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Blog pays tribute to campus bands of the ’90s

Observer Scene | Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Where do you go for live music at Notre Dame? Legends, AcoustiCafe, the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center, and PEMCo, if it’s in season. And that’s about it.

Notre Dame wasn’t always so short on selection. There was a time when live music abounded, campus groups played at parties and you could walk out of LaFortune and run into a guy asking you to join his band.

This is exactly what happened to Jim McNamee, whose band Pinch Point formed, played, recorded and broke up in the span of one semester under the Dome. Pitch Point is just one of many bands that had their heyday here in the ’90s, using the Notre Dame college scene to channel and reinvent the indiepunk wave that swept the pre-millennium years.

There were over 100 bands that formed here, practiced in off-campus basements and recorded demo tapes. And they are quickly being catalogued in one place, complete with band history, photos, and free downloads:

South Bend Power 90s (southbendpower90s.blogspot.com) is a blog dedicated to telling the story of the ND band scene of that late great decade. Started by Theodore Hennessey, ’96, they “work to preserve, archive, and make available music that was played and recorded by the indiepunk college rock community in South Bend, IN during the 1990s.” There are currently thirty-nine bands posted, with many more to come.

Each entry provides a history written by the band members, photos of shows and rehearsals, and quite often a link to free downloads. It is an interesting trip to read up on the antics of bands that were boasting large campus followings long before our time. There was an entire indie band subculture at Notre Dame in the mid-nineties, with bands inspiring each other and challenging each other to write new, different material. There were even campus CDs released, compilations of work from the many bands playing here.

Most bands of the day seemed intent on recording their original work, and many made demo tapes. Those tapes have now been converted to mp3 files, so it’s very easy to hear for yourself exactly what was heard blasting out of Cavanaugh in ’94. The entries are blunt, genuine and, in true punk style, often quite irreverent. (“I think this was largely due to me being from the Confederate South and somehow feeling more and more isolated in the Yankee dominated world of South Bend. Could also have been the clichéd searching of a young adult trying to find his way in the world,” writes Chad Shaffler of Tacklebox.) If nothing else, they are a witty travel log of how previous students from across the country dealt with finding themselves in the Midwest at a Catholic, conservative university in their late teen years.

The blog is constantly updated with new posts (each one from a different band). Often there are comments about what the band members are doing nowadays, from raising kids to using that engineering degree for writing adult fiction.

A piece of Notre Dame culture is thoughtfully being preserved, and not just for those who lived it. The blog is almost a calling-card for our generation to take up a guitar and some drum sticks and made music about anything. Bands of yesteryear were flourishing, and the best technology they had to work with was cassette tapes. Imagine what campus bands could do today.