Some of the best bands and artists imaginable aren’t selling out shows at Madison Square Garden in New York City, but instead are provoking dance pits and shattering popular music standards within small venues and people’s homes.
Local music is often unfairly overshadowed and under appreciated considering the immense talent of underground artists. Nonetheless, a little dedication and an ear for killer tunes are all it takes to stay in the know about your local DIY music scene.
Who’s playing near me?
No plans this weekend? Check out Bands In Town! Although the website caters more towards popular bands and artists on tour, it’s still a great resource for discovering who is playing in your area at any given time!
Follow your favorites on social media.
If you want to stay up to date with your favorite artists and bands, give them a follow on social media! In this digital age, most musicians advertise their upcoming shows and records via Instagram or Facebook.
Jesse Fox, lead singer of The Slippery Lips, is one of my favorite punk femme forces that’s taking Cincy by storm! She chronicles her musical adventures in the Queen City on her Instagram and often uses her platform to announce new music!
Ohio University’s All Campus Radio Network, or ACRN, is OU’s musical media powerhouse group. A number of ACRN student DJ’s host weekly radio shows to share new, local music. ACRN also frequently sponsors and puts on shows around campus, and promotes them on their social media.
Familiarize yourself with local venues and show houses.
The Comet, one of my favorite venues in Cincinnati, is surely an eccentric place to experience local music. Doubling as a Mexican diner with a vintage feel and gigantic portion sizes, The Comet is a unique, inviting space for all.
Frequenting venues and show houses around your town can help in building relationships with the owners and bookers. Friendships like these can introduce you to a plethora of new music down the road!
Listen, listen, listen!
The most important aspect of being part of the local music scene is putting effort into expanding your musical palette. Tweens, one of the first local hardcore bands I took a liking to, has been making strides in their hometown of Cincinnati. Though I had never heard of them before a few years ago, they quickly have become one of my favorite bands! Go ahead, give them a listen. You might like what you hear.
Get to the Gig is a weekly newsletter dedicated to promoting local music and up-and-coming underground artists. We cater towards the thrashers and musical explorers of the Midwest.
College is a chance to discover the real person that’s been cultivating under the parental units for the last 18 or so years. For some it’s exploring the vices their parents attempted to curtail, others it’s the chance to think differently how they were raised, but in general it’s a time for self-discovery.
A few braves souls chose to do this in front of crowds atop one of the many stages in Athens. The music scene in Athens is unique as the influx of new blood from the university allows for a large diversity of musical acts to form and flourish.
The constant flow of new musicians is sadly accompanied by the older generation leaving Athens as they graduate or decide to move on. While the desire to play may linger on, it can be extremely difficult to continue when members may be scattered across the country. As their time in Athens comes closer to the end Wes Gilbert of Smizmar and Evan Amerio of Apemode spoke of their personal experiences.
Resurrected from that destructive blaze in 2014 the Union has opened its doors again. A landmark of not only the Athens music scene, but that of the greater Ohio area. Inside its walls sits more than a bar, or a venue to see shows, the Union is a place where the people of Athens can come together and enjoy the town’s nightlife.
The Union is one of the few places in Athens that actually hosts live music, and the only place in Athens, that is not university affiliated, that can pull in bigger acts that the others can’t. This led to the Union grabbing some talented acts, some of which eventually move on to preform bigger venues. The Union gives bands a place to show off their talent and bring their music to Athens.
Famous acts like the Black Keys and the White Stripes have played their stage before they got big enough to sell out larger clubs. While they’re able to find some of the acts before they’re too big. While the Union likes to show off the talent they’re able to bring in, the Union is truly a place where anyone who wants to show off their talent can come and perform on decent stage.
On top of their music endeavors the Union will host performance pieces too. The open environment of the Union allowed for many groups to showcase their work without going through the university or leaving the Athens area. The local production of Rocky Horror Picture Show once had a lines around the block until the fire forced the local theater group to move locations.
