I feel a pang of sadness and regret whenever I check the tour schedules of one of my favorite bands and find that they’re performing in Boston, New York, or Chicago. These moments remind me of the kinds of artistic and musical experiences I could have had if I had chosen to go to college in a bigger city. But even so, there’s no avoiding the fact that Western Massachusetts is pretty remarkable in its own right: while there are countless valuable things to do, see, experience, and get involved with in the region, the most exciting for me has been the burgeoning, vibrant, and eclectic music scene.
Being an Amherst student comes with access to an incredible community of talented and passionate musicians and music lovers. I’ve been to more house shows than I can count (or remember) in my time at Amherst, and I’ve never felt more immediately welcomed and loved in a community than I have in the company of Valley musicians. This supportive, loving culture pervades the entire Valley, but it’s especially apparent in the music world: so many musicians go to shows to watch and listen to other musicians, and whenever I ask them for their thoughts after the show, they’re invariably appreciative and grateful for the mutual support and camaraderie that abounds in Western Mass.
Moreover, for a lot of local bands, the music community isn’t just recreational or occupational: it’s a lifestyle. Lots of local bands not only book each other’s shows, but even live with each other. The house shows and basement shows are where the real magic of the Western Mass music scene happens, and they’re quasi-exclusive by their very nature (but if you want to get in, following bands on Facebook is a great place to start). The intimacy of these shows—the intimacy of this community—is what this appreciation is about.
While this culture of support and appreciation has been characteristic of the Valley for some time, right now is an especially exciting time to be a fan of music at Amherst College. Locally grown bands like And the Kids, Lux Deluxe, Potty Mouth, and Speedy Ortiz are all rising stars in the world of indie music. The revival of 60’s psydechelic music by bands like Carinae is a testament to the rich history of music in Western Mass, which has a storied legacy. Amherst College’s own Tuna and The Wongs are exciting members of a crowd of young bands that are having fun and experimenting with sounds and styles in intriguing, unprecedented ways.
The proliferation of musicians and shows means that there’s never a dull moment. If you love music, you can catch local bands playing at a variety of local-friendly venues, including the Platinum Pony, the Hinge, and the Parlor Room; but there are also a variety of performances by rising local musicians in venues across the Five Colleges. Hampshire College’s Red Barn shows and Marsh Haus’s concerts are just the beginning. If you’re looking to delve deeper into the world of local music—and I sure am—these are damn good places to start.
Finally and most importantly, I’m grateful for the music scene because of its unapologetic willingness to be weird, funky, and different. Live music is the best way to shake off your inhibitions and get vulnerable: There’s no social pretense when you’re jittering and convulsing to the melodies of Carinae or the toe-tapping fun of The New Rockwells. And the relentless experimentalism and adventurous spirit of local music always fills me with anticipation. You never quite know what you’re going to get when you arrive at a show, but you always know it will be earnest, thoughtful, impassioned, and fun. What more could you want?