Alumni musicians return for Ephraim’s birthday concert

Alumni group Darlingside performed in Chapin on March 7, Ephraim Williams' 300th birthday. Jerry Li/Photo Editor.
Alumni group Darlingside performed in Chapin on March 7, Ephraim Williams’ 300th birthday. Jerry Li/Photo Editor.

Last Saturday, alumni musicians Michelle Rodriguez ’12 and Darlingside returned  to perform in Chapin Hall. The concert was the culmination of a weekend of festivities for Ephraim Williams’s 300th birthday on March 7 and was organized by ACE and the Office of Alumni Relations.

After a rousing sing-along of “The Mountains,” led by the a capella group Octet, the crowd settled in to hear  Rodriguez play a set of mostly original songs, with just a ukelele accompanying her.

“It’s great to be playing some of the songs I wrote here and some newer ones,” Rodriguez told the crowd before performing “Pretend,” the first song she wrote in the Winter Study songwriting class during her time at the College.

The connections between her music and her time at the College kept her performance interesting and relevant throughout. She related a story of coming back to visit after graduation and going on a sunrise hike with an old friend, who remarked on the unique, changing light they saw at the top of the mountain. Soon after, she wrote a song inspired by the experience; the lyric “It’s clear that I’m supposed to be here” seemed to sum up her experience in returning to Williamstown.

Rodriguez’s mellow original songs picked up in pace halfway through the set, demonstrating a range that extended to the sometimes serious, sometimes more playful themes of her songs.

The next performers were Darlingside, a band composed of Don Mitchell ’06, Auyon Mukharji ’07, Harris Paseltiner ’09 and David Senft ’07. The indie-folk band managed to maintain an intimate vibe in its performance despite the vastness of the space in Chapin, keeping the audience entranced. The four members chose to stand around one microphone, showcasing the extraordinary blend between their unique voices as well as the varied instruments they played throughout the set.

As with Rodriguez’s performance, the Darlingside’s close ties to the College helped foster an intimacy and rapport with the audience during the performance. “Strangely enough, I’ve never played in Chapin Hall,” Paseltiner remarked. “James Taylor spoke in Chapin Hall my senior year and it’s been a dream to play Chapin, just because James Taylor has been in here that one time.” He later amended his statement when the rest of Darlingside reminded him that they had, indeed, played in Chapin as a band, much to the amusement of the crowd that was laughing loudly during the band’s running banter between songs.

Darlingside played both new songs and older work, but all songs were equally  effective in showcasing the band members’ impressive vocal and instrumental talents as well as in their thoughtful songwriting. While at first the band members didn’t project a dynamic stage presence, clustered around the standing microphone, their performance loosened up as the set went on. Their energy continued to pick up throughout the show, demonstrating exemplary stage presence given the massive space and their folk style. Mukharji was particularly impressive in his skill playing violin as his bow flew across strings to keep up with more fast-paced songs.

The band was also joined onstage for one song by Jonathan Dely ’15 on the trumpet. The alumni musicians said they were delighted that Dely had reached out only a few days earlier, asking to play with them at the concert. Darlingside effectively shared the stage, physically and musically, so that the muted trumpet worked as an important complement to the rest of the group.

The range of instruments that Darlingside played reflected its members’ incredible skill and developed musical style. Their electric and acoustic instruments included guitar, bass guitar, cello, violin, mandolin, banjo and tambourine. Some sections even incorporated whistling. Each element contributed to the band’s distinctive sound, and the audience listened intently.

The return of alumni artists for the concert celebrating Ephraim’s 300th highlights and celebrates the ties that bind the College’s past and present students to their Williamstown roots. It was a treat to hear these talented musicians share their craft with a new audience and pay tribute to the College experience that shaped their music.