When the Union caught fire in the early morning of November of 2014, with most of the roof gone with the fire, the situation looked grim for the Union. They weren’t the only ones affected by the fire, being in the middle of the fire’s path which took out several other neighboring businesses, forcing many to relocate and for others to shut down permanently.
After a lengthy period being closed, the Union is finally back. Walking in it’s hard to tell there was ever a fire there to being with. The bar’s owners took care to not only restore the damage done, but to improve from what they were before, while keeping to their punk rock roots. When the fire took most of their roof, the Union sadly lost most of it’s music equipment to the combined efforts of water, smoke, and fire. However, this gave them the chance to seriously improve the sound quality in the venue upstairs.
The owners of the Union went through great lengths to make a nicer bar, but with the same feeling they had for decades. The Union is more than just a bar or a place to play music, it’s a center point for the local culture of Athens to show itself, while being exposed to acts from around the country. Deep down it’s still the same old bar, just with a much fresher look to it now.
My favorite place is in Athens wasn’t built by the university. It isn’t fiscally supported by the student activity fee, it isn’t on campus, and it isn’t even on Court Street. Probably about 99% of the student population doesn’t even know my favorite place exists.
I know it sounds absurd, a hardcore house named after an 83-year-old Supreme Court Justice? It probably will more sound more absurd to you when you discover it is my own personal rental home off-campus. In addition to being the place I sleep, shower, do homework, and prepare my meals, it’s also a performance space for poets and artists from Athens, OH to Alabama to Brooklyn and more.
I probably should walk you through how I got here, seeing as you’re thinking about coming to Ohio University or have already enrolled, and I’m telling you that my favorite thing about OU isn’t even mildly campus affiliated.
When I arrived as a freshman, I was eager for something new. Laid at my feet was a fresh start, but I wanted to use my fresh start to experience the things I loved already in a new way. Music was a primary passion of mine, and I was already five+ years deep into a devoted relationship with DIY music, as I’d been playing and booking shows all through high school. I knew a little bit about Athens music scene through creeping the Athens, OH tag on Bandcamp, but I became fully immersed in it once I joined ACRN Media, OU’s student-run college rock radio station and media collective. The group of us headed out in droves to catch shows in living rooms, at bars, and in basements.
(Full disclosure, I became the General Manager aka head honcho of ACRN Media February of my freshman year, 3/4 because I am incredibly passionate about radio, 1/4 because I am an insane person who loves having no free time or sleeping.)
DIY and ACRN provided a space away from the sporty party culture that bombarded me when I first moved in. I lived on West Green, a hub for student athletes, and I often found myself feeling a little isolated. A place to feel less isolated was surrounded by push moshing sweaty bodies in the basement of Castle Genesee. Standing on the sliver
of counter to watch bands in the kitchen of the Wolf Haus. Peering through the stair banisters to watch folks rip gigs at the Lodge. All of these house venues became transient homes.
The Lodge was especially important, as the people who lived there became our fast friends. While we went to lots of shows there, it became a destination on event-free week nights. My partner and I would trek over to the house with fresh groceries to make family dinners, and we’d all sit around and listen to music and laugh in good company. There was a family aspect, a community feeling that I really loved. I tucked that feeling in my pocket and saved it for later when the tenants all graduated and moved and the Lodge was no more.
It took me a long time to admit it, but the first two years of Athens DIY were a little frustrating for me, as many people around me were deeply focused on partying, and it got old quick. I got sick of watching people drunkenly disrespect each other’s personal space and safety, houses were getting trashed, things were getting stolen. It was a mess. I was drowning in an environment surrounded by peers who did not understand what it was like to work 25 hours a week while being a full-time student, who could bring six-packs of craft beer to a gig but not $5 to donate to the bands performing. I was getting burnt out on the one thing that made Ohio U feel like a place of adventure and promise, and I needed to do something about it.
