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SUB’s AcoustiCafe highlights student performers, adapts to new guidelines

| Thursday, August 27, 2020

Mary O'Reilly | The Observer

As campus enters its second week of virtual instruction and closed public spaces, live music is in scarce supply. [email protected] email digest lists no concerts, and solely instrumental masses underscore the large portions of liturgy usually celebrated through singing. Ending this absence of musical groups, the Student Union Board’s AcoustiCafe will resume their 9:30 p.m. Thursday performances on Aug. 27. These open mic events offer Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross students an informal setting to share their talents with the community.  

To accommodate university safety regulations, these student-run concerts will take on an entirely new form. Sadly, AcoustiCafe will no longer have the added percussion of gym-goers dropping weights onto the floor above the Hagerty Family Cafe stage. Lead programmer and junior Catherine Fitzpatrick explained over email that the campus shutdown paused plans for an outdoor performance, so now each musician’s 15-minute set will be live-streamed via the SUB YouTube channel. This arrangement is not permanent, however. 

“If the University approves physically distant gatherings again, we will proceed with our previous plan,” Fitzpatrick said. 

These changes will alter the dynamic of this initial AcoustiCafe, but they offer new opportunities for innovation and audience growth. Without a physical venue, performers can use their streaming locations to reflect the tone of their music, highlight a favorite space on campus or offer a snapshot of their home (or dorm) studio. The nature of the musician-audience relationship will change, but live YouTube performances can reach family, friends and fans outside South Bend, making this first AcoustiCafe of the year exciting for veterans and newcomers on both sides of the microphone.

One returning artist, fifth-year senior Jack Darnell, is excited for the challenges of the new format. With three previous years of AcoustiCafe experience, streamed performance offers a way to bring his covers and conversational nature to fans everywhere.  He is no stranger to virtual concerts, having remotely performed for Carroll Lakeside last spring. In an email Darnell revealed that AcoustiCafe previously recorded and live-streamed performances when the former LaFortune basement venue limited the number of people who could attend.

“Physically, visually, audibly, this is going to be a big change from the AcoustiCafe we all know and love,” Darnell said. “But emotionally, even spiritually, I can’t help but dream this has the potential to amplify the beauty and love we already have at AcoustiCafe. As long as there are people who want to come and listen, I’ll be happy.”

One musician performing has no prior history with AcoustiCafe, but she embraces the unfamiliarity. Junior Macy Mateer plans to make her solo debut on the livestream.

“It’s humbling, but not intimidating,” she said of her role in setting the tone for her own future performances and those of other student artists. “I’m one story in a bigger narrative, so I’m grateful for AcoustiCafe keeping this musical outlet alive.”

Mateer hopes to preserve the strong connection between performer and audience in part through technology.  Her Instagram account @musicwithmacy features her versions of popular songs, show tunes and original compositions. Mateer described her sound as “cozy, minimalist, campfire vibes,”and her guitar, vocals and emotional openness with her audience suit digital performances on Instagram and YouTube.  

All people involved in AcoustiCafe emphasize the communal nature of the event, and the richness that comes from student engagement. The program has established an intercampus group that connects musicians of all genres.

“With a lot of things — especially student performances — suspended this semester, the performers are excited to engage with AcoustiCafe,” Fitzpatrick said.

Even for the audience, the shared experiences of student life and appreciation of peers’ talent unites listeners through the emotion and storytelling of song. Mateer considers performance to be a form of healing, and she hopes others can recognize that potential. 

“If music is your way of doing that, I would love for you to join us,” she said. 

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