The steady throb of the bass drum begins to echo through the house. The huddled masses of Miami students and Oxford residents disperse from the kitchen and into the front room.
A few drop off donations in a box marked for the ACLU, and a couple of others pause to look at the brightly decorated buttons for sale. One reads “Defend the Free Press,” another “This government may not love you, but I do.”
Some clutch cans of beer; others gaze wistfully after returning from the back room where the smell of pot wafts through the crevice in the door.
Multicolored Christmas lights adorn the walls of 305 S. College (“The Banana Stand”) as the frontman addresses the crowd.
“Our name is Hoan and we’re from Montreal,” he says, pausing to readjust his microphone. “And we’re happy to be here in Oxford tonight.”
The bassist starts to strum his guitar, and Hoan begins their set: crooning, drumming and dropping psychedelic beats to a crowd of college students and townies alike.
Every few weeks in Oxford, bands come to play for students and residents in a series of rotating off-campus houses that host a variety of acts as an alternative to the mainstream party culture.
“It’s all about expression,” a sophomore at the Hamilton campus, Dillon Lubbers, said. “It’s about going to the house shows and feeling like you’re accepted, it’s a place where it doesn’t matter what your identity is or if you fall outside of any spectrum of what’s expected of Miami culture.”
Lubbers, who is taking over the booking of bands and organization of Oxford’s house show scene next year, is incredibly proud to be a part of something that is such a unique subset to the overarching Uptown culture at Miami University.
“This started for outsiders,” Lubbers said. “It’s a haven for those who are not the Miami white-collar Farmer School of Business students.”
The scene sprung out of an initial desire for independent bands to play original music in Oxford, but in addition to a musical venue, the shows have become an inclusive environment that has a zero-tolerance policy on rape culture and abuse of any kind.
While the concept of having an underground music scene, in which independent bands played original music, has been around in Oxford since the 1990s, 2013 marked the beginning of the student-led booking and organization of house shows.
“There were a few motivating factors that led us to create the house shows,” founder and senior Ezra Saulnier said. “The first of which was that we were playing music ourselves and there was no place in Oxford for people making original music.”
Saulnier, who is the frontman for the band CrossCountry, credits the success of the house show scene to a social media push by inviting people through Facebook events with his fellow co-founder and bandmate Emily McColgan.
“You just have to do things” Saulnier said. “We thought there might an audience because we had been to house shows in Bloomington, Athens and Columbus.”
Saulnier and McColgan first began hosting shows in the fall of 2013, often playing alongside the bands that they booked. Joe Ittle, a drummer for the band The Alaskans, has offered his PA sound system for every single house show in Oxford since their inception.
One show in particular that sticks out in Saulnier’s mind is from the spring of 2015.
“The audience sizes were the largest they’ve ever been and it was the ultimate validation of everything we’d been doing,” Saulnier said. “I have a lot of good memories of that house, ‘Mother Superior’ on 321 W. High Street. We recorded our first EP for CrossCountry in the living room where bands played the following night.”
Still, he remains apprehensive about the future of this relatively underground scene. Saulnier wonders if enough younger students and town residents will be inspired to carry on the legacy of hosting the house shows.
“I think there are a lot of really good people in Oxford, and the town can be conducive to a long-running show scene if there’s enough interest in music or culture or art,” Saulnier said. “But I think that the drinking culture has such a monolith presence here that this culture could just eat away at [the scene].”
Many of the scene’s original founding members and attendees are graduating this year or moving on.
Lubbers has decided to take up the mantle of organizing the shows for next year. He also hopes to increase the DIY/house show scene’s social media presence by creating a Twitter, Instagram, official Facebook, etc., as well as potentially expanding to poetry readings and open mic nights.
Sophomore Rebecca Sowell will be replacing senior Lauren Salem in booking bands for shows on a regional, national and even international level.
Sowell has been attending shows since first semester of her freshman year and fondly recollects seeing the band Hoops perform this time last year for the first time. Since then she has watched them rise to the ranks of her “Discover Weekly” Spotify playlist and even open for other bands on national tours.
“My goal for next year is to get Hoops to come back to Oxford,” Sowell said. “They were in the last show of 2016, and it was such an incredible feeling to to listen to them.”
Sowell is optimistic about the future of hosting the house shows and believes that such a welcoming community and inclusive space won’t disappear just because its original members are moving on.
“The shows are easily my favorite thing about college,” Sowell said. “They speak to my soul in a way; it gives me such a huge amount of happiness to my core, and I want to do that for others next year.”