Virginia’s coalition forces take over Goodrich Hall with rapid-fire energy

The first weekend of the school year is always significant. First-years are on campus for the first time and upperclassmen are excited to see their friends after a long summer apart. This year one event made the first official weekend especially memorable: Virginia Coalition shook the rafters at Goodrich, setting a high standard for the year’s subsequent concerts.

The show was the event of the evening long before the band’s opening number. Hundreds of students lined up outside of Goodrich, waiting to get in and secure prime viewing space. As concert-goers impatiently awaited the nod from security, John Patrick and Steve Dawson, Virginia Coalition’s drummer and lead guitarist, respectively, sat outside smoking cigarettes and talking to fans. They were approachable and easy going, with tons to share about themselves and their own experiences, but just as interested in everyone else. The long line finally paraded into the building behind schedule. Goodrich hit capacity before the first song was over and left 300 students outside waiting anxiously.

Virginia Coalition is Andrew Wonder on guitar, vocals and bongos; Steve Dawson on guitar and vocals; Paul Ottinger on piano, keyboards, percussion and bass; Jarrett Nicolay on bass and banjo and John Patrick on drums and vocals. The band was formed four years ago by five high school friends from Alexandria, Va. and has put out three studio albums. Their latest release, Rock & Roll Party, is “musical pudding” according to Nicolay, who describes the band’s sound as “an eclectic blend of sonic qualities” and a “symbiosis of energy.”

Energy is the key word when describing any aspect of Virginia Coalition. At Williams, where many big-name acts have been ignored or poorly attended, energy is crucial to any band’s success. Happily, the audience was tightly packed in and happy to be there, dancing and singing along to the band’s go-go-rock sound.

”Williams showed love on a really different level [than the last time we played here]; this show set the bar even higher,” Wonder said. “The show was SHUZZZAMMM!” Virginia Coalition, which has performed at over 70 colleges, said that Friday was their “most memorable college show.” This statement should probably be taken with a grain of salt, but the band’s positive enthusiasm was unmistakable.

At the end of the set, Patrick came off stage covered in sweat and smiling. “Tonight was more than anything we could have expected. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen energy like that.” Like many college acts, Virginia Coalition feeds off of the crowd’s excitement, gathering momentum in constant give and take.

Event organizer and ACE president Drew Newman ’04 was quite pleased with the turnout. “I knew Virginia Coalition was a great band and would put on an awesome live show. But I had no idea that they would be as popular as they were at Williams…Some of my senior friends waited as long as an hour and a half outside to get in Goodrich! Since the concert, I have heard nothing but rave reviews from students.”

Lindsey Taylor ’05 arrived late and had to stand outside. “I stayed for about an hour listening from the line because the music was great. So many people were cutting the line that it became kind of useless to be in line at all, so I just joined the hundreds of people looking in through the windows. I wish I had gone earlier; the show rocked!”

Virginia Coalition is widely noted for their incredible live show. Representatives of a small New York City-based record label, Bluhammock, came to the show to try and persuade the band to sign. The label, which categorizes itself as “anti-industry,” believes “the future of music is the live show.”

Nichelle Sanders, a Bluhammock agent, was impressed with the band’s unique sound. “Virginia Coalition has been able to translate the go-go sound from something regional and small into something that is an amazing party vibe. They don’t need to be overproduced. They are organic; you can feel them on a real level.”

All five members of Virginia Coalition stayed backstage for over two hours after the show, talking to and drinking with Williams students as if they had nothing better to do even when they were sleeping in Albany, over an hour away, and were leaving for Baltimore early the next morning. The band also travels without roadies, which means they do the dirty work on tour, breaking down the set by themselves. But they didn’t touch their gear until they had spoken with all their admirers.

Ottinger explained the band’s policy towards fans: “We have an open invitation policy. You meet the craziest and coolest people at shows. Sometimes it’s sensory overload, but sometimes people say the most insightful and meaningful things.”

Virginia Coalition’s presence also sparked some concert antics that kept security on its toes.

“Once we reached fire capacity,” Newman said, “students tried every way they could think of to get into the concert! Security told me that they even found 10 guys climbing into Goodrich through the women’s bathroom.”

What will we have next at Williams – beer served out of a larger-than-life purple cow?