Marsh Arts House – Amherst College


Ryland Webb ’15

Volume XXXVII, Issue 1, February 21, 2014

Drawing of a female singing or speaking into a microphoneIt was about nine months ago that an Indicator article written by Laurence Pevsner ’14 inspired me to start my own “second a day” video project. The project consisted of taking a one second video every day in order to help better remember the events that transpired that day while also serving as inspiration to go out and do cooler things with the end goal of collecting cooler footage. The project has helped to alienate me from a few of the subjects of my films (lesson learned, not everyone enjoys having an iPhone stuck in their face) but has also helped my memory, as Pevsner suggested it would. Unfortunately, my collected seconds have grown less interesting over time as I’ve pushed the project further and further down my list of priorities, and I’m beginning to see more and more rushed videos of the interior of my room in my most recent compilations. But one video stands apart from this trend. This video was shot about a week ago at a concert I attended in Marsh. It’s only about six seconds long (I only needed one second of footage for my compilation) but watching it transported me back in time.

The lineup that night was nothing short of eccentric. After the Sprouts (a Hampshire College band) and Mr. Daisy (a band of Marsh residents) performed, we were introduced to a group called the Flies? (yes, the question mark is part of their name) whose face smeared lead singer harmonized the crowd through a microphone that might have just been a pelvic bone. Seriously, I’m not entirely sure how that thing amplified sound because I’m about 93% sure that dude was just singing into a sacrum. After them we heard a set by the Northampton band, And the Kids, who describe their music on their website as “accessible unconscious existential indie glitter popsicle crisis music.” No shortage of personalities here. You couldn’t recognize many of the songs that were being played, but the dancing of the crowd was contagious and made all other matters seem to slip away. It was around this point that I took out my camera.

On my 5” x 2” iPhone screen you can see seven gangly bodies gyrating in front of the lead guitarist of one of the lineup’s bands. They clap their hands to the beat of the song and stumble in and out of the frame of my lens. For a moment the lone bulb backlighting their faces from the front of the stage makes the scene seem like something out of Dante’s Inferno, until you notice that the dancers aren’t writhing in agony—they’re happy. To be clear, all the featured subjects were terrible dancers—like tell-your-friends bad—but there was a communal feeling to their interactions with one another—wobbling and bouncing off one another like bumper cars sin mal intent. Perhaps more impressive was that the room was split about 50-50 between Amherst students and those from the other four consortium schools. Over the course of the night I met a couple girls from Holyoke and Smith, a bro from UMass and about seven or eight dreadlocked white people from Hampshire. This was the first event I’d been to with that ratio of students since the “disheartening” Crossett Christmas of last December. On that night I witnessed a tree get thrown out of a third-story window, an Officer Shay who looked like he’d nearly exploded from anger, and the hostile sass of Amherst students I tried to introduce myself to (“Oh, you live in Pratt, who’s your RC over there?” “Do you not believe I go here or something?”). Some of my more exaggerative friends later told me they thought their lives were in danger at Crossett Christmas. I never felt this, but I’d definitely say I felt a divide between the Amherst College students who attended the event and hoards of kids from other schools who overran it.

The Marsh concert wasn’t like this. No pushing matches were required to get in and out, and nobody uttered the phrase “they’re everywhere” about the five-college students as if they were a virus infesting the campus. The small mosh pit that formed midway through the concert was more violent than anything I got involved in at Crossett Christmas, but it felt different because it occurred in a space where nobody cared about the schools people came from. Concert attendee and general music enthusiast Bob Gaffey ’15 commented “they really added a fun vibe to the audience.” Concert organizer, Andrew Wang ’15 agreed. “It was chill, you know. We invite them and they bring their friends and some of their friends bring their friends and some of them might be cute…”

It’s too often that our interactions with consortium students are tampered with by pre-conceived notions of what they’ll be like. The appearance of Smith and Holyoke girls outside the socials has become associated with the possibility of a low-commitment hookup, while most of my interactions with UMass students have been soiled by a number of menial alcohol-fueled conflicts over the years. What’s worse is when we let these preconceived stereotypes affect how we present ourselves to others. I can think of a few instances during my time at Amherst when a student from another school has felt the need to justify their own intelligence even though I never questioned it in the first place (“your school might be harder to get into but ours is harder to get out of”). I don’t care. I don’t think a whole lot of people do. And, furthermore, I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that each school in the consortium beats out the others in some way or another. What was great about the concert at Marsh was the fact that people didn’t feel this need to justify themselves, they just closed their eyes and danced, poorly but freely, to the voice of a man singing into a pelvic bone.