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Acousticafé: Jammin’ with Irish Spirit

Michael Barrett | Tuesday, September 30, 2003

The lights dim. A student flexes his fingers and practices scales and chords behind the curtain. The students in the conversing crowd eagerly wait for one their classmates to take the stage. He walks on, starts playing and the music soon raises the spirits of everyone present. This is Acousticafé.

On the evening of Thursday, Sept. 25, Legends hosted Acousticafé for its inaugural show featuring some of the best talent on campus. Ranging from hip-hop and R&B to reggae and rock, this night was filled with music guaranteed to please anyone.

Acousticafé is sponsored by the Student Union Board (SUB), and its student director is junior Jelani McEwen-Torrence, who also works at Legends. Jonathan Jorissen (’02), programming director of Legends, explains, “SUB and Legends have planned this [partnership] for a long time.” They hope that this will become an increasingly popular attraction for students throughout the year. Indeed, close to 200 came out at sometime to watch this first show, some of them dancing and singing with the music.

James Ford, a first-year graduate student, opened the show with some freestyle rapping, and he impressed everyone present. The next act was sophomore Joe Nava, who sang originals with the accompaniment of his 12-string acoustic. Playing with deep emotion, he sounded like a cross of Eagle Eye Cherry and Jack Johnson. He said he liked the “storytelling aspect of songs,” exemplified when he depicted a certain inspirational scene at the Grotto where he thought about someone he loved. Nava thinks that Acousticafé’s “better setup attracts more talent, [which creates] a type of hierarchy.” He mentioned his website, www.nd.edu/~jnava, where he has information on his music.

Freshman rapper Jeff “The Natural” Stephens was up next, and he definitely impressed the crowd. He says that he’s “trying to take [his career] to the next level” by developing a “strong stage presence.” Sounding similar to R. Kelly and Jay-Z, Stephens showed off his skills by freestyling and rhyming about such things as living a hard life and unity. Senior Jenna McCullins joined him on two songs, providing a soft balancing voice similar to that of Mary J. Blige. Stephens says he has “no other passion like music;” this passion shone throughout his performance, to which the heavily applauding crowd could attest.

Station One, fronted by senior Lawrence Santiago, showed reason why they won the 2002 NAZZ Battle of the Bands. Delivering a powerful mixture of reggae, rock and hip-hop, they injected energy into the whole club. Santiago opened on his own, playing an acoustic and singing a couple of songs, including Blues Traveler’s “Run Around.” The band – consisting of Santiago, senior twins Pete Miller on drums and Dave Miller on guitar, senior keyboardist Mike Maimone, and newcomer sophomore bassist Bobby Seus – has been together for three years. However, this current lineup had been together just a few weeks and had not played a show yet this year.

Despite this, they did not sound rusty in the least bit, pulling off an exhilarating set of originals and covers. Selecting from a rather large collection of songs, they played originals like “Breaker, Breaker” and “Rebel Children.” Showing their obvious reggae roots, they pulled off great versions of Sublime’s “5446” and “Bad Fish,” with Santiago sounding eerily similar to the late Brad Nowell.

Perhaps the most memorable moment of the night came with Station One’s rendition of 50 Cent’s “In Da Club,” causing many to get up and dance. Santiago rapped impressively and threw in reggae flavor in his vocals, and he also asked for “any MC’s in the house” to come up on stage. At this, Jelani McEwin-Torrence and two friends ran up on stage and took turns freestyling like professionals. Jelani explains that “hip-hop is meant to be [played] with a live band,” thus giving props to Station One. After “In Da Club” itself was over, the band did not stop; Santiago asked the audience to give him a thing to rap about. Taking a screamed request, he proceeded to freestyle about bassist Bobby Seus. They then continued with the beat on a cover of Justin Timberlake’s “Señorita,” further showing Santiago’s vocal range and the band’s gift for playing in good coordination with one another.

Besides the obvious influences of bands/singers like 311, Sublime, Outkast and Bob Marley, the band’s members disclosed their love for everything from Phish and Nirvana to Coldplay and Radiohead. After such a great performance, one may wonder, “where can I buy a Station One album?” Currently, they are pursuing a full length album and record deal. As of now, their website (www.nd.edu/~lsantiag) has a plethora of information, including some free song downloads, which they recorded from Santiago’s room studio. Station One has several shows coming up soon, including Oct. 3 at Reckers and Oct. 16 in their return to Legends.

To close the night, senior Brian “B-Shags” Shaughnessy put on a solid set of old school rap. Sporting a Dirk Nowitzki basketball jersey and a chain, B-Shags definitely looked like his influences, who include Eminem, Jay-Z and Notorious B.I.G. A Stanford RA, he had a legion of Griffins – who themselves wore such things as headbands – show up for support. He often had the audience singing along to such things as, “I ain’t no superstar, I’m just little ole’ Shag.” Shags has an album called “Stream of Conscience,” which has 15 tracks that he recorded two years ago. He has been writing songs since he was 14 and is now recording a second album, “Undefined,” which should be finished by springtime.

The first “Best of Acousticafé” show at Legends was largely successful, showing potential for great popularity throughout the year. Jelani says that these special shows will take place at Legends on the last Thursday of every month, while all regular Acousticafés will take place the first three Thursdays of every month in the basement of LaFortune from 9 p.m. to midnight. In order to perform at the “Best of,” a student must display creativity, stage presence and – most importantly – get a big crowd response. Jelani says the best way to do this is just to “bring a big group of supporters and friends” in order to ensure a shot at playing Legends.

There is musical talent all over campus, and Acousticafé has developed into the best way for students to display these skills. Legends has, in turn, raised the bar for venues, and its partnership with Acousticafé only sweetens the deal. (For more information on Acousticafé and SUB, go to www.nd.edu/~sub).