Gear Co-op Combines Music, Fundraising in 4th Festival

Daniel Markus, Managing Editor

In spring 2015, the Oberlin College Gear Co-op, then still a fledgling organization with little more than a few beat-up drum sets and some old amps, hosted the first edition of Gear Fest, a mammoth day-long festival that featured 22 different acts at two different locations. The event has since been enshrined as a biannual staple of the Gear Co-op, which will host the fourth edition of Gear Fest tomorrow.

“I think the first year it was in someone’s backyard, and was just a really great, fun way to close out the year,” College sophomore and Gear Co-op head Cena Loffredo wrote in an email to the Review.

The Gear Co-op itself was formed as a solution to a common problem for musicians on campus — practice space for bands on campus is scarce, especially for musicians who are not in the Conservatory.

“The space the Gear Co-op now occupies, Wilder 404, used to be a practice space that served a band or two a semester,” Loffredo wrote. “Students would have to line up at the beginning of the year with their band and if you were at the front of the line, you could use the space, and that was it. I wasn’t at Oberlin yet during that period so I’m not totally sure who changed things up, but about two years ago some people worked with the Student Union to create the Gear Co-op, and the space was opened up to anyone that was trained, in increments of hour-long practice slots.”

As opposed to the old first-come, first-served system, students who are trained members of the co-op can sign up for a set number of practice slots in Wilder Hall, Room 404 each week, and students can easily become members by attending regular training sessions.

When it began, the Gear Co-op relied almost entirely on gear loaned from members, and students who wanted to use the space often had to bring their own equipment or borrow it from others. Since then, however, the organization has increased its funding and been able to purchase several new pieces of equipment, including a PA system, microphones, amplifiers and instruments, allowing students with little to no experience or equipment to start their own bands and begin practicing.

In addition to increased resources, Gear Co-op has also begun to expand its events beyond Gear Fest — this semester alone, the Gear Co-op has held training sessions on drum maintenance and a mixer for student musicians to meet one another and form bands.

The organization has become a hugely important piece of the Oberlin music scene, helping to fuel Oberlin’s house show circuit with gear loans and providing an environment that makes it easy for bands to form and practice. Loffredo’s band, Julia Julian, was originally formed in the Gear Co-op and will open for indie darling and Oberlin favorite Pinegrove at Mahall’s in Cleveland on Monday night.

“The first time we all played together was in the Gear Co-op and we must’ve practiced there practically every week after that,” Loffredo wrote. “It was definitely super instrumental to writing music and getting tight.”

College junior Sam Rueckert, whose band Sammy Sam will play at this year’s festival, also said that the Gear Co-op has been an important resource for his musical activity at Oberlin.

“I got involved in the Gear Co-op as a freshman when I began playing drums for a band called,” Rueckert wrote in an email to the Review. “I then discovered that it was a good place to practice with bands and I’ve practiced in the co-op with multiple bands over the years. I’ve been wanting to play my songs with a band backing me up for a long time, and it seemed like [Gear Fest] would be a good opportunity to get my songs out there.”

Just as Gear Co-op has grown, so has Gear Fest. While this year’s lineup, which features 12 acts split across two separate stages, is smaller than some in years past, this year’s festival will have a focus that goes beyond simply promoting the music made by Co-op members.

“Our goal for Gear Fest is to provide a space for bands that are involved in the Gear Co-Op to perform — whether in the daytime outdoor-show type setting, or the nighttime house show one — and for attendees to be able to rally around a specific cause and use music to give back to communities that could use financial and communal support,” Loffredo wrote. “In light of recent changes in administration, [Gear Fest] is currently being used to raise funds and awareness for specific causes. This spring, donations will be given to the Undocumented Student Scholarship Fund, and representatives from other student organizations will be speaking between each set.”

Gear Fest will take place this Saturday, May 6, from 3–7 p.m. at the porch of Tank Hall and resume from 10 p.m.–1 a.m. at Outhaus. Festival admission is free.