Vulnerability is something students, and people in general, are uncomfortable with. While Berkeley is full of talented consulting groups and exciting Greek life, there isn’t as much focus on individual creativity. Essentially, few clubs allow students to showcase their talent while also sharing their struggles and traumas. Songwriting at Berkeley gives students an opportunity to do both. The club’s open mic Sept. 8, located at SoDoI Coffee Tasting House, included an amalgam of covers of classic crowd favorites and prodigious original student work.
The ambience of SoDoI Coffee Tasting House seems as though it was built for eclectic artistic expression. The grandiose wooden boat behind the performers along with other traveling mementos reflected the fact that many performers at the open mic came from all different parts of campus. Some were members of the club and others were guest performers — lost and hoping to find a place where they could share their musical expression. The smell of coffee grinds and the subtle lighting matched the sounds of the acoustic guitar, piano, ukulele and even harmonica, perfectly.
Though Songwriting at Berkeley is a relatively new organization, it put on an event equal to that of a professional show. Lighting, sound and photography equipment were all set up like that of a paid concert. The stage was the perfect size for the individual performances and groups; each transition between acts was effortless.
The informal setting, an open mic as opposed to a pre-planned performance, did not take away from the talent of the performers. Each piece was greeted with equal encouragement from audience members. Some people were there to support their friends, others were just passing by — but regardless of where they came from, every musical number was taken in with open arms. The Songwriting Club has certainly gained a large number of new members a large amount of support since transitioning from a DeCal — an informal class taught by students — to an open club.
While popular hits by artists such as Mumford & Sons, Bruce Springsteen and the Red Hot Chili Peppers were performed, the musicians also played some originals as well. The student-written songs varied — some included lyrics, others were instrumental. One student sang, “I was like a cigarette that you stomped out in regret,” instantly changing the tone from light and peaceful, to dark and thought-provoking. She and the others who did include lyrics gave the audience the subtle, beautiful vulnerability the Songwriting club has been able to cultivate — singing about love, heartbreak and everything in between.
The diversity of the performers matched the diversity of songwriting content. This individualism spread beyond the physical. Performers didn’t hold back and tried to portray what they felt the audience would expect. One performer played an acoustic piece full of difficult guitar runs, while another was able to play the guitar and the harmonica simultaneously. Even the multiple people who performed on the same instruments were able to each stand out in a unique way with their original content or stage presence. It was clear that many of the artists came from all different backgrounds in terms of experience. Though some students were clearly nervous about performing, the encouragement from their fellow musicians and the intrigued audience was enough to clear them of their jitters.
The Songwriting at Berkeley’s performance gave everything one would expect from a coffeehouse acoustic show and more. It wasn’t just a group of young adults coming together to play music. For many performers under 21, finding open mics they can both perform at and attend is a challenging feat. Songwriting at Berkeley caters to this struggle directly, making their open mic unique and all-inclusive. Songwriting at Berkeley not only understands student expression but also attempts to share it with those not directly involved in the club. It offers a place where students can share their love of music and a safe space for all to share their deep thoughts and contemplations without fear of judgement.
Many students are uncomfortable with the idea of vulnerability, so when a group makes an effort to make the uncomfortable comfortable, it truly generates a unifying atmosphere. Songwriting at Berkeley’s open mic gave students the artistic freedom that is too often stifled — and that allowed them to display vulnerability in a deeply impactful way.
Contact Samantha Banchik at [email protected].