Nonpoint, Avatar, Eyes Set to Kill, Crown the Empire, RED and Volumes. Every one of these national touring artists have graced the stage in the small town of Erie, Pennsylvania within the last years. Several local groups have also shared the stage, allowing them to not only share their music but also to interact with other like-minded people. When talking about live music in Erie, it’s difficult to not bring up the name of Robert Jensen.
The scene in Erie seems to be growing because of Basement Transmissions. “Basement Transmissions started off as a record label in my basement back in 1998,” Jensen said. “I started putting out punk rock bands on CD and cassette tape as well as putting on my own shows in my dad’s basement. Eventually, we needed our own spot, and opened up the venue on State Street.”
Since then, Basement Transmissions has moved to a new location. “We had the opportunity to purchase the new spot at 145 West 11th Street,” Jensen said. “I will always love the old location because of the memories, but I just dig the new place.” “It’s amazing,” said head talent buyer Frank Sanzo. “The size is an obvious improvement but the love Bobby Jensen pours into the venue is contagious and genuine.”
Now that Basement Transmissions has this new spot, they can offer more than just a place for music. “We not only have the venue, but the café, the record store, the church, and the practice spaces in the basement,” Jensen said. “It provides so much more to the community than the old spot.”
Having moved recently, Basement Transmissions is in a busier part of town. The music at the old Basement Transmissions seemed to be more volume than tone oriented. As a live music venue, the importance of a good sound system cannot be understated. “There are several significant differences between the old BT and new,” said Steven Attenborough, local store owner. “The most obvious being the size and dramatically improved sound with the new PA system.”
Basement Transmissions seems to have made an impression on the community as the sizes of crowds, while they fluctuate, seem to grow. “Shows get bigger and better every night,” Attenborough said. “We seem to be attracting bigger bands all the time and there’s a lot of new opportunities for our locals to have great exposure to bigger audiences.” In terms of community growth, Basement Transmissions also allows people the opportunity to enjoy good, clean fun. Drugs and alcohol are barred from the premises. “I hate the effects of drugs and alcohol on our community,” Jensen said. “They mess up so many good things and make places unsafe for the general public. Every town needs a clean place to see entertainment.”
While Basement Transmissions is a local treasure, it seems some people don’t like the general area it’s located in. “It’s a rough area,” Attenborough said. “I have heard a few folks that say they’d rather attend shows elsewhere simply due to the location.” Yet some people enjoy the new venue. “It’s absolutely fantastic,” said local Ryan Connor. “The old BT was a good starting point, but it was small and cold. The new location facilitates a bigger crowd.” “I’ve been going [to Basement Transmissions] for about three and a half years,” said local bass player Anthony Sanzo. “I think the new BT is amazing. It’s one of the best things to happen to the Erie scene in years.”
Despite the dual opinion of Basement Transmissions, the community as a whole seems to know how to pull together to make the most out of the new venue. “It really takes an entire community to keep a place like BT running,” said Jensen. “I have been doing this with my fiancé, Jordan, for the last 4 years and enlist the help of hundreds of volunteers a year. It is very difficult and challenging but also a lot of fun!” The biggest reason people go to Basement Transmissions, however, is the music. “I love both live and recorded music,” said Jensen. “I really dig the aspects of live music, but I really dig the refined aspects of recorded music. They both feed off of each other and are both really important to me.” “CDs and records are great,” said Frank Sanzo. “Live music you can feel in your chest. Plus being in the same room watching and listening to music you enjoy while being with your friends is priceless.”
As mentioned before, Basement Transmissions has included national touring acts, but the real question is how much work is involved in getting them to agree? “It can be really stressful,” said Jensen. “But there are several other people involved in BT that help. Jordan, my fiancé, Frank Sanzo, and a few others. BT is very much a community based operation and lots of people set up the shows.” “We focus on several different areas outside of the major acts to help strengthen the scene so that the big shows are even bigger,” Jensen stated. “The local shows set the scene for all the bigger acts. So in all reality, it is way more than a full time job to get the bands from major labels to participate.”
Basement Transmissions has not only grown in size and scope but has also made an apparent impression on the people who support it. “It feels like home,” said Frank Sanzo. “And really in a sense has become a second home to many.”
William Stevens is a writer and the online editor for The Spectator.