Cox’s Corner: On Midwestern emo

Tuesday, September 10, 2019 - 9:27pm

Ryan Cox

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Returning to Ann Arbor this past week for my senior year has caused me to reflect upon my first fall in Ann Arbor. Coming from a small town in Florida, I knew I was about to be inserted into a very different environment, but I had no idea how different it was going to be. 

My town had a relatively small local music scene; cover bands played at bars every Friday and Saturday night but that was about all that I knew of. I was ready to get involved in a college music scene, but because I didn’t know a soul in the state of Michigan, I really didn’t know what to do in order to get involved. Then, someone that I met through some huge Facebook page, who would later go on to become one of my closest friends freshman year, invited me to go to a show for a local emo/pop-punk band, Seaholm. They sent me an address, and said that music was going to start around 8:00 p.m. or so.

I showed up at around five after eight, terrified that I was going to be late and miss the concert, and was immediately terrified. There were so many faces I didn’t know, all dressed in shirts for bands I had never heard of. I was nervously anticipating someone to prompt me with the classic, “Who do you know here,” but luckily, I finally found my friend and we made our way to the basement where Christmas lights hung across the ceiling like a line of frozen fireflies. 

We stood right in the front for the entire night, listening to loud chaotic guitars accompanying the moaning vocals that flooded the room. But somehow, it still felt inimiate. It felt unapologetically Midwestern to me. 

There’s a subgenre of emo music called “Midwestern emo” that’s known for open tuned, twinkly guitars and lyrics about growing up and melancholy. People often think this music sounds juvenile, but I don’t think that’s a negative thing. Standing in that basement listening to people I never knew sing about feelings, I felt myself coming into this strange, foreign place.

As the crowd started to disperse after the final set of the night, my friend and I approached the current singer/guitarist for Seaholm, and tried not to fangirl as we complimented them on their set. I had been to very few concerts outside of the realm of jazz, classical and the occasional big name rock band, so being able to just walk up to band members seemed like an insane concept. However, Jake and the rest of the band members were incredibly nice and told us to come to more shows, giving us some information on the scene and just making polite conversation with two wide-eyed freshman. 

As I walked out of the venue, I saw people sitting on the porch talking, joking and hanging out as the night started to emit the magical sort of presence it has in the fall. This was the first “DIY” event I had ever been to, and I can pretty confidently say that if I hadn’t gone to that event, I probably would have had a very different collegiate experience. As I plunged into the local music scene more and more, I realized how creative Ann Arbor really is, and how many distinct and diverse ways there are to express yourself.

So, if you’re a freshman and you’re reading this: Go to a show. Even if you don’t know anyone. Even if you have a 9:00 am the next day. Even if you don’t like the bands playing. Even if you don’t like music. Shows like these don’t happen anywhere else in the world, and they really are a special experience that I hope everyone can enjoy.