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The Dartmouth
May 27, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Spotlight on Exit 13: Student band stands out in Dartmouth’s crowded musical landscape

Student band Exit 13 has distinguished itself on campus by blending popular appeal with elements of jazz, funk and improvisation.

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On their Instagram page, student band Exit 13 comedically bills itself as “the best Dartmouth band named after a highway exit.” Since its founding in the summer of 2022, Exit 13 has progressively become a musical mainstay on Dartmouth’s campus. The band is slated to play nine shows this term – the most  shows they have ever played in a single quarter – from typical fraternity concerts to live shows at local venues. The group is also practicing to compete in the Programming Board’s Battle of the Bands on April 27. If they win, they will perform an opening set at Green Key in May. 

For band co-founder and lead vocalist Sami Lofman ’24, the group’s success once felt more like a distant dream than a genuine possibility. Lofman recalled her admiration for upperclassmen friends who had formed bands before the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I’d always wanted to have a band … at Dartmouth,” Lofman said. “It was kind of a dream … that didn’t actually seem like it could happen.”

The pandemic paused much of the College’s student music scene, according to Lofman. At Dartmouth, much like the rest of the country, the inability of large groups to assemble meant that concerts could not take place. During the summer of 2022, however — as Dartmouth began to transition back to its pre-pandemic rules, allowing bigger gatherings — Lofman said her outlook on starting a band began to change. 

“[The summer of 2022] was the first chance to actually make it happen,” Lofman said.

With the revival of the music scene on campus, Lofman sprung into action, recruiting other band members through word of mouth. She was introduced to keyboardist Amethyst McKenzie ’25 and bassist Christian Caballero ’24 through mutual friends, and saxophonist Devontae Lacasse ’24 was brought into the band by McKenzie. 

“We were sitting in rehearsal and [McKenize said], ‘It would be so great if we had sax … let me call Devontae,’” Lofman said. “[Lacasse] just materialized [at rehearsal] within five minutes and has been part of the band ever since then.”

Caballero, Lacasse, Lofman and McKenzie have remained part of Exit 13 since its founding. Guitarist Aidan Adams ’24 joined the band in the spring of 2023, and drummer Ben Schirmeier ’27 joined this past winter, according to Lofman.

Although the revival of the campus music scene made it easier to form a band, the long absence of student bands at Dartmouth also created an unfamiliarity with band logistics, McKenzie said.

“At the beginning, it was super difficult,” McKenzie said. “I think because of COVID it was a time when band culture was just getting reanimated … [and] we were worried [Exit 13] was going to fall apart.”

Exit 13’s founders also said they experienced difficulties booking shows early in their existence. 

“[Booking shows] has been, historically, a pretty big issue for us,” Caballero said. “[There were] a lot of issues with trying to get [Greek space] social chairs to respond to us in time and finalize dates and times.”

The band members credit their increase in popularity over time to a few factors. In particular, they said departing from the typical mold of a “frat basement band” — which generally play more popular hits — helped distinguish them from the roughly 16 other bands on campus.

“We spent a long time trying to emulate what [we were] seeing … and play what would go over best in a frat setting,” Lofman said. “It’s been freeing these past few terms to … let our musicians shine … and play music you won’t hear from other bands.”

McKenzie agreed that the band’s focus on playing music they enjoy has helped the group grow artistically.

“At the beginning we were playing what we liked, but also whatever was popular,” McKenzie said. “Now we play whatever we have fun doing.”

The group’s departure from the typical catalog of campus bands has allowed Exit 13 to carve out a unique sound, described by Caballero as “a funky take on pop classics.”

“We’ve evolved a lot over the years,” Lofman said. “We’ve found a way to bring a jazzy, funky … tone to a lot of pop songs, or even new songs that the audience doesn’t necessarily know.” 

Beyond making Exit 13 stand out with audiences, Caballero said the band’s willingness to experiment stylistically makes the experience more meaningful for band members.

“I know there are a lot of bands on campus who try to be very strict cover bands … and it takes a lot of skill to do that,” Caballero said. “But we have the philosophy of, if you wanted to listen to an Olivia Rodrigo song as is, you would just put on the … song. If we want to do a song, we’re going to make it our own.”

McKenzie also said the group’s focus on an individual style of music makes being in Exit 13 an enjoyable experience.

“I love that we play what we want to play… because we know that we’re going to make it fun,” McKenzie said. “Everyone comes from very extensive musical backgrounds, and they have so much fun when they play.”

While many of the band’s members graduate this spring, McKenzie said the current musicians are motivated to make Exit 13 a name that outlasts its founding lineup. According to McKenzie, all of the senior members have been searching for younger students to whom they can bequeath their roles in the band.

“We definitely want to continue after the [Class of 2024] graduates,” McKenzie said. “It’s sad because we really think that we’re onto something [with our current lineup] ... but I still think it’s worth preserving Exit 13 as a place for people who want to be in a band that’s a little bit less of a [typical] frat band.”

In the meantime, those interested can see Exit 13 at a variety of concerts throughout the spring, including at Sawtooth Kitchen this Thursday at 8:00 p.m. The band will also release a music video on YouTube this Tuesday, according to Lofman.