This weekend the Berkshire Quad rocked to the sounds of several campus and off-campus bands as WCFM, SAC and the House Presidents, in a unique alliance, presented Williams’ traditional spring Musicfest. From noon to 8 p.m. the audience was entertained by the various genres of music represented, which included folk, ska and several flavors of indie rock.
Musicfest has suffered in recent years due to a lack of participation by campus bands. However, by inviting experienced, off-campus talent, mostly from the Boston music scene to play the event, it re-emerged this year as an integral part of Spring Fling weekend. The Boston acts who performed at the show, included Star Ghost Dog, Jack Drag and Veronica Black Morpheus Nipple. Williams musicians were represented by student bands Ray Brower and Faraway Laughter and by alumnus Drew Bunting ’97. Local folk singer/songwriter Bernice Lewis was also among the performers. Between sets, local DJ Professor Ping kept the atmosphere lively with his unique self-styled “electronic weirdness.”
Although early showers prevented many spectators from coming out to see the opening bands, by four o’clock the sun had emerged and the crowd had grown significantly, giving the quad a concert-like atmosphere. The bands played from an elevated stage in front of Prospect House as students lounged on the grass, played frisbee, and danced. Free refreshments for the crowd, which included cookies, strawberries and drinks, were provided by Driscoll Dining hall.
The first band of the day to perform was campus act Ray Brower. The Eddie Vedder-like voice of Jeff Lisciandrello ’00 and the adept picking of Luke Sundquist ’01 led the group through its set, which included some original songs and covers of Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry” and Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth.” The group used catchy guitar riffs and a semi-classic rock style to entertain the sparse yet enthusiastic crowd.
Local folk artist Bernice Lewis and her trio took the stage next. Lewis’s intelligent, witty lyrics, her folk rock sound reminiscent of The Indigo Girls and the emergence of the sun from behind the clouds brought a handful of students out from inside their dorms. Between songs, Lewis explained the stories behind her lyrics, giving her performance an intimate quality. Lewis’ numbers varied from emotional ballads to whimsical tunes concerning friendships, trees and, much to the delight of the crowd, marijuana.
Up-and-coming Boston indie rock trio Jack Drag performed next. Characterized by heavy, distorted guitars and distinctive vocals, this was the first true rock band of the day. Lead guitarist and vocalist John Dragonetti, from whom the band takes its name, proved a confident bandleader, using his somewhat sarcastic sense of humor to entice the crowd closer to the stage. Dragonetti used several different guitars during his set. Along with various synthesizer sounds, they generated different effects creating an interesting blend of noise and harmony. “Unisex Headwave” and “Surfin’ le Charles” defined the Jack Drag’s sound, galvanizing the melodic strains of Superdrag with a noisier edge.
The oddest-named band, Veronica Black Morpheus Nipple, was also the most distinctive act to play Musicfest. This five-person group from Boston combined teen angsty lyrics with indie rock ingenuity. Their lead singer, “Slain Tot”, was the first true front man of Musicfest. Dressed in tight, white spandex pants, red shoes and a white t-shirt with the words Sno-Cone written on the back in black marker, he captured the crowd’s attention with his pelvic gyrations and other antics. Veronica Black Morpheus Nipple’s sound was definitely guitar driven, as evidenced by such songs as the wild closer “Hopp on Popp.” However, the band used synthesizers and computer generated sounds to create goth Brit-pop tunes like “Take it From Me”.
The second student act of the afternoon, ska-rock/reggae act Faraway Laughter followed Veronica Black Morpheus Nipple on stage. By this time, the Berkshire Quad had filled and the scene had a genuine concert atmosphere. Lead by the charismatic performance of Dan Shirai ’00, Faraway Laughter energized the audience with melodic and entertaining songs. The setlist included originals such as “Neil Young” as well as covers of Bob Marley’s “Stir it Up” and Sublime’s “Santeria.” The highlight of the set undoubtedly occurred when saxophonist Jeremy Rothe-Kushel ’00 took the mike and rapped, in the tradition of Cypress Hill’s “Hits from the Bong,” about the positive aspects of marijuana and other natural “highs” such as love and music.
In perhaps the most well-received performance of the day, Williams welcomed back alumnus Drew Bunting ’97, recognized by many for his contributions to Grassroots, the college folk music organization. Bunting played solo guitar for half his set and was then joined by Jon Baldivieso ’99 on drums and Tyson Phipps ’98 on bass. With his humorous, engaging style and witty repartee, Bunting played several songs off his demo tape “Treat Your Buggy Well” and squeezed in a rock opera about Dean Potter ’98 and two covers of the Vaselines by way of Nirvana. Bunting was so popular with the audience that after his allotted set time was finished the crowd demanded that he play an encore. Finally, Bunting left the stage to raucous applause.
The final act of the day was Star Ghost Dog, an indie rock quartet that has accumulated a large fan base in the Boston area. Despite playing to a crowd that had decreased drastically in size after Bunting left the stage, the band was gracious and dynamic. Coupling the vocals of Ginny Weaver with a dual-guitar attack, Star Ghost Dog sounded like Boston colleagues Letters to Cleo with more of a groove. Lyrics of songs like “Master #1” and “Happylove” played like grade school poetry gone awry in the journey to adulthood. Highlights of the set included the upbeat “Downer,” “Happylove” and WCFM favorite “Plus de Vaches.”
Although hindered early by foul weather, Musicfest turned out to be well attended and appreciated. The cooperation between SAC, WCFM, and House Presidents enabled the large-scale event to be organized effectively and run smoothly. Shirai of Faraway Laughter found the event to be an enjoyable experience and a valuable one from his own standpoint: “I think there should be a day when everyone gets to pretend to be grander than they really are, and for us Musicfest provided that opportunity.” Hopefully, next year’s edition will continue to provide such opportunities for musicians and fans alike.