Vanderhoof: The music scene Yale needs

Yale has a surplus of musicians but a noticeable lack of a visible and cohesive music scene. Even the Yale Music Scene blog is defunct now — after less than a year of activity.

But something may be brewing.

Last weekend, I saw Plume Giant play three shows in a span of four days. The first time was on Thursday, Oct. 14, at the Ezra Stiles open-mic night in the Crescent Theater, in front of about 15 people. The second, outside on Cross Campus, was as a part of the Sophomore Class Council’s oh-so-cleverly named outdoor festival, “Southern Comfort.” The third was actually a complete accident. I was eating dinner with a friend on Sunday in Branford when I saw Nolan Green ’12, Eliza Bagg ’12 and Oliver Hill ’12 come strolling into the Dining Hall with instruments and speakers in tow.

Obviously, I am a little obsessed with Plume Giant. Their EP is amazing; they’re great performers and ridiculously talented musicians. But the real reason I’ve devoted myself to Plume Giant over the last week is because they give me hope for the future of music at Yale. Listening to their sweet harmonies, I believe that there might even be a Music Scene (capital M, capital S) someday.

The concept of a music scene is very fickle and abstract. There are some obvious and famous scenes — like in Brooklyn or in Austin — with thriving venues, blog coverage, indie-famous bands and small labels. There are amorphous scenes created by music bloggers; genres that exist without real human contact. There are smaller scenes — like Baltimore’s Wham City or Denver’s Rhinoceropolis — that are composed of creative friends working together to throw concerts, party, and support each other’s artistic ventures.

The only time I’ve ever been a part of a scene — in my hometown of Albuquerque, N.M. — it was like this last type of scene, though obviously not as successful or well-known as Wham City or Rhinoceropolis. But Albuquerque was, at least for a while, full of small venues and bands, and I found myself going to a show or two every weekend. Sometimes the band members were actually my friends, and sometimes they were complete strangers. Sometimes they were wonderful and sometimes they were terrible. But every show was worthwhile. I loved meeting new people, dancing with strangers and screaming along to songs that I had seen performed a million times before.

The unrestrained nights I spent going to small, random shows were the highlight of my otherwise dull and meaningless high school existence.

I was surprised by how few people shared this belief when I arrived in New Haven one year ago. Sure, everyone loves going to Spring Fling and attending huge concerts at Madison Square Garden to see bona fide pop stars. But so few people are willing to spend a couple of hours listening to bands that they’ve never heard of. Even worse is the impulse of most Yalies to only attend shows hosted by their friends. This is problematic: Any functioning scene needs listeners to be fans instead of friends.

Fixing this entrenched habit is part of the reason why I’ve decided to be unabashed in my love for Plume Giant. Though I may not know them personally, their play count on my iTunes doesn’t makes sense for something I’ve just downloaded — and I mean that as a complement. I want to be a good fan, so I go to all the shows and recommend them to my friends.

This is how a scene starts.

I am a little afraid of looking silly because of how frequently I’ve attended Plume Giant shows in the last week. But I believe that live music is a transcendent experience. It doesn’t matter if you are not that into music; you can still find something special and important and human at a concert. I really experienced live music’s exceptionality for the first time at Yale during the Magic Man concert sponsored by WYBC last month. If you were there, you probably know how alive it felt to dance, yell, get covered in sweat, and not care at all. Plume Giant might be quiet but I think they have the heart and work ethic to bring that spark back to campus, full-time.

This spark is why live music scenes form — because people can’t get enough of that feeling, the feeling Yale needs right now.

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