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Feature: Aquabear Legion Supports Local Musicians

By Eli Shively, Contributor Aquabear Legion isn’t a record label, nor is it a PR company, a music blog, or a booking agency. As a matter of fact, it probably could best be described as all of those things combined into one. Since its inception in 2004, the brainchild of Athenians Brian Koscho and Todd Jacops has done whatever it can to promote Ohio music, refusing to be pigeonholed into one category or another as an organization.

This versatility almost comes out of necessity in a community that needs all the help it can get from all the places that offer it--and the fine people of the Aquabear Legion are always willing to lend a hand, whether it’s through promoting a band’s music on their website or setting up shows for local artists.

“We wanted to try to do something based online that was different than a traditional label, production company, promotions thing, or music blog,” said Koscho of the original goals set for Aquabear. “We wanted it to be all of those things but still be adaptable as time went on.”

Although it did prove itself to be quite flexible in the years that followed, Aquabear started out as a humble web-based organization, releasing compilations of Ohio music for free as well as covering and promoting all things local. The “scene” at first only represented the small pockets of activity around Athens and Cleveland, another city that both Koscho and Jacops had a strong connection to, but later expanded to include the entire state.

Despite the broadening of their reach, Aquabear has actually directed its attention on more specific matters as it’s matured in order to put more of its energy towards what it feels it does best.

According to Koscho, “I think it has become way more focused now, much more of a focus on a few specific things and then the occasional forays into others.” Despite this, the website is still probably the most frequently updated aspect of Aquabear with news, podcasts, and plenty of free music consistently available. There’s also a lot of blog-based content on the site for those willing to look--it wouldn’t be too hard for any dedicated Ohio music fan to spend a few hours clicking around.

In terms of expansion, though, Koscho and Jacops have certainly been frying some bigger fish as of late. Their self-described “weekend of Ohio music,” the Aquabear County Fair, is set to take place for the ninth consecutive year right here in Athens from October 23 to the 25. In addition to the near decade-long run of festivals, they’ve recently reached another milestone as well in terms of releasing physical media--a compilation pressed on vinyl.

“I think we had always wanted to do a record, and it just felt like the time was right to give it a try, so we put it together and started an Indiegogo page trying to raise for $5,000 and had no idea if it would work or not,” Koscho explained. “We had raised a little under $1,000 in 2011 to put out a screen printed double CD compilation but had no clue if we could do something this big.”

As it turned out, the page raised enough money to release the compilation on a double LP, effectively funding one of the biggest projects in Aquabear’s history. As the fifth Aquabear compilation to receive some sort of physical release, it represents a huge achievement in the hearts of both the people who oversaw its creation as well as those who have been following the collective for a long time.

“The idea was to put something out that we could be proud of, that was representative of as much of the great Ohio music community as we could make it and to work with great artists to make it a visual statement as well,” said Koscho of the comp. “It was an unbelievable experience to actually help make a record.”

Clearly, a great deal of home-state pride is involved in all that Aquabear produces, and as two individuals who grew up on Ohio music, Koscho and Jacops have made it an even larger priority over the years to be as Ohio-centric as possible in everything the Legion does. A good example of this is how every aspect of the vinyl compilation is Ohio-based: It features music from 24 different Ohio artists, artwork from two visual artists based in Athens, and was pressed and processed in three separate in-state locations--including the famous Gotta Groove Records in Cleveland.

For Koscho, Athens in particular has become a big priority, as well. Aquabear was started during his days as a student at Ohio University, and has since made a permanent home for itself in the southeastern part of the state it works so hard for. Although the collective has since grown to serve the entire state, a good portion of the website and promotional aspects of Aquabear are still largely Athens-focused. This may be due to convenience of location, but as Koscho put it, “…[my wife and I] enjoy living in Athens. It’s a great town and has a lot of the benefits of a big city but with a lot of the benefits of living in a beautiful rural area with a lot less people too.” It’s apparent that his love for the city that has become his home fuels his work with Aquabear quite a bit.

Of course, the main thing that is and has always been driving Aquabear forward is a passion for music, plain and simple. It is out of that same passion that the collective has grown into what it is today--a support system for the Ohio music scene, doing whatever it can to build up those deserving. The Legion’s 11 years of existence have certainly been filled with hard work and slow, steady growth, but according to Koscho, it was all worth it.

“I think what's great about Aquabear is that it's not really a label,” said the co-founder. “It's developed into this thing that promotes good stuff and puts out some things and puts on a show every year, and that is in a really good place with me right now.”

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