Full House at Coffeehouse

Nearly every seat in the campus center was filled during Coffeehouse last Thursday, Feb. 9. The performance was hosted by the Black Student Union (BSU) and the Student Government Association (SGA) Programs Board, and featured several different types of expression, including poetry, rap, and song.

The performance began with two poetry readings covering issues of race, personal growth, and strength, performed by junior Brandon Winters and first-year Katina Burley.

“There is more than barriers stopping us,” Burley read. “But I’m going to make it.”

Some of the readings included the use of drums for a musical effect. Senior Adam Morris Butler performed his poetry through song with themes of love and pride, and inspired the crowd to clap along. The drums were also used in an R&B song discussing issues of social injustice later in the performances.

Junior Therm James also got the crowd dancing with his rendition of the 1972 song “Lean On Me,” originally written by Bill Withers.

Some of the performers also chose to present original rap songs.  First-year Darrell Jackson showed off his rap skills with personal lyrics about lost friendship, missing someone close to you, and the struggle for success.

Another popular rapper at coffeehouse was junior Pete Burnes, whose lyrics and natural ability to freestyle quickly made him a crowd favorite. His lyrics ranged from his struggle with his disability to comical one-liners.

“I am a warrior, and music is my weapon” Burnes said.

First-years Fatima Dainkeh and Nequesha Booker presented “Spoken Word for Our Generation” and original piece that created a back and forth dialogue between the students as they discussed issues of sexual expectations of women and social incongruity among the classes.

“We are the generation, we can’t afford to wait, the future started yesterday and we’re already late,” Dainkeh and Nequesha said in unison as the chorus.

All in all, coffeehouse presented a plethora of talented students.

“There were a lot of people who came out because it was a combination of coffeehouse and BSU,” senior Sam White said. “I thought the performances were excellent.”

Review in Brief: Spring Standards at Coffeehouse

On Thursday, Nov. 3, the Spring Standards performed at the SGA Programs Board Coffeehouse, wowing the packed Grind with their mellow melodies and unique instrumentations. The New York City-based trio filled the room with a warm, folksy sound that even the coffee grinders couldn’t silence.

The Spring Standards is made up of James Cleare, Heather Robb and James Smith, all songwriters and musicians since their teen years. Their music is a combination of many styles and instruments that, according to the band’s Facebook page, “refuses to sit comfortably in any genre.” The band utilizes a wide variety of instruments, like the harmonica, melodica, and glockenspiel. This, blended with rich three-part harmonies, turns their sound into that of a much larger group.

During the band’s hour-long set, the Spring Standards played a mixture of upbeat and euphonious songs from their existing albums and two extended plays (EPs) which they are currently producing. The music was punctuated with anecdotes and the band’s playful banter with the audience. They had a strong stage presence that was well received by the audience. First-year Tara Shafersaid said, “They were really good. I really enjoyed it, I’m glad I came.”

Coffeehouse Aims to Create Balance Between Big Bands and Small Performers

Photo By Katie Henry
Photo By Katie Henry
Coffeehouse, an event that occurs every Thursday at the Campus Center, has been a campus favorite for artists and music addicts alike. However, the acts as of late have been crossing more and more into music festival territory as opposed to the acoustic sessions that most are used to in a coffee shop setting – and it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The change has been a gradual one that started with Lauren Schreiber during her time as Coffeehouse chair in the Spring 2009 semester. Since then, the music has begun to lean more into alternative genres leading to the booking of such bands as Donora, The Five One, The Spring Standards, and Holy F–k.

Junior Reid Levin, the current Coffeehouse chair, wants to not only be a part of the shift, but to push the boundaries as far he can take them. “What I want to do for Coffeehouse is, number one, to have the biggest variety of performances as possible,” Reid said.

Still reeling on the success of Holy F–k, which had the largest crowd that Coffeehouse has seen since its inception, he continued in saying that he plans to reach a wider audience through a vast array of different events such as a possible airbands competition.

“I’ve been talking to a musician called The Masked Marauder who wants to put on a Halloween extravaganza,” he said after the question arose regarding upcoming musicians to look forward to. “We’re looking for people on top of their game.”

Senior Thomas Dewey, a frequent Coffeehouse attendee, is very happy about the shift in musical acts during the past few semesters. “While I love the campus bands, I do also love seeing really good bands with really good sounds because we haven’t really seen that on this small campus,” he said to me.

He also glorified the band that visited before Holy F–k, Pearl and the Beard. “I really like this trend. It gives us more credibility as a venue. Bigger names you have, the bigger names you get. Singer-songwriters are great, but they can only go so many places – they can only get so loud.”

However, while Reid wants to spoil Coffeehouse attendees with grandeur and surreal experiences, he still wants the open mic element of the event to play a factor. “I want to offer everyone an equal opportunity to play,” he said.

