Bloomington has a long history of music and arts spread throughout the entire community. From the early years of Hoagy Carmichaels’ jazz to the hundreds of house shows and local bands, Bloomington has always been a place for artists to thrive and grow.
In spring of 2021, Kingsley Wang was approached by his friend Max Difrisco with a request.
Difrisco had transferred to IU and was looking for a way to break into the music scene here in Bloomington. And Wang had just cofounded an organization called Music Industry Creatives, a group on campus aiming to help student artists forge connections within the music industry.
Because of this, Difrisco felt comfortable coming to Wang and asked if they could do a release show for his upcoming EP. After discussing what it would look like, they decided on a DIY house show.
But after multiple houses bailed on hosting the show, Wang ended up offering his own basement. As the boys made their way downstairs to check the space out, nobody doubted the room was ideal.
The dark basement was illuminated by neon signs and string lights strung from floor to ceiling. What was designed as a safe space inspired by psychedelics, became a DIY venue space. Each wall was packed with a kaleidoscope of tapestries. Bob Marley on one side, dozens of other trippy tapestries layering the other, and a sun and moon tapestry pasted to the ceiling, all harmonizing to create a psychoactive experience for any guest.
With a house full of musicians and instruments already filling the room, the house was the perfect venue for a concert.
On March 4, 2022, the first official Reef concert was held.
What started out as a few students quickly turned into dozens. Word got around about a free house show and more guests continued to arrive. By the start time, hundreds of students filled the basement.
This was right around the time students felt comfortable going out to parties and concerts after many had received COVID-19 vaccines. Students flooded the scene to see what all the hype was about and by the end of the night, a couch was being burned in Wang’s backyard.
“I honestly don’t know if The Reef would have even become a thing had none of the other house venues fallen through,” Wang said.
Now almost a year later, the location has shifted a minute down the road, in a house with all three co-owners. Wang, 23, and his two roommates, Michael Pezzuto, 21, and Briggs Blevins, 21, have created one of the most up-and-coming music venues in Bloomington.
The house has become known as the place to be on any given weekend. The Reef is well known for the iconic burning couch that appeared at its first ever show and made a reappearance several weeks later during Little 500 weekend.
Pezzuto described the energy of the shows as dynamic and alive. Whether people are crowd surfing or moshing to a song they have never heard before, the venue stays rowdy and authentic to the original mission.
Avid Reef goer and junior at IU, Peyton Smith described a night at The Reef as “an out of body experience for the first time.” Although the crowd can be intimidating at first, he said, once the music starts you feel like you’re on cloud nine.
“It really is something people need to experience before death,” Smith said.
The three boys have worked incredibly hard this past fall semester, ultimately evolving The Reef from a raging house show to a collective of art forms.
“We pushed to take everything Bloomington has to offer and culminate it into a collective of music, poetry, visual art, dance and love. Everything,” Pezzuto said.
The Bloomington community has been nothing but receptive to the range of ideas the three co-owners have produced, Pezzuto said. Anywhere from psychedelic bluegrass to alternative pop to even heavy metal rock, students show up weekend after weekend — no matter the vibe of the night.
Pezzuto sees Bloomington as a town oozing in talent and inspiration. With few other venues showcasing original bands, over cover bands, the goal of The Reef is to give these original bands a platform.
“Our goal is to prove that original bands are life-changing in comparison to cover bands,” Pezzuto said. “And I think we’re doing a damn good job proving that.”
“Promoters in town, who book for legitimate venues, have their eyes on us,” Wang stated.
He said this is because they can operate as a venue and have almost as big of a pull — if not bigger — than official venues in town.
Being young has set them apart from other venues and allowed them to connect with their audience, said Wang. They talk and connect with dozens of students a night at their shows and have created an environment where young adults feel safe having fun and being themselves.
However, The Reef hasn’t just inspired the community.
The Reef has allowed the roommates to experiment with different ideas and music concepts they hope to do in the future. Wang described it as a “relatively low-stakes environment” that they don’t have to worry about messing up, unlike in many other venues or jobs.
Pezzuto talked about how inspired he has become by this project. When talking about creating his own major, which he calls expressionism, he said his house has helped influence what he studies. Pezzuto described expressionism as a culmination of philosophy, language, music, visual arts, and hopefully someday film.
“It’s very influenced by this town. Very influenced by the revolving door that is my house, of musicians, artists and poets alike,” he said.
With all three being arts majors, The Reef is helping them achieve their goals in the future. Wang graduated in 2022 with a degree in arts management and Blevins is a junior studying arts management.
They are hoping to continue to grow and evolve within the music and arts industry. The future of The Reef is unknown, but the boys know they want to leave their mark on the town.
“We know for sure that we don’t want to let what we are doing for the local music scene to be temporary,” Blevins said.
They are along for the ride no matter where it ends up.
“If it needs me to go as far as pushing it to the top of the world, then I’ll do that,” Pezzuto said. “But if it ends after me, Kingsley and Briggs leave, then it ends.”
CLARIFICATION: This story has been updated to reflect the history of Bloomington’s music scene. In addition, the Music Industry Creatives said there is no current relationship between their organization and The Reef due to differences in their values.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correctly spell Max DiFrisco.