(Reality Check: While everyone talks about the Bobcat Family and how they never want to leave OU, it is OKAY to feel unhappy here. There’s may be occasional moments where you just don’t know if you made the right decision or you are itching to graduate and move on to the next thing. This is normal, okay, and presents a chance to do something creative with your time here!)
It was at this time when I had reached my breaking point that we began planning for our move to the RBG. We had plans to have shows, but we started talking logistics, ideals, visions. The name came about because I’m obsessed with Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and I think she’s a bad ass. The hardcore edge came about because we liked hardcore music, but we also thought it would be funny to pair the two. Our logo represents the absurdity of such a name.
One thing that we all deeply cared about was having a strict “No drugs, no drinking, no exceptions” policy during gigs. We wanted the place to be as safe as possible for everyone, and any space that includes alcohol or drugs immediately becomes less safe. An unfortunate thing you’ll learn very quickly at OU that alcohol and drugs often reveal the nastier, scummier side of people, even within ‘alternative’ communities.
Grumpy jaded senior-citizen Meg comments aside, we really did want to create a space that was safe and intended to create community. I wanted to be somebody else’s Lodge. When we moved in and started facilitating performances, we were excited to see droves of kids coming to shows to hang out and make friends. I was starting to see students and community members I hadn’t known before, we were inviting poets to perform which brought in a fresh crowd of people to shows, and our home became synonymous with welcoming. We kicked off the year with a mixed CD/mix tape swap, and new Rock Lobsters crowded the floor and porch to share music. Bands started practicing at our house, we hosted shows for other people, we made friends, we gave people a place to go, and I think people have fun when they visit the RBG.
Booking shows and facilitating community events without ever having to leave my home gave me a sense of purpose and a positive space to grow. My confidence in the OU/Athens community restored itself, and I’ve had the pleasure of meeting so many wonderful people. It’s also something really cool and interesting to slap on a resume– “Events Coordinator at the Hardcore House of Ruth Bader Ginsburg” is sure to catch an employer’s eye! But let’s get real. I haven’t created this space and formed a sisterhood and music family just for resume-building purposes. The RBG was born because I needed it to exist in order to feel truly fulfilled in Athens.
Here’s the moral of my long-winded journey and this e-scrapbook of memories. If you arrive at OU or are planning on coming here and can’t quite figure out what you want or what you like or what feels like home, try not to worry. There is nothing stopping you from being the creator of the space that meets your needs, accomplishes your goals, and brings you bliss. Athens and Ohio University are your canvas, so get ready to create. Your space may not exist yet, and that’s a-okay! If you can’t find your space, make it.
Taking him on his daily walk, mathematics senior Becka Klingensmith tells me, “If I got caught with him, I’d have to pay a thousand dollar fine.” It is a risk she is willing to take. “My landlord doesn’t live nearby or come around often enough for me to be too concerned,” she said. She has had the two-year-old dog for almost a year now. His name? “Chance, named after one of my favorite artists, Chance The Rapper.” #planetathens
The first time I ever set foot in Haffa’s Records was my senior year of high school on my first visit to Athens. It was the first Athens adventure I embarked on alone, peeling myself away from my parents and the student guide that had showed us the all bright and shiny parts of campus. Walking in, I could see shafts of dust rolling in the golden late afternoon light.
I shuffled to the back of the store to be greeted by an endless sea of records. Albums I cherished, that I had so rarely seen in more than just a thumbnail on my iPod Classic were all tucked away neatly, tangible and singularly captivating. I saw so many favorites but also an endless amount of unrecognized titles, a first for me. It felt like looking through your friend’s collection. Seeing where your tastes intersected but then he got really into early funeral metal and you split off once again. It was exciting and I made a point to pick records that weren’t easy, that would challenge me like I knew this new place eventually would.
Andrew Lampela, the guardian of all Haffa’s wares was posted behind the counter, listening to something fast and angry, or maybe more dirgy and brooding. I’ve since learned that on days like this, Andrew will probably be brief, pissed off about some lousy reseller who’s been pestering him or maybe a lackluster shipment he just got in.
