Joan Baez played “We Shall Overcome” as an encore to end the first day of Woodstock in August 1969. On Saturday, Catherine Coffey ’16 gave the song its Hillsdale debut, opening for an event with a similar name but its own distinctive vibe: Wombstock.
“Hey, Wombstock, we’re not doing nearly enough drugs for verisimilitude here,” Coffey said. “We could change that, but let’s not. We’re already on shaky enough ground as it is.”
Wombstock, Hillsdale’s very own music festival, was named after the off-campus house of its founders, a group of men who have for years called their home the Womb. Featuring six hours of music from six local and regional bands, it was the first musical event of its kind in Hillsdale, and its musicians, supporters, and more than a hundred attendees hope it won’t be its last.
The event was the brainchild of members of the Womb, many of whom are active in bands on campus and back home: junior Nic Rowan and seniors Dean Sinclair, Mark Naida, and Noah Weinrich. Bands came together from across the Midwest through their various connections to Hillsdale. Three performers are past or present Hillsdale students, two bands are from Chicago, and singer Adam Jensen is from the far reaches of Ames, Iowa.
“You don’t usually expect acts at DIY shows like these to be this good,” said Joe Padilla, lead singer of headlining band August Hotel. “I was really impressed by their talent.”
Preparation for the arrival of an event like Wombstock is no small feat: Junior Nic Rowan, who lives in the Womb, started a GoFundMe account to reimburse the bands’ travel expenses, posted promotional videos on the event’s Facebook page, and sought permission from the city to erect a stage in the Womb’s backyard — and to make a whole lot of noise all afternoon long.
A forward-thinking someone painted a sign, red block letters on white posterboard: WOMBSTOCK 2017. Optimistic, it assumes the festival will live to see another year.
The optimism appeared well founded, because the scene couldn’t have turned out sunnier: temperatures in the 70s, not a cloud in the sky, wannabe flower children weaving flower crowns in the grass. The audience lounged in blankets on the lawn, slipped off their shoes and wandered barefoot in the unkempt yard, and luxuriated in sun-warmed couches lugged outdoors.
It was a hipster’s dream of 1969 reincarnated and cleaned up to obey Hillsdale’s local ordinances. It was Woodstock on a vintage Snapchat filter.
A healthy sense of irony tempered Wombstock’s picturesque aura: Multiple members of the Womb attested to the event’s legitimacy by pointing out the real, honest-to-God port-a-potty. And when student band The Wineboxes performed Limp Bizkit’s “Break Stuff,” considerate Wombstock planners brought out empty cardboard boxes so audience members could break stuff.
The music had a distinctly 2017 flavor — a mix of indie pop, rock, some acoustics — it spoke more to Michigan in the present than New York’s Woodstock in the ’60s.
“Ember Oceans played a great set, which captured the essence of summer and presented Hillsdale with a perfectly carefree afternoon under the lofty green Michigan trees and clear blue Midwestern sky,” senior English major Jessica De Gree said.
The music was about more than the passing of summer; it was about the entrance of new acts into Hillsdale’s musical milieu, including an electronic dance music set by freshman Declan Williamson (whose stage name is Declan James).
“When I heard that there was going to be an EDM artist at Wombstock, I immediately pictured the typical mainstream EDM festival goers — the frat boys in tanks with snapbacks and annoying fist-bump presence,” De Gree said. “I was pleasantly surprised with Declan’s set, because it demonstrated his ability to make happy and summery sounds while at the same time drop some groovy bangers.”
By the end of six hours of music, the audience still wasn’t done: A cheer accompanied the first bars of the final song, August Hotel’s best-loved single.
“I think the entirety [of the show] was pretty great,” Padilla said, “but ‘Valentine’ would be a highlight. Having the whole audience jump up and down to a song you wrote is pretty cool.”
And with any luck, this year’s headlining band will have some august company: Wombstock organizers mentioned a potential spring festival featuring indie band You Won’t.
“Oh, Hillsdale,” said Ryan Lammers, August Hotel’s bassist. “It’s always so good when we play here. We’ve been here, what? Five times now?”
The band played at Broadstreet last year, Padilla said, but the atmosphere here was different. Like Baez’s show the opening night of Woodstock, the crowd wanted more.
And they got it with an encore of Bruce Springsteen’s 1975 ballad “Born to Run:”
“We’re gonna get to that place / Where we really wanna go / And we’ll walk in the sun / But till then tramps like us / Baby we were born to run.”
The classic tune bridged the gap between musical generations: Wombstock’s attendees weren’t around to “Overcome” with Baez, and they missed the chance to chase Springsteen’s American dream, but Saturday, they got the chance to sing along and make some music of their own.