It seems like Coffeehouse is moving into a territory that is being welcomed quite warmly by the campus community, but it’s okay for the performers who want to perform – the goal of Coffeehouse now seems to be a perfect balance of bands.

Coffeehouse Showcases Student Poets

On Oct. 8, the Spoken Poets Club put an interesting spin on Coffeehouse: the usual instruments were silent, but not the voices.

Down in the depths of Montgomery Hall, in the ironically misnamed “White Room,” nine members of the St. Mary’s Spoken Poets presented a series of fervent “slam” poems that were as much performance art as they were spoken word.

The first poet to perform was Marshall Betz, who offered three original poems, including “Unspoken but Broken,” “To Wish Upon a Rock,” and the insightful “Facebook: An Autobiography.”

One of Marshall’s favorite authors is Jane Austen, a radical in her own time, and when asked when he first started writing poetry, Marshall replied, “You never really start writing poetry, you just put your pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and it happens.”

Next was Taren Parsons, who, even with a strong dislike of microphones (and who apparently is disliked by microphones as well), was able to share three poems. Her first poem was “Women: A Song of Hate” by Dorothy Parker, whose works Taren says she came across one day while browsing in the St. Mary’s Library.

Her next poem was “O My God, Shoes,” which expresses her aversion to copious amounts of shoes; Taren finished with the first poem she ever wrote, entitled simply “Running.”

After Taren was Spoken Poets Vice President Megan Kile. In her first poem she offered what she decided was “The Problem with Shakespeare,” followed by “Icing and English Ivy.”

Megan first got into slam poetry during high school, apprenticed to one of the hosts of Baltimore’s premier slam scene, SLAMicide; some of her influences include Andrea Gibson, Baltimore local Chris August, and Buddy Wakefield.

Chris Blocher, according to Spoken Poets President Helen Coy, “couldn’t even conform to slam,” as Chris took the stage to read one of his original short stories. Chris invited the audience into the bleak world of a father-and-son family simultaneously brought together and separated by drug use and peddling.

The impassioned and flowing language could very well have been described as poetry, however, and elicited much applause from the audience.

The next poet was Brandon Winter, the slam rhymester sporting a Slayer shirt. Brandon made the crowd enjoyably uncomfortable in traditional slam style with edgy poems like “Drag King,” the internet-themed “Pervert’s Playground,” and “Nazis.” His last poem was the laced-with-sarcasm “If Only I Didn’t Have to See You Tomorrow.”

Allison Smith offered a poem called “W(hole),” an emotional epic which played on her own name with phrases like “Ah! Listen!” and “All is undone.”

“I really cannot stop writing poetry,” she stated, “It’s a compulsion that will never end because poetry is my life.”

The scheduled line-up was interrupted by a last-minute entry by sound technicians Nick Hughes and Tom Dickey. They were so moved by the performances thus far that they decided to deliver a small list of haikus, like the heartfelt “Mm, alphabet soup. I wonder if it’s still hot. Yes, it’s still too hot.”

Isaac Nixon, a.k.a. “Master Lyrical,” was up next. Isaac was one of the founders of the St. Mary’s Spoken Poets Club, and he laid down a smooth, lyrical poem called “Trapped in the D.” A frequent open mic performer, he mentions the Def Poetry stylings of Mos Def as one of his major influences.

After Master Lyrical was Maurielle Stewart, who started off with the classic poem “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou, one of her favorite poets. She also presented two original poems, “Lightning” and “Subject.” Some of her other favorite poets are Saul William, Sonia Sanchez, and Langston Hughes.

Helen Coy, the President of the Club, was last but certainly not least. She read four original poems: “Program,” “In the Pen Dance Day,” Men’s Department,” and “Rainbows.” At the audience’s urging, she left us with an encore entitled “Dick.”
Helen has a long-time interest in acting, but within the past few years has decided to express herself through poetry.

“The audience is an active participant [in poetry]. That’s what I love about it. Sure, there’s an element of competition, but it isn’t as cutthroat as the theatre-world. There’s an element of brotherhood; a knowledge that we’re all here for the same goal: to give people hope.”

If you enjoy writing/performing poetry, then the Spoken Poets Club is always looking for new members; just contact Helen Coy at hecoy@smcm.edu.

Coffeehouse Performers Don't Feel the Chill Despite the Cold

Coffeehouse Performers Don't Feel the ChillLast Thursday’s Coffeehouse was another big hit.  The cold October 1st night didn’t deter a modest but enthusiastic audience from attending, and they were not disappointed.  The six-man band Half the Battle, solo act Nick Hughes, and the three-piece band Kaleidotropic proved to be a recipe for a successful evening.

