High Hopes and Hippies: A Folking Good Time

Erik Larson

Smelling like a sweaty stoner and packed to the absolute limit, Harkness Lounge was a lively and appropriate venue for last Friday’s Folk the Pipeline concert, presented by Oberlin College Anti-Frack. Both a benefit and a terrific showcase of student talent, the two-hour concert was a generally fantastic time, no matter how you felt about fracking.


The issues at hand were twofold: raising money to cover the cost of fines for those attending a protest in D.C. this weekend against the proposed Keystone pipeline, and providing relief to the Charleston area of West Virginia, which recently suffered a chemical spill. With the funds raised — over $600 — OC Anti-Frack has enough money to cover the cost of sending one or two people to the protest. The rest of the money will go to Radical Action for Mountain People’s Survival, a non-profit with a strong anti-coal stance that is currently working with local volunteers to help solve the West Virginia water crisis. According to concert organizer College sophomore Daniel Goering, RAMPS and OC Anti-Frack have a strong working relationship; Oberlin students have traveled to West Virginia to protest in the past, while RAMPS has brought speakers to campus.


The Appalachian, crunchy-granola spirit of the benefit extended to the rest of the concert, which shone with an earnest, laid-back and at times, actually Appalachian vibe. For an Anti-Frack concert, there was little sermonizing and only one or two songs about environmental disaster or impending doom. The rest of the concert was a constant reminder of the abundant talent of Oberlin’s student body, as each performance improved upon the last and frequently provided better material than the songs on which they were based. The performances started with double-degree sophomore Hayden Arp, a singer-songwriter who had a deft hand with the acoustic guitar and fantastic set of vocal cords. He started with a few covers before delving into his own material, which impressed with poetic songwriting and excellent melodies. He closed with a song he wrote as his Winter Term project, called “The Shining Palace Built on the Sand.” Although its global warming warning started off cliché, it quickly hit its stride and continued building until its unexpectedly moving climax. Arp was a hard act to follow, so it was a refreshing relief when the next performer — the banjo-playing College sophomore Mattis Deutch, a.k.a Matches — took things in an entirely different direction.


Deutch played two Appalachian folk songs and two Dirty Projectors songs. The first pair brought a fascinating change of pace, with the hypnotizing twangs of the banjo contrasting intensely with Deutch’s high-pitched voice to create a transformative soundscape straight out of old-time Appalachia. With the crowd swaying gently, Deutch kept his audience captive throughout his entire set.


His covers were slightly less enticing, however, mainly because the lyrics and the music didn’t work together as perfectly as they had in the first two songs. This slight dip in the evening’s energy paved the way for what was arguably the high point of the night, the three-piece folk outfit The Dads, made up of College sophomore Alex Chalmers on guitar and vocals, double-degree sophomore Amy Jackson-Smith also singing, and College sophomore tambourine player Josh Harlow. The band performed folk hits of yesteryear with such energy and gusto that the whole of the lounge was bursting with dancing and the echoes of people singing along. While Harlow was frequently overzealous, going for crazy rhythms and wild rolls when the music demanded simplicity, it did little to dull the band’s overall effect, especially during their amazing cover of “Bow Down and Die” by The Almighty Defenders. Here, a spell seemed to come over the room, and people sung their hearts out as the band played the chorus over and over, building until the excitement in the room felt like it was going to explode.


The last two bands brought the excitement down a notch to usher in a hushed and relaxed tone for the final sets, playing more down-to-earth folky tunes. College senior Tom Rathe played the first set, an around-the-fireplace style performance that left the tired and tipsy crowd drifting back and forth in their seats, lulled into a comfortable pillow of depressing tunes. Following him was a two-piece band featuring College senior Haley Schurman on banjo and Austin Meyers on guitar, closing out the night with a more impressionistic style of folk, their slightly discordant voices painting a psychedelic picture. They were interesting, although unfortunately burdened by the final slot, as the concert had stretched to the two-hour mark by the time they began. Many people left before the set. Those who stayed, however, were treated to one final experiment in a night full of absolutely wonderful music.