Reed Students Create DIY Booking Collectives, Bring Bands to Campus
This story was originally published in the 9 September 2016 issue of The Reed College Quest.
It’s easy to think of SU shows as just SU shows: songs to sway to, drunk on Barefoot wine cleverly disguised in a repurposed Yerba bottle, as we dance, laugh, or smoke and chat outside with friends. To others though, the musicians that come through the SU can provide the soundtrack to some of the most memorable moments of our Reed lives.
But the process of cultivating those performers brought to our beloved SU is a much more complicated process than most realize. It’s the final product of a great deal of blood, sweat, tears, and emails, sent by a bunch of your fellow students who head up booking organizations like Synergy, La Playa, and Angel Booking.
La Playa, comprised of Alejandro Chávez and Sandy Witte, is the most recent of the student-run booking groups on campus. Founded by Chavez and Witte in spring 2016, La Playa was born from their desire to bring Portland/Mexico City artist Coast2c and Texan duo Royal Highness to Reed, and they thought “this would be the best way to do that.” Focusing on booking Latinx artists to play at Reed, Chávez hopes “that it can help increase the visibility of Latinx culture, which is not something that Reed necessarily had when I started.”
La Playa takes its name from the 1983 track “Vamos a La Playa” by Italian band Righeira, a track Chavez always plays on the way to the beach with his family. “I always enjoyed listening to Latinx artists, especially Selena, but mostly did that in private,” Chavez said, discussing La Playa’s origins. “At some point last year Sandy and I got really into cumbia and were finding cool artists and we thought that it would be cool to bring some to Reed, since I hadn’t really seen it before.” La Playa isn’t officially associated with the Latinx Student Union, but Chavez is “also a part of the Latinx Student Union, so a collaboration is not completely off the table,” he says.
Despite La Playa’s relative newness, other curated events have focused on appreciating Latinx artists, too. After “having started La Playa, I was digging through the Quest archives and found that in the early days of RAW, the theme was Latinx artists. I thought that was interesting, and not really the way that I had conceived of RAW themes,” Chavez said.
“So, what happened was I saw a post by the band Frankie Cosmos that was like, ‘We wanna play in Portland,’ and I commented, ‘Come play at Reed!’” says Heidi Loening, one-half of Angel Booking, on how the booking collective began in 2014, when both were in their first year at Reed.
“And then I was talking about it with Isabel [Lyndon, the other half of Angel Booking], and we were like ‘Ok, we should totally make this happen.’ So we kind of figured it out as we went. And when we finally went to get the contract signed at SAO [Student Activities Office], the person who was helping us out was like, “Oh, it’s really cool to see girls doing this. We’ve never had that before,” she continued.
“And we were like, ‘Oh, are you serious?’ So we were like, we have to do this.”
Before Loening and Lyndon started Angel Booking, they’d never seen another all-female booking group. Angel Booking seeks to close the gender gap in the music industry on all fronts, though, doing their best to book female-led bands and work with female booking agents, sound engineers, and more.
“We strive to have it be all ladies in the room when the bands come in….[having an all-female soundcheck] has happened before, and it’s really awesome,” says Loening.
But before 2014, neither Lyndon nor Loening had any experience with booking.
“I feel like it’s been cool because it’s like when we did the first show we ever did it was like ‘is this even possible?’” Lyndon said. “And it’s so totally possible, for Reed students generally, which is really cool.”
Booking goes far beyond just Facebook commenting on bands’ posts, though. “It’s a really good way to learn about budgeting,” Lyndon said. “And also about being confident, and interactions where you don’t necessarily know technical stuff or much about the band, but just being like ‘ok, well, we’re going to put the amp there’ — like creating the environment and being able to fully curate it,” continued Lyndon. “If any underclassmen are interested in taking over, we could teach them how to do it,” said Loening.
The oldest of all the active booking groups on campus, Synergy “was started in fall 2014 by a former Reed student named Matt Dell,” said one of its current leaders, Tomu Zhao. “He started Synergy on a whim during the first week of school, not knowing anything about what it could be or how anything at school worked…Matt chose the name [too],” Zhao continued.
“He’s a weird guy so nobody really knows why he did anything, but he kind of just chose it and stuck with it. I like to think it has something to do with fostering, which is applicable to our current state given our inclination towards booking a host of diverse performers.”
Apart from Zhao, Synergy is also run by Vasiliki Ioannou, Samrath Bhattacharya, Sage Michaels, Pranav Bhatnagar, Charlie Rich, Emma Souders, Paulina Joy Polyumptewa — “and a few other people whose involvement is yet uncertain (also open to new team members, contact Tomu),” Zhao said. “Instead of assigning everyone positions, we will be working together on all aspects of our shows together,” Zhao continued. “In having a diverse team inclusive of members of each class, we will make our shows as widely appealing as can be.”
Inclusivity and a celebration of community is high on the agenda for Synergy as they look toward a new school year. “Synergy’s purpose is to bring queer artists and artists of color to Reed and put them on with student artists, supporting them and making campus more eventful,” Zhao said. “We aim to create a sense of community between artists and community members, and cultivate a space where music can be appreciated but people aren’t afraid to let loose and have fun.”
Even though the SU stage might feel small in a big world, there’s still a huge power in booking who gets to play on it: who gets paid to perform their art determines who is able to keep making their art.
“I think that music can bring about change because it can sometimes seem like a ‘fun harmless’ thing but can bring about important conversations,” says Chavez. “I think that it is really important for underrepresented minorities to see themselves on stage or people who look like them on stage. However, I think that sometimes students (read: white students) can perform a sort of “cultural tourism” with “ethnic artists,” he continues, “and I hope that with La Playa people can come to the events with that in mind and support non-white people outside of the entertainment they provide.”
The benefits of booking extend beyond the artists, too: we have power as students to create our own community, and when it comes to live music, it all begins with who we put on stage.
“Music creates change on all levels…In booking exclusively, for lack of a better word, marginalized artists to headline, the range of events available to our campus becomes far more diverse; people of all different backgrounds get a platform to spread their message,” Zhao says. “Especially in putting student artists on bills with larger and more recognized acts, all members of the community get opportunities to meet people they might not otherwise meet, which artists and students alike consistently derive great joy from. More than a couple artists who have come to Reed through Synergy have told me that the best show they ever played was in Winch or the SU, and this is in comparison to venues like The Fillmore in SF, which blows my mind.”
And just like any other student activity, booking and creating a musical space is open to any students who want to get involved.
“More girls at Reed should be playing music and booking bands. Really just anyone at Reed should be doing that, because it’s really not that hard and it’s good life experience,” says Loening. “And for anything that feels like it’s missing from Reed, or other aspects of Reed that could be changed — if it’s possible to do it through Senate or whatever, then make it happen,” said Lyndon. “And if you feel like it’s missing, probably other people are feeling that way, too,” added Loening.
Angel Booking presents Candace and Lisa Prank on Friday, Oct. 14
Synergy presents a TBD booking on the weekend of Oct. 7 (an artist Zhao called his “dream booking…one of the greatest inspirations in [his] life”)
La Playa presents Bidi Bidi Bom Ball (“an SU dance with mostly Selena music,” says Chavez), coming this fall.