April 2, 2012

Looking Back on Castaways

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Last week brought news that Castaways, maybe the best place in Ithaca to experience a concert, would be closing by the end of next month. This news is unfortunate not only for the city, but also for Cornell students who liked to venture off-campus to explore Ithaca’s vibrant music scene. For me, Castaways has been a part of my college experience since before I started at Cornell, and I’ll be sad to see it go.

The summer after 10th grade, I was living my dream. I had an internship working at a music technology magazine and had just been given my first article assignment. By some odd coincidence, one of the bands I planned to interview was in the middle of a tour, and on the same weekend I planned to visit Cornell they were booked for Castaways. So, on my very first college visit, I was on my first assignment. I was excited, and not just a little nervous.

I got in touch with the band’s manager, who just told me to show up at Castaways to do an interview. It was all starting to feel very real. I drove up to Cornell with my parents, touring the campus on a rare sunny day. That night, I went with them over to Castaways. I distinctly remember telling them to stay in the car while I went inside to do my interview; I didn’t want my newfound journalist status to be undermined by the appearance of my parents.

In hindsight I don’t think anyone was expecting that this journalist coming up from New York City was going to be a 16-year-old high schooler on his first internship. When I walked up to the entrance of Castaways, I was looked over quickly by the bouncer and disregarded. Luckily, one of the band members was standing outside before the show and said what are still the coolest words anyone has ever said about me: “He’s on the list.”

So, there I was, sitting alone at a table in the back of the venue while the band, Exit Clov, played onstage. I was feeling pretty cool, to say the least. I was on the list. I was with the band. And I’m sure I looked as cool as I felt.

However, the interview ended up getting pushed to the next day, and at the end of their set, I had to walk back out to my parents.

Two years later, I (obviously) ended up coming to Cornell as a student. And once I was up here full time, I came to appreciate Castaways for what it was: A venue that brought in national acts of interest and nourished local talent.

I looked through old reviews I’ve written for The Sun and found two that I feel like sum up why I think Castaways is such a great venue. The first was for the Meat Puppets, a band best known for their music released more than 20 years ago, specifically their 1984 album Meat Puppets II. They came my freshman year. The second was about Titus Andronicus, a New Jersey punk band who started releasing albums in 2008. They came at the beginning of my sophomore year. Both of these were amazing shows, filled with energy and a large, active crowd.

On paper though, these bands couldn’t be more different. One, the Meat Puppets, is a critically acclaimed, historically important alternative rock band that paved the way both musically and ideologically for many musical acts that followed. The other is Titus Andronicus, a young, upstart punk group that’s still looking to make a larger name for itself. That both of these bands would appear onstage at Castaways shows an acknowledgment of music history and an ear for what’s up-and-coming.

Aside from this, there was also an eye on Ithaca, and Castaways was a great venue for local bands to hone their chops. Opening for nationally touring acts and playing to larger crowds is the best way for a band to get recognition. While there are still other great venues in Ithaca for smaller bands, such as the Haunt and Lot-10 on the Commons, Castaways was the best as a concert venue.

For me, Castaways has been a part of my Cornell experience since my first look at Cornell itself. As a student, it’s been a great place to get off-campus and experience music besides the three or four shows on-campus each semester. I’m sad to see Castaways go, and I hope it’s back soon, in any form.

Original Author: Peter Jacobs