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Preserving the Underground

Eugene Underground Music Archive collects the past and builds for the future

“I was born in 1984,” says Nicole Anne Colbath. “For me that Clash show wasn’t gonna happen.”

Colbath is referring to the legendary British punk band’s early ’80s concert at the UO’s McArthur Court. A flyer for that show is now safely housed by the Eugene Underground Music Archive, a nonprofit organization “dedicated to the collection of flyers and ephemera,” filed with 3,000 other Eugene-area concert flyers mostly from the late ’70s through the ’90s.

“It is sort of nostalgia,” Colbath adds. “I get bummed about shows I missed.”

As part of EUMA, Colbath and her partner Audra McCabe have mounted several exhibits of their collection, most recently at the former 543 Blair venue (now the Red Raven Follies’ Countdown Studio). EUMA is planning a larger exhibition sometime in spring or summer 2014.

McCabe says she looks at EUMA as a thread between the past and the future. “I don’t want it to be a funeral; I want it to be the future,” she says.

“Things have happened in Eugene,” McCabe adds. “Things are still happening in Eugene. We as a collective are doing things; it never stopped.” But Colbath says her work with EUMA, including a map of local arts venues past and present, stresses the importance of available space. 

“When you have these DIY spaces like art galleries and houses, then you’re fostering a whole community of art,” Colbath says, adding that one thing she’s found inspirational about hanging flyers is the stories she hears about the venues: “My first band played here,” “My very first show was here.” “It builds this whole conversation and dialogue about art in our community over the past 30 years,” she says.

Notable bands in the EUMA collection include TSOL, Mogwai and iconic Seattle band Soundgarden. “[Soundgarden] played a basement on 13th and Willamette for $3,” Colbath says. “And they had to put on the flyer that they were ‘from Seattle.’” 

In addition to some well-known acts, EUMA’s flyers feature familiar local and regional bands from the past three decades, names like Oswald 5-0 and, of course, The Cherry Poppin’ Daddies. 

McCabe and Colbath say they’ve had 35 contributors to their collection, some from out of state. One contributor had every flyer from every show he’d ever played in Eugene from age 15. 

“He had just been waiting for someone to show up and say, ‘Do you have any old flyers?’” Colbath jokes, and many pieces in the collection are from now-legendary Whiteaker venue Icky’s Tea House.

“The fine arts community is starting to pay attention to flyer art,” Colbath says. McCabe and Colbath stress EUMA is a nonprofit, whereas some art galleries nationwide are profiting from early flyers for bands that later became successful. “We’re just collecting them and presenting them,” Colbath explains. “The preservation is really where we’re at.”

In the age of digital media, the future of the physical concert flyer might seem uncertain. “I think there’s a backlash,” Colbath says. She feels young kids are oversaturated; they ignore Facebook invites, so they’ve taken to flyering. McCabe says underage people have attended EUMA events and she’s been noticing more flyers, particularly in the Whiteaker neighborhood of Eugene. 

“I think there’s something they really respond to being able to hold a tangible piece,” Colbath says.

Find more information about EUMA, check out its Facebook page at http://wkly.ws/1qz.