Students share a spotlight with local music pros at Crossroads 3

photos courtesy of Martin Steel/Catalyst

Beneath a canopy of glittering stars, spectators at the Crossroads 3 concert on Friday, Mar. 4 had the chance to see some of New College’s own stars in action as student musicians took to the stage to jam with Sarasota professionals.

Attendance was free for New College students, but the event also drew a respectable crowd from the Sarasota community. The diversity on stage and in the audience went on to permeate the whole musical atmosphere as, in the words of Professor of Music Stephen Miles, performers collaborated to “create a space for different musics to come together.”

The action took place in the grassy center of the PepsiCo Arcade and Forum in the Mildred Sainer Music and Arts Pavilion. A trio of stages, drawing to mind images of Lollapalooza and the like, surrounded the motley crowd of spectators, who milled about freely between the platforms as the various performers took to them.

The first group included thesis student and violinist Sara Stovall, acoustic guitarist Nat Langston (son of Professor of Philosophy Douglas C. Langston), second-year drummer Zach Eidelman, Sarasota Orchestra members Jay Hunsberger on tuba and John Miller on bass and Miles on electric guitar. They played a classically-inspired piece composed by Miles entitled “AS IS,” a smooth blues freestyle penned by Langston by the name of “Nat’s Blues” and a section of Stovall’s thesis composition entitled “Mandala Music.” Following them was the band Physical Plant, consisting of drummer Jay Beard, third-years Peter “Jake” Elrod, Caegan Quimby and Joshua Schieble on vocals and guitar and, filling in for the night for bassist David Baker (‘08), thesis student Jeremy Zorn. The folk-rock collective jammed out a trio of crowd-pleasing, adrenaline-pumping numbers, their stage charisma and toe-tapping tunes whipping up the front-row fans into a dance frenzy. The third act featured the electronic stylings of second-year Bryce Bresnan coupled with Miller on electric bass. Bresnan (also known by his stage name, “Rive”) eschewed the conventional image of the solitary electronic artist cooped up in a studio, distorting the live bass playing of Miller on the spot into a creamy blend of dubstep.

All were fantastic in their own right, but the night’s crescendo saw all of the performers take their respective stages once more to contribute collectively to R.L. Silver’s composition, “Spin Cycle.” Up until this point, much of the audience’s movement, dancing aside, occurred between acts, transitioning from stage to stage during the concert’s quiet moments. Suddenly, spectators were aware of everything around them at once, bathed in pleasing tones from all sides, set right on top of the musical meeting-of-the-minds. As a result, visual space gained importance nearly equal to that of the music itself, seamlessly fusing the two into a potent sensory extravaganza.

This experimental approach to musical performance is a staple of the New Music New College (NMNC) series but it particularly applies to Crossroads, given its eclectic range of genres and collaboration between musicians of wildly varying backgrounds. Accordingly, placing the audience at the nucleus of the aural action served as a key aspect of the concert’s agenda. “We want people to mill around, be active, be moving,” Miles told the Catalyst. “We want them to feel like they’re inside the music.” Miles’ blues jam at the opening of the concert was also a breath of fresh air for the music program’s typically classically-oriented collaborations with the Sarasota Orchestra. “[Crossroads] challenges peoples’ sense of what music can be,” Stovall said. She also noted that she hopes the performance will lead to a trend towards free jazz in future Crossroads and NMNC concerts.

Another memorable trademark of Crossroads is the collaboration of all players and their chosen musical styles at the climax of the show. “One of the coolest things about Crossroads is that everyone plays together,” Quimby told the Catalyst in an interview with members of his band. “[Crossroads] has people playing styles of music outside their comfort zone,” Schieble added. “It throws you both as a player and a listener.”

To the student musicians on stage, Crossroads also represents a golden opportunity to showcase their work to a fairly diverse audience. Physical Plant in particular hopes to gain additional name recognition from this event in time for the release of their first six-song EP. The band, which has been playing together ever since it formed as part of an Independent Study Project (ISP) in January 2009, plans to release the EP as a free download sometime in March or April and to follow it up with a full-length album.

In addition to providing student musicians with a platform for their work and concertgoers with a thoroughly entertaining evening, one of the most important functions of the Crossroads series is bringing the two groups together. “It’s an important bridge between the college and the community,” Stovall said. Events like Crossroads garner a great deal of attention (not to mention money and support) from the community at large, promoting New College’s positive image as a hub for this generation’s best and brightest artists. In Stovall’s words, these gatherings serve to “perforate the bubble,” reminding Novocollegians and Sarasotans alike that they exist as separate spheres within the same larger community.

Of course, for music students interested in big-time experience and exposure, the Crossroads series also provides them with a means of interacting with respected professionals, working together as temporary contemporaries. Though Crossroads is not the only instance of this collaboration, it is unique in its distinctly Novocollegian style. “[Crossroads] has the orchestras coming to our house,” Miles joked, describing the concert as a significant “moment of exchange” between the two sides.

“It’s hugely significant that New College could draw these artists,” Stovall said, referring not only to Hunsberger and Miller but to all NMNC visitors in general. “These are incredible, cutting-edge artists from all over the nation.”

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