still the main idea, though we do a lot more now. I think my motivation just came from being inspired by all of the great art being made. I mean, Ohio has such great talent and music, and being in Athens was an inspiring thing. Music had been so important to me that I think I wanted to be a part of that and do something to preserve and promote it. Just do my part in the community.

BG: Besides you and Todd, who else is helping with promotions, booking and other activities?

BK: Since we’re about to become a non-profit, we’ve got the makings of a board of directors. Todd and I are temporarily on as it gets going, but the rest includes people who have helped for years and years: Dan Prince, Kris Poland and Sherri Oliver. We had an intern and good friend, Zach Long, who moved on to Chicago, and Emily Prince and all of ARTS/West (where Aquabear has been part of the Arts Incubation program) have been a HUGE help and an invaluable resource.

BG: You’ve been working on becoming a non-profit for a while now. What’s involved in making that happen?

BK: We had been tossing it around and working on it for the past couple years, but now the final “dive” is happening. Todd and I both work at non-profit arts organizations (Passion Works Studio and Stuart’s Opera House, respectively) so we both have a lot of familiarity with how that works. It just made sense for Aquabear to develop that way at this point.

The process is pretty involved. We incorporated in the State of Ohio as an eventual non-profit, wrote bylaws, formed a board, and now we are finishing all of the IRS packet stuff with the help of a lawyer. We got a bank account, wrote budgets and all that boring grownup stuff you never think about! But it’s a good thing. It makes it official, which helps us draw more support in the long run. Aquabear has been able to do a lot of projects over the years with not much money, working project-to-project or show-to-show. But now we can point to all of the things we have done in the past seven years and try to raise money to keep doing these things and more. Once approved, we’ll be able to take tax-deductible donations and apply for grants for things like our compilations and the Aquabear County Fair. That’s exciting.

BG: Recently, Aquabear hosted a marathon recording session with 16 bands. What was that all about?

Aquabear 16 in 16

BK: 16 in 16! I have to give Mike and Jessica Maksoky the credit for making that happen. We had been talking to Mike for years about doing a project of some kind in his studio (Disjointed Studios), and we decided to record 16 bands in 16 hours. I stole the idea from something similar that was done in Columbus years back. We always liked the concept of putting a parameter or theme on something to see what would happen. We finished 10 minutes ahead of schedule at the second 2 a.m. (it was daylight savings time), which was unbelievable. It was a blast, both from the music/compilation/studio perspective and as a great environment to hang out in for a day. It was a perfect example of how wonderful the Aquabear Legion could be.

BG: When will it be released?

BK: Still figuring that out. It’ll probably be an online release, with a short run of screen printed CDs with packaging and all that for the bands and for our archives. Maybe a few available as a special raffle or a limited edition. Max Wheeler, who plays in Cophugger (who are on the compilation) does screen printing and wants to help. It will see the light of day sometime in 2012.

BG: What’s in the works for the next few months?

BK: The Aquabear Christmas show is Friday, Dec. 16 at Casa Cantina with Weird Science, Bonzai and State Park. Coming up on January 29, we’ve got our annual Aquabear Legion Pancake Breakfast at ARTS/West. It’s become an annual tradition with awesome all-local food. On March 9-10, it’s the 6th annual Aquabear County Fair. We’re planning on making the whole weekend of events free, so we’re raising money for that. There will be over a dozen Ohio bands at Casa and The Union, but we’re working on other venues and shows for that weekend, too.

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