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The Dartmouth
May 27, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

The Passion Behind “The Scene”

One writer explores the evolution of Dartmouth’s unique band culture and student enthusiasm for live music.

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Courtesy of Spencer Meek

As soon as I came to Dartmouth, I knew that I was going to play in some kind of band. In high school, I played the drums and bass, and I hoped to continue pursuing my passion for music in college. But what I didn’t expect was to play in every student band that performed during my sophomore summer, in settings from poorly attended darties in backyards to raucous summer evening performances in sweaty chapter rooms. I didn’t expect to co-found two student bands, Exit 13 and Tightrope, that are still going strong without me — or to play with The Stripers in some of the biggest concerts of the summer. Though I only play with one band now, Gibberish, I feel like a full-fledged member of Dartmouth’s lively student band scene. 

Christian Beck ’24, founding member of The Stripers, said he has played music his whole life and, like me, knew that he wanted to join a band in college. However, he didn’t anticipate just how much the Dartmouth band scene would impact him. 

“It’s been the defining thing in my entire Dartmouth experience, without question … it’s played such a formative role in [forming] some of my closest relationships, in the people that I meet, in the people that I hang around,” Beck explained. 

This is a sentiment that I, and many of my fellow musicians, can relate to. Some of my closest friendships have been made and strengthened through the experience of performing together, and I have met so many people, like Beck, who I would have never met otherwise.

However, the scene hasn’t always been as inclusive and large as it is now. Isaac Weber ’22 is the second-longest tenured member of the scene, as he has been the guitarist for Read Receipts since winter 2019. He said he is pleasantly surprised by the evolution of band culture on campus.

“The scene used to be smaller and more hierarchical. There were really good bands, and then less good bands,” he said. “Now, there are so many good bands … there’s diversity in the type of music that is played, and there’s so much talent now.”

There are now bands that play country, punk, indie rock and even some grunge and metal, and all campus bands have devoted fan bases. As the hierarchy previously inherent in the scene has dissolved, the support from existing musicians has fostered an explosion of bands, which I have experienced firsthand. I wouldn’t have known how to rent equipment or mix equipment without the help of the experienced musicians on campus. Elaine Chi ’25, who is the lead guitarist for Carpool — one of the newer campus bands — said the community of musicians at Dartmouth helped her group integrate into the scene seamlessly.

“The music community here is so tight, and everyone is so supportive of each other, and I’m so glad to be a part of it,” Chi said. 

She also noted that the increasing gender diversity of the scene has been essential in establishing comfort and community. With the scene being primarily focused around male-dominated fraternities, the increasing number of female musicians in bands like Carpool, Gibberish and the newer, all-woman band Minx has served as a counterweight. Chi explains that this growth allows for female musicians and concertgoers to feel “safe” in these spaces. 

Now, I’m double-majoring in music, and I’m also heavily involved in our jazz band on campus. However, these are not typical traits of your average band member at Dartmouth. Bands are composed of students from a variety of different backgrounds, majors and extracurriculars. Surprisingly enough, there is even a large athlete presence in campus bands, despite their already packed schedules. The cross country team has had an outsized influence in some of the most popular bands on campus, and currently we also have soccer and football representation in student bands.

Weber, a member of the men’s cross country team, said he sometimes feels bad that his running has interfered with his bands’ ability to play gigs. However, he added that the influence of athletics is ultimately a positive reflection of the diversity of interests held by Dartmouth students.

“I wouldn’t say that it’s just athletics. I think it speaks more to how multifaceted people are here, and it’s been really cool to spend time with people in clubs, in athletics, or who are just crazy intelligent engineers,” he noted. 

The passion for our performance is why we all start our bands, but what has surprised me the most is the corresponding enthusiasm from our peers. The support for Dartmouth bands is amazing when considering our small student body. Frats are constantly looking for bands for weekend performances, to the point where most bands can play several shows a term. Even though there are over 15 bands that play regularly, most frat performances are well attended. Weber stated the fanbases for each band can even be “borderline cultish.” These facts all speak to the enthusiasm that Dartmouth students have for live music.

Beck noted that this student enthusiasm is most surprising when it comes to his band’s original songs, which they play alongside covers. Beck said he has received feedback from audience members, who sometimes get mad if a Stripers original does not stick on the setlist. For someone who only began writing songs just prior to his freshman year, Beck said this support encourages him and keeps him going.

There was a moment last summer at a Stripers show on the porch outside Beta Alpha Omega fraternity, when I had delivered a particularly nasty bass fill, and Beck gave me a shoutout. Immediately afterwards, the crowd began to chant my name. To me, that moment represents what I love most about Dartmouth’s music scene. Being in a band is hard work — you’re rehearsing for hours every week, negotiating with social chairs for fair payment, coordinating the movement of equipment, engineering live sound and promoting the event. It’s the passion that we have for our performances and the support that we get back from the student body that makes these nights, as Beck describes them, “the greatest nights at Dartmouth.”