A single mother, Nelson spends most weekends catching up with her three-year-old son, Kellan. Last weekend, she tried to sneak some Zone time into the afternoon, only to be distracted when Kellan said, "Mommy, look at my hat!" She turned to see her boy wearing a peanut-butter sandwich, its sticky sides clinging to his wispy hair.
Now, with Kellan safely asleep, she looks at the scores of backlogged requests. In addition to bands that want reviews and venues that need their shows listed, curious browsers are craving obscure information about long-defunct area acts. Whatever happened to Frogpond? Do you know where the Bubble Boys are now? Where could I find a Daily Grind T-shirt? Do you have a Go Kart CD I could burn? She realizes it's impossible to accommodate more than a minuscule number of them. Close to tears, she shutters the site, preserving only its message board, and leaves the message "I have very little left to give. I apologize to everyone."
Last week, Nelson revived a slightly altered version of the site, but that move was for archival purposes and carried no promise of mass updates.
"It's been hanging on its last breath for the past year," she tells the Pitch. "It was like cutting off the respirator. I was always having to apologize and make excuses, so I wanted to stop the stream of submissions, at least for a while."
The response, she says, was immediate. "A lot of people said they wanted all the listings back, but there were very few offers to assist me on that," she says. Helped at various times over the past few years by columnists Danny Alexander and Dana Detrick-Clark and writer Mark Cuthbertson, among others, Nelson now works alone. Given the Zone's professional-looking design and its expansive mass of data, most surfers assume there's a sizable staff, or at least a decent number of volunteers.
"People think it's this whole huge business, an eight-to-five operation," she says. "When I realized I wasn't going to be able to keep up with it, I asked for volunteers, and I got tons. I would give these easy assignments, like update ten bands per month or turn in one review or column per month, and people would do it for a month or two, then quit. I appreciated the help, but I could never find anybody that would commit."
Nelson devoted full-time hours to the site before Kellan's birth. In its early years, she had a "very part-time" job that took up only six hours a week, allowing her to make constant improvements to the Zone. During the height of its popularity, roughly three and a half years ago, the Zone hosted weekly alt-rock shows at the Grand Emporium. Nelson attended every one. "Kellan was born on a Tuesday, and I was there the Monday before," she recalls.
Nelson's situation isn't the only one that's changed. In 1997, very few groups had a presence on the Internet, so the Zone hosted band pages that provided brief musical synopses and contact information. Now, nearly all of the Zone's featured groups maintain their own Web sites, so Nelson simply links to their home pages, eliminating the middleman element.