Newcomers stand out in impressive Coffeehouse

Last Friday’s Coffeehouse featured many new groups and talented first-years, including Conor Newton ’18 and Justin Smilan ’18. Sarah Ritzmann/Staff Writer.
Last Friday’s Coffeehouse featured many new groups and talented first-years, including Conor Newton ’18 and Justin Smilan ’18. Sarah Ritzmann/Staff Writer.

Last Friday, 15 minutes before the scheduled All-Acoustic Alliance (AAA) Coffeehouse performance, Dodd living room was buzzing with the pent-up energy of excited student musicians wrapping up their final sound checks. While nearly half of the performers were first-years and many were performing at a Coffeehouse for the first time, the atmosphere was anything but anxious – everyone seemed ready to flex their musical talents for the crowd that soon began to filter in through the double doors.

The demographics of the crowd reflected those of the performers – there were lots of first-years sitting in clusters cheering on their entrymates and friends, a smaller contingent of sophomores and a sprinkling of juniors and seniors. Though this Coffeehouse wasn’t nearly as packed as the one that was held in Dodd over Winter Study, the mood was no less enthusiastic.

“I wasn’t expecting Winter Study-level participation, but attendance was good,” said Steve Yannacone ’17, whose active leadership of AAA has played no small part in the blossoming community of student musicians on campus.

Starting off the Coffeehouse on a mellow note was the incomparable Justin Smilan ’18. Acoompanied by his guitar, Smilan sang a cover of “Jesus, Etc.” by Wilco.

He was then joined by Conor Newton ’18, also on guitar, who sang backing vocals for Smilan as the two covered “Waterloo Sunset” by The Kinks and “All Apologies” by Nirvana. The pair mastered the well-loved rock songs with aplomb, and Smilan’s sweet voice and clear tone added a unique spin to the covers that contrasted with the original singers’ roughness.

Next up was Bad Drama Club, consisting of Chris Janson ’16, Josh Torres ’15 and Chris Siemer ’16. Bad Drama Club, an established student band, was the only group to play on Friday that didn’t form just for this event. It played two original songs. The band’s weird, alternative style was a departure from the typical rock/folk songs performed at AAA Coffeehouses, and the band members were having just as much fun grooving to the beat as the audience was.

Third were Mikaela Cordasco ’18 and Clyde Engle ’15, who performed a beautiful rendition of Christina Aguilera and A Great Big World’s hit “Say Something,” accompanied by Jonathan Berg ’18 on piano. Cordasco’s voice was sweet and soft, and she and Engle blended perfectly on the harmonies and riffs of the song.

Next was the hilarious – and talented – duo of Gideon Hess ’16 and Alice Murphy ’16, who played a mash-up of several songs including Jesse McCartney’s “Beautiful Soul,” Hot Chelle Rae’s “Tonight Tonight” and John Mayer’s “Waiting on the World to Change.” With Hess on guitar and Murphy on vocals, the pair blended the songs seamlessly with humor, even ad-libbing some of their own lyrics to fill transitions between songs. Murphy and Hess were followed by singers Lydia Graham ’18 and Laura Lee ’17, who were accompanied by Newton on guitar and sang a breathy, soulful cover of “Four Five Seconds” by Rihanna, Kanye West and Paul McCartney. Their impressive voices and harmonies gave the audience chills.

Lucy Davis ’16, perhaps the most seasoned Coffeehouse veteran from the group, was next. Davis is a classic example of a folky singer-songwriter with a style that is all her own. She sang two of her own songs, titled “If Your Lips Turn Blue” and “Last Year.”

Davis was followed by several acts consisting entirely of first-years. First was a band consisting of Andrew Barry ’18 on guitar, Gary Chen ’18 on drums, Gillian Goodman ’18 on vocals and Berg on piano, who covered U2 and B.B. King’s “The Love Comes to Town.” This song was the epitome of classic rock and well-chosen for the Coffeehouse crowd. The band performed it perfectly, with Goodman hitting all the right notes, and made for the best and most well-received group act of the night by far.

Barry returned with Cordasco to beautifully cover Jonathan Brooke’s “Taste of Danger” as a duet. Barry then remained on the stage with just his guitar and performed a touching, original song that he wrote after his grandmother’s passing about moving on and finding happiness again after the loss of a loved one. His rich, deep voice and his style were also completely original.

Next was another freshman band: Eli Meckler ’18, Jack Hood ’18, Ryan Patton ’18 and Berg once again, who switched to the drums this time. While lacking any electric guitars, the quartet still pulled off a strategically spare cover of “Steady As She Goes,” by the now-defunct alt-rock band the Raconteurs.

Following the band was Yannacone, who played piano and sang in a solo act. While he usually performs solemn classical masterpieces of his own creation, this time Yannacone surprised the audience with an original song with a humorously lewd spin. Without going too much into detail, Yannacone referred to it as “a love song, sort of.” He was followed by Matt McNaughton ’16 and Sarah Austin ’16, who charmed the crowd with a duet of Josh Ritter’s “Snow is Gone.” The modest pair had fun with the song, insisting that should the audience decide to clap along, “that will make us sing softer, which can only be a good thing.”

The penultimate performer was Ananya Mayukha ’17, whose voice has never been anything but a pleasure to hear. Mayukha also tried something a bit different for this performance, choosing to sing a Carnatic lullaby that she learned from her mother. Carnatic music is a form of Indian classical music that originated in southern India. Mayukha performed the song in the traditional fashion, turning off the lights of the room and sitting cross-legged on the floor. She then played a traditional pre-recorded instrumental on a loop and began to sing in Sanskrit. Her lilting, pulsing voice held the audience spellbound and transitioned between pitches with a subtle deftness.

Last but not least was Maija Lindaas ’16, who brought out her new Hardanger fiddle to play a traditional Norwegian folk song called “Fanitullen.” She also related the unique story associated with the origin of the song, which has led to the myth that whenever it is played perfectly, someone dies – “but I don’t think I’m in danger of doing that,” Lindaas said modestly, though I doubt that there’s anyone at the College who could ever play it better.

There is certainly something to be said both for the fact that there are so many musical events on campus to attend on the weekends and that the breadth of student talent on campus can extend far enough to make every event worth watching. To merely say that the music scene on campus is growing is an understatement; these new performers show boundless potential and the regulars are only getting better.

  • cyril borabo

    I need an example of song of folksong