The Fate of Rock Shows: Barn’s Plight Parallels Abbey House History

The first time I heard someone say that a student newspaper serves as an essential institutional record, I thought the statement was cheesy. I thought it was true, but that it conveyed truth in a severe and self-important fashion. The phrase “institutional record” took itself, and by extension the newspaper, too seriously.

It’s been over two years since I first heard that phrase, and while I still believe in not taking oneself too seriously, I’ve realized the true importance of the record we provide. I was reminded of it last week, when I was doing research on the Voice itself, and I stumbled across a historical parallel between the Barn and Abbey House. If not reopened, the Barn won’t be the first performance space to be lost permanently by the student body.

My discovery started by seeking a clarification, and it’s one I’d like to make publicly yet briefly now: The College Voice’s current correct volume number is 40, or XL, not XXXIX, not C. I noticed upon starting my position as editor-in-chief that earlier editions of this year’s Voice say “Volume C,” in the top right corner, reading below: “Connecticut College’s independent student newspaper since 1977.” I knew that we couldn’t be on our centennial already, so I subtracted and changed us to XXXIX, or 39.

I was off by one. By going into the digital commons — which everyone can access while on campus — I tracked the volume numbering from every past year of the Voice, starting in 1977-78, and searched for mistakes. Other than one skip — a jump from 28 to 29 at the semester break in 2004-05 — it appeared to be perfect until 2010-11. That year, the Voice started out as 35, though it should’ve been 34 due to the skip, and switched to Roman numerals for volume numbers halfway through the year. The Voice messed up and wrote “XCV,” meaning 95, instead of “XXXV” for 35. Following years just went with it.

Findings of my tedious search in my grip, I was triumphant. 2010-11 had given me the explanation I sought, and as I scrolled through the paper, I discovered something else unexpected. The College Voice Volume 95 (35), Issue 19 boasts the front-page headline: “Rest in Peace Abbey House Shows.”

According to Courtney Townsend, writer of the May 2, 2011 article, the common room in Abbey House was used for concerts until Spring 2011, when Campus Safety officers discovered a group of students and alumni setting up for a show. They had reserved the common room, giving them rights to the space contingent upon the absence of alcohol at their event. Then, Townsend notes: “In the graffiti room [adjacent to the Abbey common room], [Campus Safety] found two unopened beers. The show began as planned, but Campus Safety informed the organizer of the event that he had not ensured an alcohol-free environment, and thus needed to shut it down.”

Townsend attributes the initial misunderstanding to a discrepancy, as she explains that the show itself was sanctioned by the REAL Office, but the Campus Safety officers at first refused to recognize its legitimacy. In light of this event, she says: “the two offices have reconciled that discrepancy: as of Sunday, it is forbidden for bands to put on shows in the Abbey House common room.”

Townsend’s frustration comes through as she discusses the complacency with Campus Safety the REAL Office demonstrated by ending Abbey House shows. She notes that on a visit to the REAL Office to discuss the situation, an employee said of the shows: “We can’t trust students not to drink at these events.” Townsend highlights the hypocrisy of the statement by musing: “But Cro is also a common space where the presence of alcohol is rampant, though likewise illegal. When individuals are caught, the event goes on as planned. Moreover, no one would consider making it impossible for events to be held at Cro because of prolific consumption of alcohol.”

So what is it about concerts? Townsend is right; not only does the school look the other way when faced with omnipresent inebriation at institutionally sponsored events (e.g. Floralia, Festivus, every form of Cro-or-tent dance), it shuttles students to and from bars in New London. And I get it: heavily policing sanctioned events and limiting transportation on weekend nights ups the number of pre-game-shot-induced alcohol poisonings and drunk driving accidents, but why does the slack have to come out of students’ artistic spaces? To this end, Townsend comments: “this new policy is hostile to the musical community at Conn,” and adds: “Last year, Barn shows were banned. Now, Abbey shows are banned. Will Coffee Grounds be next?”

This got me searching. Back one more volume, I found no mention of a Barn closure — presumably, the Voice didn’t cover it — but I did find an article on MOBROC that appeared to predate the closing. In volume 34, issue 12, Andrew Crimer writes affectionately that “students fill [the Barn] with noise, hoping for art and settling for tinnitus.” He follows with a laudatory picture of MOBROC’s importance on campus, portraying MOBROC shows as free and inclusive spaces for student expression. I’ve never seen anything like it written about Exchange.

Crimer’s enthusiasm for Barn shows reiterates Townsend’s final point, as she notes: “the reasoning behind this new policy belies a fundamental misunderstanding of students’ desires. The assumption is that we have these events in order to get wasted. But, for us, this is not about alcohol…It is about independent creation.”

Maybe I was just sucked into the archives, but the Abbey House story grabbed me, and it did it without a cause for my personal concern. My creative energies have never manifested musically. I probably shouldn’t have passed fourth grade music class, given my failure to master the recorder, and even my writing is somehow anti-musical, consisting only of prose, not poetry. But despite the fact that I’ve never needed an amp or decent acoustics for my creative outlet, it worries me to think that those who do have been repeatedly stifled by the school. I don’t know what the musicians on campus plan to do, but I do know that if someone took away my non-musical keyboards, I would freak out.

2 Comments

  1. An important piece. The College has become obsessed with having synoptic control over student life to such an extent that spaces on campus that have historically allowed for free-form, student-administered events to materialize (Abbey, Earth House, the Barn) have been reduced to shells of their former selves, now resembling museums that whisper of the creativity with which they were once teeming.

    What the College’s admins don’t understand is that you can’t institutionalize creativity or fun or the power of students who want to do something to join together and do it. Students NEED these spaces like the Barn, but they also can’t take them for granted. The campus must have alternative and egalitarian spaces, but they must be cultivated and cared for and fought for! You can’t trust that Conn’s student life and PR departments will just create them.

    And, by the way, it’s equally as important to have a student-run newspaper that will catalogue these shifts to ensure the preservation of institutional memory. So kudos.

  2. Yes it is critical to have an independent student paper. As an alum from the class of ’73 we struggled with this during the politically charged times we were in. We had transitioned from a woman’s college (pretty much no weekend social life ) to a co-ed school with no structure for socializing. There was some alcohol abuse and at least one death. There was also a newspaper, long before the voice, Satyagraha (I think I spelled that correctly). We tried to address issues on campus and I think we’re able to bring changes in thinking, by the administration, that this was no longer a world where teas were the idea of fun. I was also a theatre major, or independent studies as it was known, and we had no performance space except Palmer. We pushed back on that and used whatever we could on campus. Several of us worked to claim the old post office as a black box years later. Anyway keep up the good work, change is slow but future students will appreciate your advocacy.

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