Weekday routines can blur into a stale monotony. What mark many of our college experiences are the weekends and how we spend them. This is part of a series of narrative accounts that capture pieces of the social scene in Ithaca.
In this snapshot, Senior Writer Jen Nevins follows die-hard music fans to a show.
The car stereo is blaring tunes by Perpetual Groove, but the sound is trivial against the choir of five excited girls packed in the black SUV. Their chatter resonates above all else, high against the roof of the car, on top of their dancing, moving, talking, singing.
Shotgun digs up a silver flask from the depths of her purse, twirls its top and pours whiskey into a Coke can.
A spark of solidarity in conversation suddenly erupts from the commotion. It’s about the music they’re listening to. Shotgun tilts her chin toward the rear, and her words roll back until they register with the crew in the backseat.
“That’s the thing about Perpetual Groove,” she says as she sips her concoction and adjusts her yellow and pink polka-dotted dress. “They just keep grooving. They don’t stop.”
Shotgun and the rest of the girls are making their way to a show at Castaways. It’s a Thursday night, about 11 p.m.; the opening band should be wrapping up by now. They’ll show up just in time for the headliner. Just as planned.
As their big black car rolls up to a stoplight on West Buffalo Street, the girls spot a police car on the side of the road.
“PO-NINE!” someone shouts from the rear. Shotgun lowers her soda can to lap-level, and Driver directs her
attention to the left. An occupied police officer is standing by the car he has just pulled over. Its license plate is unfamiliar: light blue coloring fades from a slogan, “Discover the spirit.” A closer look reveals it’s from the Peace Garden State.
“I don’t believe North Dakota exists,” Driver says. “I mean, have you ever met anyone from North Dakota? I don’t think so.”
The light turns green, and the girls move on.
A couple of sips and a slice of a song later, and they’re at the venue. Out on the gravel-rock parking lot, they promptly stomp out still-burning cigarettes and trot to the front door in groups of two to escape the night’s chill. Long spandex and leg warmers cover the parts of their legs their skirts don’t.
The bouncer stamps hands appropriately: of age, underage, of age, underage, underage.
Inside, the pack immediately disperses. A few will most likely seek out the bathroom sink to wipe off any proof of age. The band they came to see is already playing, and the dim lighting, along with a smoky atmosphere and thick crowd, blankets any chance of keeping each other within sight for long.
Onstage are familiar faces. In the air, recognized melodies. In a testament to any beloved local band, the first few rows of the crowd are filled with loyals — friends of the band and lovers of their music. They are at (almost) every show, harmonizing along (or attempting to), dancing, smiling with a beer in (each) hand, embracing after certain songs that make them feel …
“I feel sooooooooooooo good right now,” someone cries out.
They’ve been called tribes, groupies, fans, fanatics, followers, cliques, cohorts — but beyond titles, they’re in charge of the atmosphere. The girls melt into the scene: greeting friends, buying drinks. Conversation is limited in this environment, but dialogue and discourse aren’t the point anyway.
Save it for intermission: a time allotted for the band’s recuperation where the better part of the audience seeks refuge outside in the February air. It’s as though they had been locked up inside for the whole show. Go outside during a song? Nah.
And so, in droves, they barrel out onto the deck for a smoke, a cooldown, some good company. Discussion rarely diverts from music. Unless of course, it’s about —
“Hey, can I bum a cigarette?” a hopeful smoker asks.
“No, but I got shots for you!” Shotgun shouts, whiskey in hand.
The girls split Camel Lights over talk of the summer Phish tour and party plans for later tonight. Shotgun says she is down for anything.
“This is my Friday night,” she says. She and a few of the girls have plans to stay in tomorrow night to finish up homework instead of going out. It was either do it tomorrow night or tonight — and there’s no way they’re missing a show. Besides, they would rather spend their money on a cover charge than an extra beer at a bar.
Hums and thuds from the band taking their place onstage signal the girls’ cue to retreat indoors. They gravitate toward the front of the stage along with a crowd filled with fans, old friends, ex-girlfriends, new boyfriends, new friends, locals, visitors, people who will most likely never say a word to the band.
In close quarters, they all remain enclosed in their own experience with the music for the rest of the show. Some dance, some don’t. Some dance well, some don’t.
The girls’ attention to the show is broken only by a few slight distractions: beer retrieval, side comments or a hug in between songs.
The bass lets out early, but the drums thump on. The multicolored neon lights turn off, and everyone looks to each other. The vocals onstage are harmonizing, so the crowd chimes in.
“OOOOOOooooOOOO,” dozens of intoxicated voices bellow. And just like that, the show is over. When the house lights turn on, they cast an uncomfortable glow over sweaty faces, and many retreat outdoors: sucking on cigarettes and straws.
The bassist sits alone on a log along the edge of the building with his head hidden in hands and hair, agonizing over his performance. The girls, with their hair now pulled back in ponytails, immediately flock over, offering comfort and an after-party.
It takes a moment, but he’s consoled — and swept away in the SUV, where the music doesn’t stop. It never really does. Their trip to the after-hours house is intensified by a few drinks and the high of having just spent a few hours doing what they love to do most: see live music. Postshow, their car stereos, CDs, iPods and radios are ready and stocked like a grab bag of “good music” — pressing play eases the withdrawal between performances. And so until the next show, they just keep grooving. They don’t stop.