Campus troubadors find refuge in AAA

Especially in the pervasive wake of Homecoming, it is often difficult to imagine that, here at Williams, there are sources of social identity that transcend the world of sports. Clearly, it is little short of an established fact that “athlete” is really just a roundabout way of saying “figure of importance,” whereas artists, musicians and kids who play tetris for four hours a day are much more commonly associated with words like, “nonner,” “loser,” “pathetic waste,” etc. Hesitant as I may be to admit it, I happen to fall more into the latter category, and was therefore very pleased to hear of the formation of a group of singer-songwriters, an “alliance,” as they like to call themselves. Much like a hippie commune, they have come together in an effort to take a stand against the forces of social conformity and establish both personal and collective identity through free love – of music, that is. . . .

In the words of its founder, Eric Beam ’10, the All Acoustic Alliance (AAA for brevity’s sake) “is meant to provide a setting for Williams musicians and singer-songwriters to meet, collaborate and receive feedback on their work.” Beam organized the club during the fall of last year, after deciding that musicians throughout the school were in sore need of a kind of community, as well as a physical space where they could be free to “rock out” with one another. At first, he told me, the process wasn’t as easy or successful as he’d hoped it to be. This year, however, has been far more lucrative, especially given the enthusiasm of the Class of 2011. “I had trouble getting upperclassmen involved,” Beam said, “so it was really important to get the word out to the incoming freshman class, which I think we did successfully. We even got a shout-out in Frosh Revue!”

As a musician myself, I decided to get a first-hand view of how the AAA functioned. This past Wednesday, I pulled out my old six string and walked over to Shainman Rehearsal Hall, where the group holds weekly meetings. Though it’s been months since my hair has been long (and even longer since it’s been in dreadlocks), I did everything else in my power to fit the earth-loving, war-hating “hippie” stereotype which I expected to find upon entering the meeting. I made sure to go five days without bathing, made some groovy hemp necklaces, bracelets and toe-rings and re-read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Reeking of hippie aroma (one part empty political ideology, four parts body odor), I journeyed with a band of rogue and mysterious wayfarers through endless tunnels of colors – extraordinary colors that had previously been completely foreign to my comprehension – before finally arriving at the rehearsal hall. Six string in hock, I took only three more hours to find my way through Brooks-Rogers before stumbling upon the minstrels.

Yet by the time I reached the meeting, my mind was reeling with a whole new difficulty, namely whether or not my hippie predictions were quite on the mark, considering the very name of the group. I was positive that these people were supposed to hate war, but the word “alliance” carries with it militaristic connotations that would suggest more of an underground reactionary front than a commune of free love. However, once the meeting got going and the sweet music got flowing, I immediately knew what the AAA was really about. After a few general remarks about upcoming meetings and performances, members of the group took turns performing original songs and exchanging both praise and constructive criticism. I was too shy to bust out any killer jams of my own, but agreed to come next week with a song prepared. Furthermore, I was later informed that the word “alliance” was used not to suggest political aggression, but for the sake of consistency, as there are only so many synonyms for “group” which start with the letter A (the All Acoustic Aggregate is already taken by Amherst).

Yet as each performer honored me with his/her composition, I came to realize something far more significant about the group, with implications concerning Williams’ social structure as a whole. These people were not the hippies that I expected, but instead a diverse and unique group of individuals, to whom I would do a great dishonor by envisioning them as mere stock characters. Some of these kids were scholars, some jokesters, some quiet types and I do believe that one of them was even wearing a pair of gym shorts. Though my mind was still not in the best position to synthesize my thoughts into any type of cohesive understanding, I nonetheless remained astonished at the diversity that surrounded me, and truly humbled at the presence of so many peers whose individualities I had formerly taken for granted.

Such an individual is one and only Master of Melancholy, Earl of Emotionlessness, Eric Koenigsberg ’10 who once sang “scowling and whining and feeling dark are what I like best.” He is an officer of the group and has been a member since the beginning. After commending Beam’s effort in starting the AAA (in contrast to his own incompetence and laxity, which he repeatedly made note of), Koenigsberg explained the current state of the group with undeniable optimism. While acknowledging a rocky start last year, he said, “this year we’re really just trying to build. We were able to get a fair amount of new people to join at the beginning of the year. I think having an established presence at the beginning of the year really helps in this respect.” He also told me a little bit about Coffeehouse, which is the AAA’s monthly performance, “We decided that we would just try to organize these performances where people could play material they’d already written, or just perform with other people,” Koenigsberg said. In general, these Coffeehouses are meant to have an informal feel, and provide aspiring singer-songwriters with a comfortable setting in which they may present their self-expression to others who are eager to appreciate it.

So if you are like me and love to jam out at all times, I highly recommend you go to a meeting of the AAA and show us what you’ve got. Or if you are just a fan, head over to Dodd for the next edition of the alliance’s Coffeehouse function – no hemp hoodies required. All in all, the AAA has something for everyone. Assuming everyone likes music. And they do, right?