Student Bands on Campus: What, Where, How and Why

One writer looks into the nuts and bolts behind campus’s musical frontmen. Social: It’s not Red Rocks or Radio City, but Hanover sure is rolling in bands. Caroline Mahony ’25 gets the story on how student bands form and function.

by Caroline Mahony | 3/1/23 2:15am

by Elaine Pu / The Dartmouth

Students show up in droves to concerts where they can see their friends play on stage. Whether in a Greek House, in Collis Common Ground or at a formal in town, student bands are an essential element of Dartmouth’s party culture. I talked to six musicians from four current bands on campus to learn a little more about how bands come together, practice and eventually end up playing for a packed audience of students.

The number of student bands active on campus has exploded in a time without COVID-19 restrictions. Ed Gardner ’24, a member of the student band “Gibberish,” noticed this jump.

“In my freshman or sophomore fall, there were only like three or four bands and I felt like definitely this campus could support a lot more,” Gardner said.

Now, there are at least ten active bands, ranging from those made up of ’23s who have been performing since their freshman year, to new bands of ’26s just getting started. One such band is called “Catalysis,” composed of six members, the majority of whom are freshmen. Members Lydia Jin ’26 and Won Jang ’26 arrived at the College with the intention of forming a band and were surprised at how quickly they were able to find other friends also excited to start a band. 

Jin and Jang said they created a flier to find members for their band, but by the time they went to print it, they had already found four more members through friends and friends of friends. Of the bands I spoke to, many coalesced through mutual friends but also in more surprising ways, such as through Instagram DMs and random roommates.

On any given weekend there are typically at least two or three bands performing in various fraternities, and fraternities dedicate a significant amount of their social budget to attracting bands to play in their house. The pay range for a gig at a fraternity typically goes from $250 all the way up to $1,000, even though many students say that they’re just thrilled just for the chance to perform. Oftentimes, this money goes towards investing in better equipment, or paying for equipment rentals from Hanover Strings.

Singer and guitarist for band “Bellboy Elroy” Connor Norris ’25 didn’t know that bands were paid to play in fraternities until he was booking his first gig. He said this  wasn’t an important factor for Norris or his band in choosing venues.

“It’s just fun to perform,” Norris said. “Before coming to Dartmouth, I had never played on stage for more than two songs straight, and now we’re doing 12-song sets, which is taxing, but in a great way.”

His bandmate, Rishav Chakravarty ’25 felt similarly.

 “We don’t do it for the pay, we do it for the experience,” Chakravarty said. 

Adam Budin ’24, from the band “Tightrope,” said that bands evaluate a venue’s atmosphere, ability to attract a crowd, stage set-up and available equipment when choosing to play gigs.

 “We’ve got a good amount of people between all of our friends who are gonna come to all these things,” Budin said. “But if we had a show where it was just our friends, it would still be a good show, but it’s not gonna be an ‘Every corner of the room is filled, absolutely amazing energy’ [type of show].” 

Gardner noted his affinity for playing at Bones Gate fraternity.

 “BG was really awesome just because they have the stage,” Gardner said. “It’s just such a big space so when it gets filled up, it feels like you’re playing for a massive audience.”

“It’s not like Red Rocks or Radio City,” Gardner continued. “But it does feel really cool to have that entire hall filled.”

Psi Upsilon fraternity is another popular destination for bands, as is Zeta Psi fraternity, due to their built in sound system. Bands also love to play on the makeshift stage of Alpha Chi Alpha fraternity — lovingly crafted from pong tables supported by cinder blocks and cases of Keystone Light in true Dartmouth style.

Yet behind the glory of performing in the wee hours of the night in a frat bursting at the seams with rowdy college students is a significant amount of dedication: Crafting set lists, finding practice spaces, booking gigs and coordinating times that all band members are free to practice.

Bands keep up an extensive repertoire of songs that they spend a focused effort to curate into set lists that appeal to the frat concert setting. The members of “Bellboy Elroy,” for example, estimate that they have between thirty and sixty songs at their disposal at any given time.

Chakravarty noted this wasn’t easy. 

“I’m fine with working for those extra sets, but there’s fatigue in having that much music in your brain,” he said.

In order to keep up with this kind of musical knowledge, bands typically practice between two and four times a week. On the day of a performance, it can take up to five hours to set up at a location and complete a sound check. 

As the Hopkins Center for the Arts is currently under construction, practice spaces have moved to Sudikoff, to mixed reviews. While its walls are not as well soundproofed as the previous Hop practice rooms, Sudikoff offers natural light and a more central location. Instead of Sudikoff, some bands find themselves practicing in frat basements and senior apartments — there’s even an instance of a freshman band practicing in the basement of Mid-Fayerweather.

To book gigs, band members reach out to the social chairs of Greek houses — often at least a term in advance — to find dates to play. 

Elaine Chi ’25 of the band “Carpool” explained how her band finds places to play. 

“We all contribute to finding gigs,” Chi said. “The way you do it is really just through connections.” 

Budin said that over time, bands build relationships with contacts in Greek houses. 

“This past summer I was a social for my fraternity, so I could book myself as much as I wanted,” Budin added.

There is also a sense of camaraderie between student bands on campus. A malfunctioning amp or a missing guitar strap becomes a nonissue when a replacement is often only a text away.

“There are just a lot of talented musicians here,” Chi said. “We’re pretty supportive of each other, especially because in the music community here, most people are friends and know each other.”

“I’ve gone to other college campuses, it’s not like this,” Norris agreed. “[Here] it’s very welcome, very open.”

The celebration of band culture on campus encourages students to join or create their own — whether during their freshman year, their sophomore summer or as an upperclassman. While the logistics can be taxing on an already-strained student schedule, a small portion of Dartmouth’s musically-inclined take up the challenge and have a blast doing it.

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