Underclassman Bands Make Campus Comeback


Courtesy of Jack Lichtenstein

Over the decades, Oberlin has made a name for itself by fostering young musicians and, along with it, the formation of countless student bands through open mic nights, house shows, and jam sessions. A shared passion for music drew many students to Oberlin in the first place; however, when students returned to campus in fall 2021 after the COVID-19 lockdown, they were met with a music scene in need of restoration.

Many second-year musicians’ first experiences with music at Oberlin took place on a somewhat desolate campus during the COVID-19 induced three-semester academic year. Sarah Krohn, a College second-year and founding member of the band Almost Tuesday, recalled feeling stuck as the pandemic struck down her original hopes for getting involved in the music scene at Oberlin.

“I definitely had a lot of expectations coming to Oberlin with music, since it’s kind of the most important part of my life,” Krohn said. “I knew I wanted to be in a band at some point, … but it was a little bit difficult in the first year because … there was no place to even rehearse with anyone.”

Krohn was not the only younger Obie who struggled to find a foothold in the music scene due to the pandemic. College second-year Helene Prince, who recently performed in a concert at the Bike Co-op, noted that isolation and limited programming during her first year made finding musicians to practice with extremely difficult. She described feeling as though she did not get the chance to discover the music being made on campus.

“I mean, I’m a sophomore proper, but freshman year was kind of weird because of the pandemic, so I feel like I haven’t really found all of the musicians here yet, or figured out all of the events,” Prince said.

As the entire student body returned to campus last fall, students grew hopeful that the Oberlin music scene would be reinvigorated. As venues reopened and many previously-isolated underclassmen began expanding their social circles, Prince found that the reintroduction of live performance to the Oberlin campus made building a community of musicians feel much more attainable than it had before. Krohn expressed a similar opinion, noting that even with limitations, the current state of the Oberlin music scene allows for students to get more directly involved than before.

“This year it’s been nice to be able to go to shows,” Krohn said. “It’s not as ideal as it could be, … but we’ve still been able to have the shows and go to shows, and that’s been really great.”

College first-year and singer-songwriter Caroline Gunn feels differently about the limitations to performance access. While she has enjoyed attending and performing at a handful of shows, Gunn feels that there are many improvements to be made, especially regarding access for younger student-musicians. She’s glad to have made some progress so far by finding a new band and booking a gig at The ’Sco, but she explained that she feels at a loss for what to do next.

“I think it’s definitely unclear to me what the next steps will be,” Gunn said. “I don’t feel like I have a lot of access to venues I could play at.”

From Gunn’s perspective, there is clearly some music being made around campus, but after the pause in production caused by the pandemic, it has become harder for new students to connect and to navigate the performance space.

“It’s not that there aren’t any resources to access, but I would say that they’re not as easy to access as I expected,” she said.

Still, as campus life returns to its bustling pace, and COVID-19 protocols gradually loosen, there seems to be a general sense of optimism from the student body about the resurgence of the Oberlin music scene. For students like Krohn, there are many things to look forward to in the coming years, as more and more musical opportunities present themselves.

“There’s just so many other experiences that I have not yet tapped into at Oberlin,” Krohn said. “I really want to play a house show at some point. It is my ultimate college dream to be in a sweaty basement playing angsty music. I think that is where I belong.”

In the meantime, Krohn, Prince, and Gunn are all working on developing their own music. As the College’s music scene improves, Gunn is preparing for the release of her first album at the end of March, and both Krohn and Prince are in the process of finding new shows to organize.

As far as access goes, progress still needs to be made, but Prince feels that the future is bright.

“Last year was hard,” she said. “But I’m starting to find things now, and I hope other people are too. And I hope that I can play a part in helping them find spaces to play in and be creative in.”