April 1, 2013

JACOBS: Hope and Nostalgia for Ithaca’s Venues

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After spring break, I came back up to Ithaca for what was possibly my last time as a student. I’m slowly (very slowly) coming to terms with the basic fact that I will be leaving college in two months, and entering the “real world.” I have been privileged to be a part of The Sun’s Arts and Entertainment staff in various capacities for my past four years at Cornell, and wanted to take this opportunity to share a few of my favorite places to do what I do best: Watch concerts.

Miscellaneous Small Stages: I doubt many of you know what Fanclub Collective is, but you might know some of the bands they’ve brought to Cornell: Arcade Fire, Matt & Kim, Real Estate and the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, just to name a few. While the group has recently decided to focus on other genres, its very existence reveals a rarely talked about aspect of Ithaca: There’s a decent indie scene, if you know where to look.

In just my first year in Ithaca, I saw Surfer Blood play for a handful of people at downtown coffee shop The Shop, Shonen Knife brighten up an oddly bland Appel Multipurpose Room and Cale Parks completely change the Keeton House Dining Hall. The connection between all of these shows — aside from the fact that I got to interview all of these guys (for the Arts section!) — is pretty obvious. None of the venues were, in a word, “traditional.” One of the cool things about the Ithaca music scene used to be the versatility of various spaces. My friends and I still talk about seeing HEALTH tear up the Big Red Barn our first semester on campus, and collectively mourn that there hasn’t been a show there since.

Another likely unexpected place to look: lecture halls. While it may be a bit bizarre to follow up a remembrance of Ithaca’s indie past with a plug for a cappella, here we go. I have never personally been a fan of a cappella music, but I do have a couple of friends in groups, and have been pleasantly surprised every time I’ve seen one of their shows. An a cappella concert is a uniquely collegiate experience and it’s definitely one that everyone should have.

Barton Hall: This is actually something I have never attended for fun. As a member of Cornell Concert Commission since my freshman year, I have worked every CCC show since my Orientation Week (#humblebrag?) I would have titled this “Spend 24 hours in Barton Hall building and dismantle a stage,” but I can understand that’s not everyone ideal way to spend a weekend.

So, instead, this. The few times I’ve snuck into the crowd — whether it be filled with aging hippies watching Further or what seems to be the entire student population blitzed out of their minds for Avicii — have always been special. The sound might not always be perfect, but I honestly don’t think there’s a bad spot in this former airplane hangar to watch a concert.

Cornell Cinema: My freshman year there was a bit of controversy about Student Assembly cutting funding for the Cinema, and my predecessors in the Arts section made a bold editorial choice: A full page ad blaring the words “S.A. Betrays Culture.” At the time, I don’t think I fully understood the implications of the S.A.’s proposal and the necessity of that Arts page.

I can say now that I have a better grasp on what makes the Cinema so special. Not only does it boast an incredibly diverse and awesome schedule — still to come this semester are screenings of this year’s Oscar Best Picture winner Argo, as well as several classic James Bond films — but also an amazing space. The Cinema is intimate, but never small; beautiful, but not distracting. Oh yeah, and they also host (really, really cool) bands every once in awhile. While I hate being seated at a concert, the Cinema makes it comfortable and bearable, and brings consistently exceptional performers.

Off-Campus: The State Theater is a well-deserved Ithaca institution, and Dan Smalls’ bookings have always excited me. Not only are the bands always great, but the space is historic and grand, juxtaposing an old-school beauty with a lot of the newer music that graces the stage. While I have publicly bemoaned the passing of Castaways in these pages before, The Haunt is making up for it’s loss quite nicely. I have only seen one show there — Black Francis back in February — but I was able to get right up to the stage to see my idol perform. Very different atmosphere than a crush party. Although I haven’t yet checked out a show at Lot 10, I saw some of my favorite shows of the past few years at Wildfire Lounge, the space’s previous incarnation.

For better or worse, many of the best shows I’ve seen in Ithaca took place during my freshman year. But they exposed me to a vibrant music community on-campus and around the city that is constantly bringing in both cutting-edge and well-established bands — and that is always exciting.

Original Author: Peter Jacobs