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Longmont Journey: Music, motherhood and a high-definition record label

“I’ve always loved facilitating other people’s art,” Carson said.

Jessica Carson has a lot going on these days. Her band, Clandestine Amigo, released their second full length album. Her work with Boulder-based Octave Records keeps her plenty busy as well, finding new musicians and bands, producing albums and managing the label. Adding to the mix, Carson is weeks away from giving birth to her first child.

Clandestine Amigo’s second album, “Things Worth Remembering,” was recorded and released through Octave Records just last week. With her years of experience managing music festivals, booking artists and producing albums, Carson took the opportunity to cultivate a whole new sound with the band and add in musicians she’s grown to love from the Colorado music scene.

Playing music has been a part of Carson’s life as long as she can remember. Her mother taught piano and Carson took to it swiftly. Carson majored in commercial music at South Plains College in Levelland, Texas, with a focus on vocal performance and music business. Prior to leaving Texas, Carson played in a band with some college friends, the first iteration of Clandestine Amigo.

“I was always interested in being a self-sufficient artist,” Carson said. “From pretty early on it was clear to me that if I wanted to do it for a living, I needed to learn how to do everything for myself.”

Carson moved to Longmont a decade ago, playing in a band called The Prairie Scholars with her now ex-husband and fell in love with the art and music community she found. With a mind for organization and her love of music, Carson started working with musicians and artists in the Left Hand Artist Group and Arts Longmont, quickly moving into booking acts for local bars and restaurants. 

That work led to more consulting opportunities and by 2018, Carson landed a job at the Longmont Area Chamber of Commerce as an events coordinator. Working with Colin Argys at the Longmont Downtown Development Association, Carson collaborated on a musical festival that would become the Winter Walkabout. Though she had experience with booking and had coordinated the musical acts for ArtWalk, Carson said planning the Winter Walkabout was on a bigger scale than she’d managed before. 

The breadth of her experiences, both playing music and planning events, gave Carson a foundation to navigate the larger festival. Learning how to space out bands, where they could plug in equipment and whether the musicians would have to play under the hot midday sun for hours came from playing shows where everything had gone wrong, she said.

“Playing music has given me some pretty essential experience, so when I do book music I can really thoroughly think through potential issues,” Carson said.

In its first year, the 2019 Winter Walkabout had 12 venues and 30 performances throughout Longmont. The second year expanded the concert event to 18 venues and 50 performances, and both years sold out. Carson had just received a contract to book the 2020 Rhythm on the River for the city of Longmont as the COVID pandemic silenced live music everywhere. 

During the planning for the first Winter Walkabout, Carson connected with Tim Gulsrud of Soundpost Acoustics, an acoustic design consulting firm based out of the Experience Building at 471 Main Street in Longmont. Carson had been looking for someplace to host an afterparty for the walkabout and Gulsrud suggested the stage between La Vita Bella and Dry Land Distilling as a potential venue.

That partnership turned into the Soundpost Sessions, a listening room environment that would put more of a focus on the music over the social scene typically found when bands play in bars. Monthly performances ran aground during the pandemic, but Carson and Gulsrud quickly made the pivot to virtual performances to keep the Soundpost Sessions going. Though Carson has stepped way from the project, Soundpost Sessions has since moved to Longmont Public Media to continue the monthly listening experience.

Alongside the event planning, music booking and teaching piano, Carson kept writing music. Octave Records recruited Carson and Clandestine Amigo to record an album in 2019 and she worked on it slowly between countless other projects. When all the music booking and live performances came to a sudden halt during the pandemic, Carson said the only thing left to do was finish the album.

While recording the first official album for Clandestine Amigo, Carson got close with the team at PS Audio and Octave Records. Octave wanted to produce more albums, more often, and with Carson’s flare for logistics she was offered the position as director and executive producer for the high-definition label. Carson helps artists sign with the label, set up their recording schedules and find session players to join them on the album, guiding them through the whole process from beginning to end.

“It’s a lot of logistics and a lot of juggling,” Carson said. “At any given time we have eight or nine projects in the works.”

Compared to managing a one-day, eighteen venue event like Winter Walkabout, Carson said juggling nine different albums for nine artists is more than manageable. Carson feels like she’s found a new purpose. The experiences she’s gained through the past decade of booking, playing and accruing a network of musicians has culminated in this position with Octave. Since she started, Carson has produced albums for local acts like Foxfeather, Augustus, the Gasoline Lollipops and Bonnie & Taylor Sims.

Octave isn’t just for local acts, Carson said. Octave’s mastering engineer Gus Skinas has worked with musical legends from Pink Floyd and Otis Taylor to Yo-Yo Ma. Recent projects for Octave include recording an album for Grammy Award-winning cellist Zuill Bailey, as well as blues musician Otis Taylor’s fourteenth album. For Carson, it’s about giving musicians a lasting legacy in the highest audio quality possible.

“I’ve always loved facilitating other people’s art,” Carson said. “It’s one thing to offer them a show at a cool festival and another to work with them on an album that will live longer than they do. It’s a contribution to someone’s musical legacy.”

In her own life, Carson has some changes of her own on the horizon. She laughingly said she released a new album in September and she’ll be releasing a baby in October. Impending motherhood made her focus on how to best spend her time before her life changed forever. Wanting to give as much of her attention when her child is born, Carson recorded “Things Worth Remembering” and then put a third album in the can that will be released in 2022.

“I got to record all the songs that were really important to me before I have this baby and I feel super grateful for that,” Carson said.

Carson is looking forward to the changes that come with motherhood, including how she approaches music. Through all the work putting together two albums of her own, plus managing several other projects, she knew it would alter how she approached songwriting. After not writing new material for sometime, a fellow piano player suggested Carson try writing a lullaby. Carson said she sat down with the intention of playing something for her unborn baby and wrote a lullaby in five minutes.

“I can feel this shift in my focus and the core of my being where my songwriting comes from,” Carson said. “I’m totally all for it, I’m not resistant to it. This is what I chose. I wanted to have a family and I know it will change me as a person, my musicality and what I prioritize and I’m a hundred percent okay with that.”

Carson is looking forward to sharing her love of music and the vibrant community with her child, she said, and continue her family legacy. Carson’s partner is also a lover of music and the pair are eager to embrace the future together. Carson will return to curating more albums with Octave Records when she returns from maternity leave, helping more musicians cultivate their legacy and reach a wider audience.