News and notes from Fredericksburg's entertainment scene
An Itty Bitty success story
BY RYAN BROSMER
FOR THE FREE LANCE–STAR
Jay Frank spent his late teens and early 20s in Fredericksburg’s music scene, playing guitar and keyboards in the bands Kamikaze Escape Plan and Divide By Zero.
And a lot of that time was spent trying to find suitable venues in the area to play—no easy feat when you and your audience are too young to be hanging out in bars.
“It was tough for young bands to get gigs in Fredericksburg in the late ’90s,” Frank said of his time in the local scene. “The majority of the venues were bars, which meant all the shows were 21-plus. Even if we could manage to get booked, it was hard to draw a crowd since most of our peers were underage. We put a lot of effort into trying to change it.”
Frank was active in the Fredericksburg music scene during high school and into his early 20s. He even helped organize the Fred Collective, a precursor to Fredericksburg All Ages, but with the same goals of an inclusive community in mind.
But it’s been a while since Frank, 33, has been on the participatory side of a music scene. “I think I probably started writing songs because I needed an expressive outlet for young angst,” Frank explained. “Pretty simply, I didn’t really need that outlet after my early 20s, at least not frequently enough to keep a fresh set list.”
He and his wife, Bri Bevan, both Fredericksburg natives (having even being born at Mary Washington Hospital) moved to Richmond in 2001 when Bevan was accepted to the VCU School of the Arts.
In 2009, Frank was laid off from his corporate gig, and instead of despair the couple saw an opportunity. They began screen printing.
These days, Frank and his wife are self-employed, working together designing and producing original screen-printed artwork as Itty Bitty Press. They also travel around Virginia and D.C. art festivals and sell their wares online. Much of their work is hanging around the Fredericksburg and Richmond areas, in concert venues and on restaurant walls. And after seeing one or two it’s easy to recognize the clean but often whimsical or fantastical Itty Bitty style.
The screen printing started as a hobby, but it’s one that stuck. Itty Bitty Press launched in October of 2009, and less than a year later they held a “Take This Job and Shove It” sale to promote the couple quitting their jobs and going into art full time.
“As we got better we wanted to do more and more complex work, which demanded better equipment,” said Frank, explaining the turning point between hobby and full-time gig.
“We had to make a decision about whether to cut off spending and keep it as a hobby, or buy some nice stuff to work with and make some money at it. We chose the latter.”
The inception of Itty Bitty Press happened not long after the creation of the Fredericksburg All Ages music organization, and Frank and Bevan were friends with many of the people involved with that upstart group.
“Adam [Bray, founder of FAA] has been one of my best friends since our first year at Mary Wash together,” Frank said. “He needed some T—shirts for FAA right after we got started and we needed a test market. Our first set of shirts went over pretty well, so we kept going.”
Itty Bitty began producing show posters for FAA, cranking out about 20 over the next year. Many of them can be seen hanging over the stage in Read All Over Books.
Frank said that since leaving Fredericksburg he’s been back for about 30 shows, all of them FAA, but he and his wife take in the Richmond music scene, where an increasing number of concerts and other events are being promoted by their artwork. Venues like The National and the Friday Cheers summer concert series have tapped Itty Bitty Press for poster design.
When asked what their dream project would be, Frank said the answer has changed over the last year because they got to check off two such projects.
“If you’d asked me in January what our dream projects are, I would have sincerely answered, ‘The Dismemberment Plan and Mike Birbiglia,’ without skipping a beat,” he said.
They designed the poster for FAA’s anniversary show featuring Dismemberment Plan (a mutually favorite band of the couple) and got the job for comedian Birbiglia’s recent Richmond show.
“We were extraordinarily fortunate to work with both this year,” Frank said.
As for where they want to go from here?
“I think now I see it more as what project is going to best allow us to express our vision. That’s the work we want to be doing in the future.”
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Ryan Brosmer is a musician and freelance writer in Fredericksburg.