By Max Weissman | March 8, 2021
From left to right: Sam Dwyer, Adam Russell, and Max Sanchez. Courtesy of Rachel Freeman
Walking down the stairs into The Byrdhouse, I could feel the vibrations of the schizophrenic bass coming up from my feet, notes quivering from my fingertips on the railing throughout my arm, and the pulsing of the beat through my body. I heard the screams of a guitar mixed with a voice of heat, snatching the sobriety from my ears, and I was thrown into the world of underground music.
After hearing stories of the basement turned concert venue people called The Byrdhouse, I knew I had to see it for myself. The only people introduced to the depths of the music scene in Albany are the talent, the connections, and the lucky few who slip in through the cracks.
The two main architects of The Byrdhouse are Rachel Freeman and Adam Russell. The pair, originally from Saratoga, played viola growing up. The 21-year-olds broke from their classical roots and helped to grow a welcoming home for any person or genre to call their own.
The Byrdhouse is one of a handful of underground music venues attended by college students,along with the Rice House, Canadian Embassy and the Orange Peel. The first show I attended was on Halloween night two years ago, and I was possessed with a small feeling of regret, asking myself why had I not come here sooner?
In college, Russell had already been exposed to part of the music scene in Albany as his band, Delphino, played in the area before. As for Freeman, she explained how she got “introduced to the music scene in Albany when I joined the radio station (WCDB 90.9 FM.). And before I even was a DJ, the GM at the time, Zoe, she actually brought me [and] my friend Katie to a basement show… and I loved it… I think that's where my real start to the music scene happened.”
The Byrdhouse did not begin as such. Russell explained, “there was a house called the Discord house, which was from Discord Records. And it was just this hub of independent music in DC…originally, in high school, I had a record label. We put out our own music independently and we [would] file it under Jank Records…And I thought, okay, we have the Jank name, let’s call it The Jank House.”
From there, The Jank House was born. However it did not last long.
“Everyone said, ‘that's a shitty name,’” said Russell.
Byrdhouse’s official name came when, “we were walking through Washington Park, and you know, there's a giant birdhouse…I don't know, it's like a sculpture, I guess. But at the far end of Washington Park, there's this giant bird house. And my friends, were like ‘any name would be better than that. Let's call it the Byrdhouse.’ We’re like, ‘yeah, that's pretty good.’”
The birdhouse in Washington Park that served as inspiration for the venue's name.
Credit: Lexi Johns / ASP
From there shows were organized, with Russell taking care of all of the sound and tech, while occasionally playing, and Freeman recruiting bands and musicians of all genres to play, creating a fun party atmosphere where “music is the center of it all.”
“It was free at first. But we were just trying to showcase talents and make it all fun. And anyone [was] welcome to come at that time,” said Freeman. “And then later on, when we started, we wanted to be able to pay the artists that were coming.”
As their reputation grew Freeman was able to branch out more and more, getting to know a lot of musicians and bands across all of New York and even parts of New Jersey. She said it was, “definitely extra work but we had our own little task force.”
Freeman continued, “It was really fun just making the atmosphere for the music community. And it was so nice to hear when bands were like ‘we are definitely coming back’…It made me really happy because a lot of people would find their new favorite band there. I loved it.”
Russell added, “It was work but it was the best kind of work we could possibly have. It was just cool people, we got to listen to great music while doing it” Russell continued “I would have done it if it was just the musicians. Like that’s the greatest thing to me and then the audience enjoying it is just a cherry on top.”
For the pair, hosting underground concerts out of their basement came with a cost at times.
“We are always about to hit our stride and then we get shut down,” Russell said, explaining the first time the Byrdhouse had to close its doors. “The first year we got shut down because our landlord caught wind. They picked up on a subtle clue of a giant white board that said, ‘SHOW NEXT WEEK PLAYING IN OUR BASEMENT.’”
The Byrdhouse was then revived in a new house. Their grand reopening show was coincidentally that Halloween show two years ago where I lost my underground music virginity.
Things had started to look better and better for them as each week passed. Russell and Freeman had started to charge a small fee for entry in order to start to pay the bands and get some larger ones to perform.
The projects they undertook became more and more ambitious. “I had all of the shows planned out for the rest of the semester and we were going to have Phoenix Fest, that’s a two-day festival, and had a new logo for merch,” said Freeman.
Then life as we knew it came to a stand still. In March of 2020, COVID-19 had started to spread across the United States, and The Byrdhouse decided that they would close their doors as a safety precaution.
Byrdhouse founders Adam Russell and Rachel Freeman. Credit: Bailey Lee / ASP
Getting to know Rachel and Adam, I gained a deeper understanding of what The Byrdhouse was really about and why they created it.
Russell’s first introduction to the world of music was at seven years old when his mom took him to the Café Lena. “It’s a great little holdover from the 60’s and just this little hole in the wall that… was just this historic folk joint, like Bob Dylan played there, that sort of thing,” stated Russell.
Although he was grateful for his mom exposing him to a part of the music scene in Saratoga, he didn’t really feel connected to music until he owned his first album: “the Blue Album, the Weezer record. And I was really obsessed with the song Buddy Holly…I could play that record, and that was just kind of mine,” he said.
Freeman explained how she found her love of music “when I started going to concerts when I was like 14… it's sort of embarrassing. My first concert was a Fall Out Boy and Paramore concert.”
Although her love for Fall Out Boy was just a phase, her instant love for concerts was there to stay. And since then she knew she “wanted to have, a concert venue. I was a concert addict. So, I always wanted to, like do the booking for it and just like be able to continue. I guess this addiction for me.”
Russell and Freeman were brought together through the band Delphino, the house band that Russell is in and is composed of the who live in the Byrdhouse. The band includes Emma Sutton on drums, Aaron Scannell on bass, Max Sanchez on lead guitar and Sam Dwyer on rhythm guitar and keys.
With Freeman already out of school and Russell and the rest of Delphino graduating at the end of this year, they are all preparing to pack up together and move out of Albany.
According to Russel, they plan on having The Byrdhouse migrate with them.
With The Byrdhouse moving on, it takes little reflection to realize the imprint it left on the underground music scene in Albany, as well as the part it had introducing myself and many others like me to music that was, apparently, right below our feet.