One thing I missed during my semester abroad last fall was living on a campus with a vibrant music scene. Having been back at Bates for a couple of months and having attended three shows, it has grown into something I cherish.
A jazzed-up version of the childhood staple “My Favorite Things,” Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” with heavy distortion, Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” with chorus drum-fills and an extended jam: these are a few examples of the quality and variety of music emitted from the guitars, keyboards, basses, drums, and voices of Bates students. No two student-shows are the same, and just like it was for the Grateful Dead, the audience does not know what to expect and keeps coming back for more.
One of the cool aspects about live music is that it creates a mutually beneficial experience for the performer(s) and those in the crowd. Justin Demers ’18, guitarist and vocalist for the student band The Remedy, member of the Deansmen and co-president of the Bates Musician’s Union elaborates on the feeling he gets playing live music in the smaller, more intimate venues Bates has to offer. He describes it as “a surreal, out-of-body experience that is a synthesis of the senses.” You feel each strum vibrate through your fingers. You see a mass of students an arm’s length away, most of whom you know. You hear the sounds you and your band mates have been diligently practicing the past few weeks to create. And yes, you smell the sweaty guy to your right.
Ian Clarkson ’18, of student bands The Remedy and the Bates funk band, as well as the jazz band and Bates orchestra, has played his fair number of shows as the most sought-after bass player on campus. As a musician, he finds the opportunity to perform in small Bates venues for his friends invaluable. “Since I feel comfortable in the environment, it gives me the chance to try new solos and continually create new music,” he says.
What interests me is why these student shows are always packed. It would seem that as college students seeking autonomy and variety in our lives, we would prefer to chill in a friend’s dorm room and bump our latest Spotify playlist. “The fact that you are seeing music made spontaneously in front of you…it’s like why people love theater, whether they know it or not,” describes Demers. “You could see a movie that’s been edited, or you could be truly present in the moment, dialed into the performer and doing the art justice.”
There is a lot of truth to this. We are very accustomed to final products, a tendency that stifles our ability to be in the moment. I often catch myself half-listening to an album or passively watching a movie because I am thinking about what work is due next week. Yet it is quite difficult to experience live music passively. It grounds you, helps you appreciate the process over the result and realize that the journey is the destination. This is something we are all working towards, exemplified by the wide variety of sports teams, clubs, and class years represented at student shows.
“The musicians at Bates don’t try to define ourselves by any genre,” remarks Clarkson with wide eyes. “Live music here could really go anywhere.”