After a long drought, live music returns to campus this fall. With the restoration of Olde Club, a space historically used as a concert venue, Swarthmore hosted two local indie rock bands, Best Bear and Humilitarian, on Saturday, Oct. 1. For the first time since Jan. 24, 2020, Olde Club was packed full of students listening to live music. This event was the first in a series of concerts set to go on throughout the fall semester.
The plan to bring Olde Club back to life is currently being headed by three students: Kestrel Valdez ’23, Clare D’Amato ’23, and Ben Rotko ’25.
“It started [last spring semester] with the Orpheus review, which [D’Amato] and I are both involved in,” said Rotko. “We were talking about wanting to bring concerts to campus, and our initial idea was to do it at Olde Club.”
Valdez then joined Rotko and D’Amato over the summer after reaching out to Ben Shalk, the Assistant Director of Student Activities & Leadership, with a similar idea.
“I was listening to music one day, and I was like, ‘Damn, we should bring concerts back to campus.’ So I emailed Ben Shalk, and I was like, ‘Hey, man, I want to start up Olde club this year,’ and he connected me with [D’Amato] and [Rotko] and told me to join them. It’s been a long process since like June or July,” she said.
The first challenge Rotko, D’Amato, and Valdez faced in making this dream of bringing live music back to Swarthmore a reality was the actual physical renovations of Olde Club. Since it wasn’t being used as a party space or concert venue, the school had been using Olde Club as a storage space throughout the pandemic. Valdez and Rotko spent the summer moving things out of Olde Club and turning it back into an entertainment venue.
“We’ve been [renovating Olde Club] since June. We met there over the summer, and when we walked in and we’re like, ‘oh, no, no, no, no’ … They [the school] had like all these fridges in there and cabinets that had to get moved to the basement, and lawn chairs, and there was just so much junk in there that we had to get out,” said Valdez.
D’Amato emphasized that it has taken a lot of work to transform Olde Club back into a usable space.
“It was decrepit in there. It’s been a lot of manual labor,” they said.
In addition to fixing up the building, Rotko, D’Amato, and Valdez have also had to book the acts that will play in their fall concert series in Olde Club. They’ve been pursuing bands mostly through a Facebook group called DIY Music Philly!.
“With the exception of two, all the bands were found by me putting out a Facebook post on this Facebook group called DIY Music Philly!, which I’ve been a part of for a couple of months. By the end of June I had about 180 DMs and comments on the post. So we had a lot of information to sort through,” said Rotko.
Rotko, D’Amato, and Valdez stressed that they have been putting in a concerted effort to make sure the music they will have on campus this fall will appeal to a wide variety of students.
“We do want to have a diverse array of genres represented in our shows because we want to make it open to people on campus who like all different types of music,” said Valdez.
After all of this work, Olde Club opened for its first concert of the year on Saturday, Oct. 1. The two bands, Best Bear and Humilitarian (local indie rock bands), played for a packed room of students. Rotko, Valdez, and D’Amato were pleasantly surprised by the amount of students that turned out for the first show.
“We were so scared. We were like ‘what if only five people show up,’” said D’Amato. “But then we looked out of the window, and there was a line wrapping around like the outside path, which was crazy. There was a really good mix of people there.”
The three student organizers attributed their nerves to a lack of institutional memory surrounding Olde Club as a concert venue. Since Olde Club’s closure at the beginning of the pandemic, only students on campus in 2019 have any memory of Olde Club used as an entertainment space for students.
“We were worried that people would not know what it was. We had to put in all of our emails and Facebook posts that the club is located between the WRC and the Kitao art gallery because people just truly don’t even know what the place is,” said D’Amato.
The lack of institutional memory of Olde Club has also added to the work for Rotko, D’Amato, and Valdez because they had to recover the lost knowledge of how to run concerts in Olde Club that didn’t get handed down from older students.
“I feel like an issue we’ve encountered is there’s not a lot of institutional memory or turnover from whoever used to run Olde Club. I’ve been scrambling throughout the summer to reach out to all these different people who used to run Olde Club to get information,” said D’Amato.
Valdez also noted that she was concerned the school would simply get rid of any traces of Olde Club and live music at Swarthmore because no one would be around to remember what it was like. She stressed how important it was to bring Olde Club back this year to ensure that wouldn’t happen.
“I feel like if we didn’t reach out to get Olde Club started again this year, it would have still been a storage space and then they would have started renovating it to make a chemistry lab or something. They would have just taken it away. So I’m really happy that we were able to bring it back and keep it going and hopefully make it like a big part of campus life again,” she said.
Rotko, Valdez, and D’Amato, though, are optimistic for the future of Olde Club, especially after the strong showing they had on Saturday, Oct 1. But they also hope Swat students don’t steal any more of the invited bands’ things. On Saturday, an unknown student made off with Best Bear’s cardboard cutout of a bear, which Best Bear expressed their sadness about on Twitter.
The three Olde Club leaders have four more shows planned for this fall semester, which take place on either Fridays or Saturdays starting at around 8 p.m. They noted that students can stay up to date on what is happening at Olde Club this fall by following them on Instagram @oldeclub.
The student leaders also have plans for the spring semester, although that is being challenged by budget complications.
In his interview with The Phoenix, Rotko clarified that the office of student engagement and the student budgeting committee encouraged Rotko, D’Amato, and Valdez to only apply for a fall budget as they were a new club and didn’t know how much engagement they would have. This plan has now become a problem, Rotko noted, since SBC just notified the Olde Club leaders that they don’t have enough money in the budget to fund them in the spring.
“The way that Olde Club is structured is we’re technically a club, so we have to request money from SBC like all other clubs, which is a problem because SBC ran out of money,” said Valdez. “We just met with [SBC] the other day, and they told us there wasn’t any money for the spring.”
Rotko, Valdez, and D’Amato, though, are still going ahead and making plans for a spring semester as packed with live music as this fall, including a plan to use Olde Club as a part of Worthstock, an annual concert the college puts on each spring at the end of classes.
“I really want Olde Club to be a part of Worthstock this spring. In the past, Worthstock has been at Olde Club from like 12 to 9 p.m. with nine or ten bands playing all day, and I really hope Worthstock returns to something more like that,” said Rotko.
Rotko, D’Amato, and Valdez are also especially hopeful to use Olde Club as a way to give current Swarthmore bands the chance to play in front of a live audience.
“Swarthmore has a really rich tradition of bands. So many of my friends whose parents went here talk about how [student] bands were a huge deal back then. We’d love to have student openers play with other bands up and give student bands opportunities to play with professional musicians and play on a stage in front of a crowd,” said Valdez.
As the semester progresses and Rotko, D’Amato, and Valdez look to keep Olde Club running through the spring, they aim to create a space for all students to enjoy, and one that keeps the tradition of live music alive and well at Swarthmore.
“My hope is that Olde Club, being back, will inspire students to see a stage and want to play on it, and want to see concerts as fans and be like, ‘Oh, this is so cool. I want to do this.’ Hopefully, that’ll inspire students to get back into live music,” said Valdez.
10/19/22, 7:39 p.m.: This article has been amended to clarify the details of the previous use of Olde Club
Good on these students for organizing something fun. I had some great times at Olde Club as an undergrad. Also frustrating, but completely predictable, that the admin babysitters and fun police (OSE), would only make it more difficult for students to have some independent fun. One fun thing that was one in the past was to have student groups or others co-sponsor the concerts and pitch in to pay for a keg.