The entity of Half the Battle has existed in many forms over the past seven years, and the band has seen a number of different lineups as it evolved.  The most recent strain of Half the Battle includes Mike Selkmann on bass, Kyle Sullivan on guitar, keyboards by Jack Leathers, two brothers identified to this reporter as Jack and Matt “Bogandor” on drums and rhythm guitar, and their newest lead singer Patrick Gilbert.  Their sound is an in-your-face throwback to the 90s alternative scene, bringing such songs to life as the Spin Doctors’ “Two Princes” and Sublime’s “What I Got.”  They also wrote a couple songs of their own, including “Bonfire” and “Get off My Mind.”  By the end, at the constant urging of the keyboardist, they were tackling Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing,” and they finished off with “Livin’ on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi.

“We appreciate everyone who came out despite the cold to see us,” says Leathers, and he went on to promise free hats for all Half the Battle fans who turn out next time they perform… maybe.  They were able to put on a decent show even after having to pause halfway through to move their cars off the sidewalk for safety reasons, to which they replied, “Thanks P.S., we feel a lot safer now that we can’t get to our cars.”  But as any rising band knows, setting up before the show is half the battle.

Next up was singer/electric-guitar-player Nick Hughes, who also coordinates the electronic equipment that makes Coffeehouse possible.  Technically he was playing solo, but he was able to achieve the sound of a full band complete with a drums and synthesizers with the help of an array of self-crafted computer beats.  After warming up the crowd with a few original songs, his fellow band mates joined him on stage to form Kaleidotropic.  This spacey instrumental group featured the afore-mentioned Nick Hughes on guitar and bass, Justin Williams on drums, and the dreadlocked “Swage” on guitar, bongos, and electric violin.  The band played a trio of extensive jam sessions that did not need vocals; they meshed together very well and produced a solid sound that was at the same time psychedelic and ethereal.  Even the band members could not fully explain the essence of their music, but it could possibly be described as progressive funk jazz psychedelia mixed with a little metal and brought to a rolling boil.

As good as these bands are, they can’t play every Thursday.  If you can sing or play an instrument and are interested in performing at Coffeehouse, then please contact Meghan Milsted.

Variety at Semester’s First Coffeehouse

TJ Shea (Front) and Mike Virga (Back) play at the first Coffeehouse of the Year (Photo by Tom Keen)
TJ Shea (Front) and Mike Virga (Back) play at the first Coffeehouse of the Year (Photo by Tom Keen)

An energetic crowd gathered last Thursday, September 17, for the semester’s first Coffeehouse.  The Daily Grind hummed with the electricity of guitar amplifiers and great tunes and the acts proved to be lively and entertaining.

First up was Hydrofish, the self-proclaimed (and self-crowned) “Jazz Masters, the Masters of Jazz.”  Hydrofish masterminds Reid Levin and Dom Morris serenaded the Grind crowd with such heart-felt songs as “Die Southern Continent of Australia” and “Your Parents Don’t Love You, They Wish They Had an Abortion.”  The masterful saga “Firecracker Love” was a hit, and their semi-majestic jazz exposition of our national anthem was a great finale.  In short, Hydrofish can only be described as a cosmic toilet flush of sound and disharmony that you have to hear for yourself.

Next was a solo act by Gino Hannah, a Jack Johnson-esque acoustic guitarist whose nostalgic performance of the Toy Story classic “You Got a Friend in Me” was an audience favorite.  Gino also presented a couple of his own songs, and he finished with a soulful rendition of “Hollaback Girl” that drove the crowd to tears… of laughter.

TJ Shea and Mike Virga, an electric and acoustic guitar duo, delivered a set of well-known and well-loved Beatles tunes in honor of the recent release of the band’s digitally re-mastered studio collection.  They certainly did not need “Help” producing a full sound, complete with a solo guitar part on “Something” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and an excellent backing acoustic part on “Yesterday” and “Eight Days a Week.”  The set would have made “Her Majesty” proud, and in “The End”, with a little help from their audience, they wrapped up with “Hey Jude.”

Last but not least was Chris Blocker, who, armed with a pawn shop guitar, laid down a steady barrage of machine gun strumming.  Opening with Beck’s “Nightmare Hippie Girl,” Chris went on to perform four songs of his own, including “My Extra Arm” and “Masochist Too.”  Chris’s edgy lyrics and impassioned guitar work came from the heart, and after a while of intense playing he had to borrow a guitar from a previous set for him to finish his own.  But Chris describes his material best: “This is the background music to your f***ed up relationship,” he said.  He finished up with a Leadbelly classic made famous by Kurt Cobain entitled “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?”

This eclectic group of musicians was only a small representation of the talent at St. Mary’s College. If you play guitar, keyboard, accordion, xylophone, sitar or anything else, contact Coffeehouse coordinator Meghan Milstead at mcmilsted@smcm.edu. Coffeehouse will be playing every Thursday this semester at 8:00pm at the Student Center Patio.

Final Coffeehouse – Featuring The Five One Band




The following is footage from the final coffeehouse (formerly ‘Thursdays at the Grind’) of the 2008-2009 academic year. The headline band was The Five One Band. The event also featured St. Mary’s Students. You can see all the footage from the event at our YouTube channel.