March 17, 2023 | ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT | By Zach Dinklage

As a relatively new self-taught guitarist, playing in front of a large crowd is completely foreign to me. The ease of playing, tranquil enjoyment, and overall relaxed nature that comes with playing music for friends simply disappeared once I stepped on stage. This was not my first time playing in front of a crowd, yet the stakes were much higher: Four bands, two winners, one Llamapalooza, and $300.

I was anxious all day. Worner Basement quickly reached fire capacity, and soon the audience was forced up the stairs only to get a small glimpse at the show. But when the show started, the clouds cleared, sending the butterflies away. I felt confident, played music like never before, and was so locked in that I didn’t even notice all the people watching. 

Well… sorta. This crazy effect I like to call “fear-induced memory loss” conveniently allowed me to forget the form of our first cover, “A Kiss With A Fist” by Florence + The Machine. Fortunately, this song only contains three chords, and I quickly recovered my balance. The crowd was still watching. I placed small children’s shades over my eyes (my strategy to not see the people) and nearly teleported through the entire set. The nerves and anxiety did not disappear, they were in fact only enhanced knowing that there were real people who could hear the screw ups. The strict time limit of fifteen minutes came and went, and soon I was off the stage, rejoining the audience. 

Although I tense up with paralyzing fear, my hands turning into slippery wet slabs of butter, everyone else was seemingly calm and composed while playing their set. The four bands that “rock ‘n’ rolled” were Sallie and the Swamp Goblins, The Morning After, The Keeps, and Strip. This strict time constraint was not to be crossed. Later in the show when Strip went just over the cut-off, Jason Smith ‘25’s base amp chord was pulled, and their set was cut short.

Despite not being able to finish their last song, “Hey Joe” by Jimi Hendrix, Strip put on an excellent 15 minutes and displayed an incredible amount of talent. Unlike most of the bands performing with a rhythm and lead guitar, Strip played with one guitarist, Charley Stacey ‘25, who also plays lead guitar for Sallie and the Swamp Goblins.

This simplification of band members not only makes each instrument easier to pick out, but also requires precise technique, confidence, and experience for one person to essentially play both rhythm and lead guitar. In addition to their incredible performance, the band lived up to its name, and Smith showed the people what they wanted to see as he removed his top layer for the last song, revealing a handsome overall dress thing that was only a little too short. 

The two finalists of the night who will each be playing at Llamapalooza later this spring are Sallie and the Swamp Goblins and The Keeps.

The swamp from which these goblins dwell is so swampy that only their upbeat, danceable songs with beautiful saxophone melodies and a soulful groovy tone are enough to keep them from being completely consumed by the mud. Their music will make you hold your breath, swing your arms, hug a friend, and belt along with Sallie’s empowering vocals.

Bass player Alex Rhodes ’25 has been called “a metronome” by rhythm guitarist Niko Cvitanic ‘25, as he described his fellow goblin’s ability to keep time: “they are literally machines.” While they might not be made of metal, their performances are so well rehearsed that they might as well be, and they will be welcomed and eagerly anticipated by students at Llamapalooza.

The night was a coalition of performances of not only talent but creativity. Both finalists debuted original songs that can be found on Spotify. The Swampers performed “Yellow Cars” and “Gettin’ Along,” while The Keeps played their originals, “Midnight Feel,” “Retrace,” and “Make it Up.”

This band arguably had some of the most danceable music, and their groovy funk sound floated through the audience and wriggled its way out of the people’s hands and feet. The Keeps only played three of nine originals that they have recorded and can be found on Spotify, their newest being “Sunshine Bloom.” Give this song, and their others, a listen and pay attention to the riveting and emotional solo at the end. I could not be more excited to dance along to more of their funky bass riffs and creative melodies later this spring.

This story could not be written without a shoutout to The Morning After. Where does the name come from? One weekend we had a gig on Saturday morning, the morning after a Friday night. What happened that night? I guess you’ll never know.

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