Oberlin Blogs

A Beginner's Guide to the Oberlin Music Scene

September 5, 2010

Helena Thompson ’11

So, if you didn't know already, well...Oberlin's kind of a musical paradise. No matter what you're looking for on the auditory front, a mix of student talent and Oberlin community artists will always deliver. Whether you're a prospective student, a new first-year, or an Obie veteran, the following can serve to guide you though the sometimes overwhelming sea of Oberland artistry. Enjoy!

1. Oberlin resident Bobby Stevens rolls your burritos at Agave by day, but by night he whispers you bourbon-drenched folk tunes as if he were the long-lost son of Townes van Zandt. Influences include Wild Turkey, beautiful barmaids, "that low down feelin' in the bottom of the soul, hope, glory, frustration, and everything in between."

Listen: "Give Me That Smile," www.myspace.com/bobbystevens


2. This August, Andy Cook and the Wanderloons toured in support of their summer release Sing, Dionysus!, a record chock-full of both sing-along choruses and heartfelt lullabies. It's as if Neil Young and the Beatles had a kid - and truth be told, the results are almost too good for words.

Listen: "Between the River and the Fire," www.myspace.com/andycook


3. Haley Antell crafts exquisitely fingerpicked ballads that feel disarmingly ethereal, yet grounded in reality. During her solo shows (she moonlights as one of Andy Cook's Wanderloons), she's been known to cover Americana icons Patty Griffin and Hank Willams, Jr.

Listen: "Slow Summer" 


4. Double-degree student Matt Orenstein (Lionel O) plays quirky folk-pop reminiscent of the Mountain Goats or Dear Catastrophe Waitress-era Belle and Sebastian. With his whimsical lyrics and expert whistling skills, Lionel O is truly a staple of the Oberlin musical community.

Listen: "To Chelsea," www.myspace.com/whoislionelo


5. College junior Andrew Gombas is more than arguably the most prolific artist in Oberlin's music scene - in 2010 alone, he's recorded and released three albums. His most recent, Piblokto, is a record full of loss and desperation; fitting, as the record's namesake is a hysterical condition known to specifically affect Eskimos in the wintertime.

Listen: "Sara's Song," http://www.gombas.bandcamp.com/


6. The Bearcubes play sunshiny pop music that feels like puppy kisses, warm blankets, and ice cream sundaes; songs such as "Summer Storm" include a string quartet stirring amidst a jaunty piano ostinato. Did I mention the two oboes?

Listen: "New Moon in the Morning," www.myspace.com/bearcubes


7. What do you get when you mix keytar, two double basses, and a female Tom Waits? The Bits, of course! Their live shows, though infrequent, are a force to be reckoned with.


8. With influences ranging everywhere from avant-garde composer John Zorn to more mainstream artists such as Outkast and Parliament Funkadelic, Organ Yank aim to assault your ears with fusion jazz perfection during every live performance. If there was ever a band to embody the term "auditory orgasm," Organ Yank would be it.

Listen: "Road Dome," www.myspace.com/organyank


9. Zack Kelley fronts a group of musicians with a name that changes almost as often as Ohio weather in the summer. His band's most recent incarnation goes by the Maids of Le Mans, churning out rock ditties that simultaneously confuse and intrigue, while still preserving Kelley's signature solid songwriting.

Listen: "Buckets of Love," www.myspace.com/unclezaxandthestepkids


10. There's also this pretty sweet band called the Black River Belles that y'all should listen to. Bringing "bluesgrass" to the Oberlin community for the past two years, this three-piece aims to break traditional notions about folk music while sticking to a bluegrass instrumentation of guitar, upright bass, and fiddle. Gosh, it's really awkward to write about your own band.

Listen: "Wagon Wheel," www.myspace.com/blackriverbelles


There are also a ton of other musicians in Oberlin not included in this shortlist, such as the Funkin' Donuts, Ska Ska Black Sheep, the Outhouse Troubadours, and Like Bells. For some reason, Oberlin also has a pretty hoppin' cover band scene, including the Dead Band (the Grateful Dead), the Band Band (the Band, obviously), a B-52s Cover Band (are they still around? I hope so), the Bikini Kill Cover Band, Kennedy's Shattered Head (the Dead Kennedys)...I could seriously go on for days if I were going to cover everything. Use this as a jumping off point and do a bit of exploring on your own!

p.s. This was featured (in modified form) on fearlessandloathing.com (Oberlin's independent news source) as part one of a multi-part series. Check back soon to read more about Oberlin music!

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