I placed my selections on the counter and searched for something to say but nothing seemed cool or interesting enough. I saw a few jars of who-knows-what alcohol sitting on the counter. Oh man, how cool would it be to work here?
“Hey, I’m going to be going to school here in the fall. Would you guys be hiring?” I asked meekly.
Andrew let out an easy chuckle as he bagged my records up, handing them to me, “Yeah, not unless one of us dies.”
Since then, it’s been three years of stops in between classes, half-heartedly digging through new arrivals while talking about why cocaine-era Bowie is such a bummer or summer afternoons spent digging into the darkest corners, bargaining that a great find is just one more crate over.
Haffa’s possesses a timelessness, imposing no boundaries on its explorers, who develop their own technique, a ritual for shuffling through. Check out a row of used movies, then see what’s in the new letter “C” vinyl bin, check for that one record that can never ever ever be found but has to be looked for on principle. Looking for that perfect gem, even if maybe you’re already in it.
Loud, messy, and filled with an abundance of equipment, an eclectic range of records, and generally a handful of people, my favorite place on campus is the ACRN studio located in Baker University Center. Just after walking through the door, you’re more than likely to see a handful of people already inside, be they members of the programming department DJing for the online stream, members of the production department in the editing room fixing up a track, or a local band recording their new EP.
As a DJ, there’s nothing more satisfying than going into the studio to relax and jam to your favorite tunes. Music is the best therapy for me, and taking time every week to share my favorite tracks with my listeners just melts the stress out of my body. I’ve even been known to just go into the studio, bring some homework, and work on that. The atmosphere gets the creative juices in my brain flowing in a different way than my room or the library would, and my assignments see better results because of it.
I go in at 11:00 every Wednesday night when things are quiet to DJ, playing my own alternative brand of rock and metal music. You’re more than welcome to check out ACRN and listen to the stream live at any time!
In 1977, Billy Joel performed in The Convo. In 2015, Waka Flocka Flame turned up the Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium stage.
Times have changed.
Here’s a quick look back at who has performed at Ohio University throughout the years:
The Grateful Dead, 1968
The Grateful Dead performed in Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium for a free concert, according to Robert L. Williams II, an OU professor who compiled A Bulleted/Pictorial History of Ohio University. According to Willams, members of the band Jerry Garcia and Pigpen were later seen at the Union Bar.
Simon and Garfunkel, 1968
The folk duo played the Convocation Center to a crowd of guys in ties and girls in skirts that were “delightfully short,” at least that’s how photographer Ken Steinhoff described it. Simon and Garfunkel broke up two years later.
Led Zeppelin, 1969
To see an almost unknown Led Zeppelin at OU at The Convo, you would only have needed $2.50, according to Williams. That’s about $16 or $17 in today’s standards.
The Who, 1969
According to Willaims, when the already-famous band performed at The Convo, Keith Moon’s whiskey was confiscated because it was a dry campus at the time.
The Boss himself played on the same ticket as The Eagles, Blood, Sweat and Tears, and Billy Preston.
Billy Joel, 1977
Billy Joel sang OU a song because he was the piano man in a concert hosted by ACRN, according to a previous Athena yearbook.
Neil Young, 1980
When Neil Young stepped on stage, the drinking age had recently been changed to 21. According to Williams, that greatly affected the future of Convo concerts, because less money could be made off alcohol.
And here’s where we are in 2015:
-Waka Flocka Flame, 2015
Waka Flocka Flame was the Sibs Weekend performer and when asked by a Post reporter what goes through his mind when he’s on stage, he answered: “Turn the f—k up Waka.”
-Sam Hunt, 2015
Hunt performed at the first Country Night Lights and sang his hits “House Party” and “Take Your Time,” according to a Post article. And a bunch of ladies thought he was hot.
To listen and take a little stroll down memory lane using the Spotify playlist below: