friday may 1, 2009 blacksburg, va.
After tenure battle, Neck moves on
TWO CASES OF SWINE FLU IN VA The Virginia Department of Health announced two cases of the swine ﬂu in Virginia. The patients are an adult male from eastern Virginia and an adult female from central Virginia. Neither is hospitalized but both experienced mild illness. Each had traveled to Mexico. State Health Commissioner Karen Remley predicts there will be further cases in the state.
VOLUNTEERS NEEDED FOR CAMP Comfort Zone Camp, a Richmond-based camp for bereaved children who have lost an immediate family member, will hold a volunteer recruitment drive in Blacksburg this weekend. Two training sessions on Saturday and Sunday will take place from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. The Kappa Delta Sorority house and the Johnson Student Center, respectively, will serve as the locations for these sessions. Both are open to students and faculty. The camp, which oﬀers children aged 7 to 17 “the opportunity to remember their loved ones in a safe and healing camp environment,” has served campers who lost family members at Tech on April 16, and is registered with the VT-Engage initiative.
sports RE REACHES NCAA CHAMPIONSHIP Tech junior men’s tennis player Yoann Re was granted an at-large spot in this year’s NCAA Division I Men’s Tennis Championships. As part of the ﬁeld of 64, Re was an All-ACC honoree and is ranked No. 55 in the latest Intercollegiate Tennis Association poll. The pairings for the individual tournament are released on May 19, while both the singles and doubles competitions will take place from May 20-25 in College Station, Texas.
tomorrow’s weather SCATTERED T-STORMS high 73, low 57
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Check out a video recap of Tech’s Relay For Life from last weekend
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An independent, student-run newspaper serving the Virginia Tech community since 1903 106th year • issue 56
Business professor Chris Neck instructs his Management Theory and Leadership Practice class in McBryde 100. Neck will move to Arizona State in the fall.
ct news reporter Professor Chris Neck stepped onto the Virginia Tech campus 15 years ago and immediately knew that he never wanted to leave. Today, he is making plans to relocate to Arizona State University after a conflict over the promotion that never happened. Neck, an associate professor of management in Pamplin College of Business, started the procedure to apply for a full professorship in 2006, not knowing that the process would still be going on three years later. The process to apply for full professorship is a “very extensive process,” said Richard Sorensen, dean of the Pamplin
College of Business. “The decision is made for associate professor with tenure sometime within a faculty member’s probationary period,” Sorensen said. “In other words, during the first five years of their employment. It is the same type of committee process where there is very extensive documentation, which could be a couple hundred pages of information that is presented both on teaching, service and research.” Sorensen said full professorships are granted through a request for promotion, where the faculty member’s “research, service and teaching are evaluated.” “First you reach associate, and you are there for so many years, and then you can apply for a full professor-
ship,” Sorensen said. “There is additional consideration given to a faculty member’s service during the consideration for full professor, but the committee also continues to look at the strength of the faculty member’s research program. Strong research programs vary by person and by discipline. Also, we use outside letters of reference to make a decision about full professorship. First of all the decisions are primarily made in the department, and then the other review is done to see that the quality of the faculty member is consistent, but we use those outside letters of reference in the process. We ask the people who write the outside letters of reference to talk about the impact that the person’s research has had on their particular field of study.”
Neck said he does not understand the reasoning as to why he did not receive full professor when he applied for promotion three years ago. “What I feel, and people will say differently, is that if you talk to them they will say, ‘Oh, his work was not scholarly enough,’ even though I am in a top journal in my field,” Neck said. “I am not trying to get by on my teaching, even though I have a teaching record. When you go out for full professor, the committee seeks letters from people around the world to write about you, and usually that is what prevents someone from getting full professor, but in my case, that never came up as a reason for why I didn’t get full professor, because I know my letters were good.” Neck said he teaches in an
“unconventional manner that other faculty do not approve of.” “Basically, I teach a big class that gets a lot of attention, and I always do my own thing,” Neck said. “I am not the professor who shows up at 8, sits around, drinks coffee, goes to lunch, chats about the world and then leaves at 5. No. I travel around the world, I consult, and I study organizations. I am always there for my students; I am not there for these other faculty members. I am not there to have lunch with those faculty members. That is not my job.” Although Neck said he does not place priority on pleasing other faculty members, Kerry Redican, professor of education and the 2008 Faculty Senate president, said it is
vital for faculty members to have a solid connection with faculty when going up for full professor. “It is extremely important to have a strong relationship with faculty members,” Redican said. “A department faculty functions like a family, and they depend upon one another; they work together for common goals. It is very important that you relate and work well with your colleagues. If there is a situation where a faculty member is not helping in a department, such as not serving on curriculum committees or things like that which are labor intensive, that means the other members have to. You function like a family; there has to be give and take.”
see NECK, page two
’Burg businesses Commencement planning gird for summer sparks conflict, change at UVa ZACH CRIZER
ct news reporter Each summer, Virginia Tech’s campus population dwindles, cutting Blacksburg’s population nearly in half. Businesses, however, must find ways to carry on. Mish-Mish owner Steve Miller said his store sees a drop in business during the summer months, but university offerings can help soften the blow. “We do, and it depends on how many art and design classes are being offered,” Miller said. Miller said Mish-Mish cuts hours of operation and employees to deal with the summer swoon. “We just kind of cut our hours back and get ready for fall ordering,” Miller said. However, Mike Buchanan, owner of Souvlaki, said this is the only type of business he has ever known. “You’ve got your own micro-economy here with Virginia Tech,” Buchanan said. Tech also produces a business pattern. “There is a decline in business in the summer, because you’re basically taking 25,000 students out of town,” Buchanan said. Buchanan said he has not felt as many negative effects of the economy because of Tech’s insulating effect. Still, he cuts back on hours during the summer. Souvlaki closes two hours earlier during the
summer months. In the academic year, Mish-Mish closes at 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, and 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. During the summer, they close at 8 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 6 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Still, peak time periods associated with the university schedule help Miller maintain stability. “Right now, we try to build up a buffer so we can meet our obligations for summer,” Miller said. “Our peaks are the beginning of the semesters and the last weeks before exams are usually good.” Miller said he relies on art and design students to sustain the business, and worries Tech budget cuts may hinder his sales. “It seems to us like there are fewer offerings in the summer,” Miller said. “And that affects us as well.” Mish-Mish employs eight part-time students during the school year, but uses only two during the summer months. Robert Ruble, owner and operator of Xanadu Gifts, said visitors boost business, making up for the decrease in residents. “I see an increase in tourism,” Ruble said. “July is usually one of my better months.” Buchanan’s shot in the arm comes in the form of music. “The town has concerts every Friday night during the summer,” Buchanan said. “So that helps business.”
ct news editor This spring, students at the University of Virginia changed the process through which the university chooses each year’s commencement speaker. The movement began when some students disagreed with the choice of the 2009 speaker, Harvie Wilkenson, a UVa law school alumnus and federal district judge. When Quynh Vu, a senior at UVa, heard about Wilkenson in early March, she researched him and found that she did not agree with Wilkenson’s rulings and opinions on various minority groups. Vu believed Wilkenson’s writings in the Washington Post about gay marriage were hostile to the UVa LGBTA community and “condescending and inflammatory toward what they were working for.” She also considered his ruling in “Handi vs. Rumsfeld” — a case involving an American citizen detained at Guantanamo Bay — an inappropriate attitude toward Arab minorities. “We were flabbergasted that he was asked to speak,” Vu said. “It’s not about him speaking but him speaking at commencement because that’s a special time that people only get to have once.” Her roommate Amelia Meyer attempted to discuss the decision with UVa Secretary Board of Visitors Sandy Gilliam; however, he declined the dialogue. “That’s what made me mad,” Vu said. “Not just at the speaker but it showed a complete disregard for any criticism or student voice.” Uva’s Office of Major Events
did not respond to calls from the Collegiate Times. Currently at UVa, the student representation on the commencement committee consists of the Student Council president, H o n o r C hai r, University Judici ar y SMITH Committee Chair and fourth-year class president. The Student Council president chooses five additional students. The entire committee makes a list of 10 potential speakers and passes it to President J o h n Casteen, WILKENSON whochooses from the list or disregard’s the committee’s offerings and picks a speaker whom he wants to bring to commencement. Vu had a tough time finding any information on the process to choose the commencement speaker and created an online petition that called for the transparency of the process and more student involvement in the decision-making. The petition currently has 414 signatures. Vu believed that a more open forum is appropriate for an event in which the students are invested. She suggested the creation of an online area to post speaker ideas, or that the students on the committee would be more publicized so that the student body could give them input. She noted that in regards to such suggestions,
Gilliam “didn’t take them very well.” Eventually, the university responded and changed the process for next year. All students were able to apply this spring for the five additional positions on the 2010 commencement committee, although the Student Council president still picks from the applicants. At Virginia Tech, the decision for the commencement speaker comes directly from the president’s office. Christina Todd, the Tech Class of 2009 Woman At Large, is the sole student representative on the commencement committee. She attended the monthly committee meetings with representatives from all colleges and the graduate school, but in terms of the speaker for graduation, she said the planning was “all kind of headed out of the president’s office,” and that the decision to bring Gen.Lance Smith — Tech alumnus of the Pamplin College of Business — was not a responsibility of the committee. The Class of 2009 student representatives will choose the student speakers among themselves. Two representatives speak at the fall commencement and two speak at the spring commencement. Todd spoke in the fall. The process that the president’s office chooses the speaker each year is “not as formal as you might think,” said Mark Owczarski, university spokesman. “There’s a lot of different ideas and candidates.” Todd said she wasn’t aware of any sort of process similar to UVa’s. The commencement committee planned the logistics of commencement in terms of
security and venues. Todd said that there weren’t many issues that the committee had to vote on, but primarily figured out where each college would have its graduation. Todd explained that the committee wanted to create more transparency about commencement and that every final decision was posted on the Web site as it developed. Todd said she did not feel like the students were underrepresented on a panel that contained only one student member. “If they have questions about student representation, I never felt like I couldn’t say anything,” Todd said. However, she agreed that an increased student representation would be useful. “Obviously the more input we could have the better,” Todd said. “I don’t know how the process would work to suggest that. I believe that if more students wanted to have more of a voice I’m sure that they would hear that.” Tech commencement is Friday, May 15.
TECH COMMENCEMENT SPEAKERS 2009: General Lance Smith 2008: Hoda Kotb, NBC News anchor and Virginia Tech alumna 2007: Former General John Philip Abizaid 2006: Gov. Tim Kaine 2005: David Calhoun, president and CEO of GE Transportation Systems
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Neck: Decorated professor wanted his ‘entire career here’ from page one
However, he said not working as closely with other faculty members “may not be the reason someone would not get promoted,” Redican said. “I think the merits of the case are the merits of the case,” Redican said. “The closeness of faculty does not have that significant of an influence on a person’s case.” Neck said he feels as though all criteria for his position were met. “Look at the people in the last five years in Pamplin that got full professor, and I ask you to compare my record to theirs,” Neck said. “If you can say that their record is better than mine, then I will walk away today.” France Belanger, an accounting and information systems professor, was one of the most recent faculty members to be promoted to full professor in Pamplin in 2008. “The process itself happens within about eight months, where you have to prepare files, get them approved at multiple levels, get your evaluations together, and send them off,” Belanger said. “You have to do research to be qualified for full professor, but there are several other criteria as well, including teaching.” Belanger added that faculty applying for full professor have to receive international recognition for research in their field of expertise. “I am the editor of a very major journal in my field, and I was also a distinguished chair on the Fulbright in 2006 in Portugal,” Belanger said. Belanger added that not having enough research or proof of good teaching can inhibit someone from becoming full professor. “I think the faculty input is part of everything,” Belanger said. “ … Really what you have to look at is the whole package, and ask if this person is someone who adds to the mission of the university and that involves the teaching, research and service.” Neck’s accomplishments outside of teaching include writing eight books and more than 80 research journal articles. Belanger said that if a faculty member is passionate about what they do, they should eventually reach full professor.
In addition to teaching his Friday management theory class, Neck, left, has written eight books and authored more than 80 research journal articles. “I love what I do so much that my work does not stop there,” Belanger said. “It is not like you have reached something and then it stops; it is another level and a nice recognition, but it will not change my job, which is to continue to be passionate about my research and my teaching.” The university handbook outlines the requirements of a full professor, Redican said. “From the faculty handbook, it says that an associate professor has ‘demonstrated by substantial professional achievements by evidence of appropriate combination of outstanding teaching, creative scholarship and recognized performance in extension, outreach, library, or related academic
professional service,’” Redican said. “For full professor it says, ‘in addition to the requirements for associate professor, appointment to the rank of professor is contingent upon national recognition as an outstanding scholar and educator,’ so you have a combination of things.” Redican added that an associate professor seeking promotion must go through many levels of faculty and department heads for review. “The process involves being evaluated by a committee at the department level. They evaluate through the dossier, which is a document concerning the person up for full professorship, then they make a recommendation to the department head, who will
evaluate the dossier, make a recommendation to a college committee — who is elected — they will evaluate the dossier, make a recommendation to the dean, the dean will evaluate the dossier and then eventually make a recommendation to the university,” Redican said. In addition, Redican said, “there are outside reviewers that will receive the dossier, evaluate it and write a letter.” “What you’ve got is a process that is faculty driven, and you are being evaluated by your colleagues,” Redican said. “Everyone has seen the same dossier, so you do have safety nets in that process. It is unfortunate when the outcome is not what one wants, but there is enough safety nets
built into the system that, while it is not a perfect system, it is not a flawed system.” Neck said he believes the “process was flawed,” adding that the decision really stays within the department, which was a disadvantage in his case. “At the department level, the very first decision, the people who voted on me were biased,” Neck said. “The fact that no one ever stepped in when the Board of Visitors said it was wrong, that makes the whole process flawed in my mind, even though the faculty at Pamplin will say that it was not flawed.” Neck added that when he went up for full professor, the members on his board “had a bias against me, and that
is not fair.” “The true story is that two of the three full professors that voted on my full professorship did not like me,” Neck said. “One had accused me of plagiarism years ago when I was going up for sabbatical, and that is the worst accusation in academia that you could be accused of. It didn’t go anywhere, but the board members were trying to harm me and they won’t confirm anything. They felt that no one could publish as much as I did. Early on I had a run-in with the other professor that voted on my full professorship. I decided not to work on a paper with him, so since I did not do that, he did not like me. He was on the jury voting on my full professorship, and when you have a jury you are supposed to have an unbiased jury, which was not the case in my situation.” Sorensen said the university requires there to be a “peer review of teaching” as a chance for other faculty members who work with the member up for promotion have the “opportunity to visit and conduct a formalized peer review.” “Sometimes we also receive feedback from alumni where they talk about the impact that someone has had on them, and sometimes we receive letters from students who are currently here,” Sorensen said. “So we look at the evaluations that are done by students and we use quantitative data, but also the comments from students, and we use the faculty peer review and the alumni comments.” Jim Knight, animal and poultry science professor and close friend of Neck’s, said Neck should have been granted a full professorship. “I can say, as one who has served on a number of promotion and tenure committees, what tends to be Chris’s strength in terms of teaching, tends to get under appreciated, especially for promotion to full professor,” Knight said. “Teaching excellence tends to be undervalued in the promotion and tenure deliberation at Tech, and there tends to be a far greater emphasis on research productivity, grants received, those types of things, much more so than strictly on teaching.” Sorensen said that Neck was provided feedback and reasoning behind
see page three
friday, may 1, 2009 from page two
his rejection. “The university has higher expectations for any research and service, but that is more from a theoretical viewpoint,” Sorensen said. “But for Chris Neck, the material and feedback was provided to him, and if he would like to discuss it, that is his option.” Knight said from a numerical standpoint, the number of publications and books that Neck has produced are more than adequate for a promotion to full professor. “My understanding is that some of the people in his department and college thought that he should not be doing some of the things that were a bit more abstract and academic as opposed to practical,” Knight said. “Based on what I have observed, his external reviews tended to be very favorable, and typically what we would consider appropriate teaching standards.” Neck said he felt not receiving full professor was a way to “put me in my place” from a university standpoint. “To sum it up, I did not get full professor. I feel it was to say, ‘You know what, you are not doing things the way we want you to do them, or the way that you are supposed to do them, you need to be doing them differently,’” Neck said. “If I leave here, people may think I just left here because I wanted to go out of work, and that is not right. I would rather people to know that I was pushed out, it was not that I chose to go.” Neck said a “good old boy system in Pamplin,” kept him from achieving full professor status. “I almost burst into tears thinking about it because this has been such a wonderful place, but for the administration to say that they value teaching is a bald-faced lie,” Neck said. “Usually they let teachers go because they haven’t done any research, and that is their excuse. But they are letting me go, and I have done research for numerous journals in my field, but they were trying to find some excuse saying that my research was not scientific enough, and I guess they did. Business is my discipline, and it is an applied discipline, so they are basically saying that my research is too applied, too practical.” Knight said Neck has devoted his life to teaching and is very concerned about making contact with students and having enthusiasm in the classroom. “I think that it is inspirational to see what Chris can do in terms of making direct person contact and impact on students despite teaching sections of several hundred students at a time,” Knight said. “That is a very rare gift.” Stephen Skripak, associate dean for graduate programs, said he had no knowledge as to why Neck did not receive promotion to full professor.
Skripak said Neck was the first person he sought out when he came to Tech. “My understanding is that Chris Neck is a fabulous professor who has been extremely well liked by the students,” Skripak said. “He has won teaching award after teaching award, has been a very helpful colleague to me. He values his colleagues very much.”
“... they will give you a lot of excuses. If you look at the faculty handbook it will say that a full professor is someone who has a national record in both scholarship and teaching, and I’ve got that.” - CHRIS NECK ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR The fact that Neck was never promoted to full professor may show that some faculty members do not feel the same. Skripak said he does not know what all of the factors are that go into the decision of a full professor. “I am not a tenure track faculty person myself, so I do not know what the process is,” Skripak said. “I don’t know what the standards are. Certainly from my point of view, I would have endorsed his promotion. Again, it is a not a process I am fully familiar with.” Sorensen said the “university does require a peer review of teaching” when considering an applicant for full professorship. “It is required that other faculty members have the opportunity to visit and conduct a formalized peer review, according to the university promotion and tenure handbook,” Sorensen said. Neck said he has been a “whistle blower in the system.” He pointed that out as a reason for not receiving a full professorship. “I went up for associate professor two years early and got it,” Neck said. “I have over 80 published articles in scholarly journals, I have over five books, I have been voted professor of the year over 10 times, and I received the Wine award for excellence in teaching. What the professors at Pamplin will also tell you is that my research is not scholarly enough, even though I am in all of the scholarly journals; they will give you a lot of excuses. If you look at the faculty handbook it will say that a full professor is someone who has a national record in both scholarship and teaching, and I’ve got that.” Neck added “Virginia Tech basically ratted me out” because when Pamplin rejected Neck’s promotion, Arizona
State University contacted him right away. “Arizona State heard about it, and they have a very large class there that was not going very well, so they contacted me and asked me what would it take to get me to come there,” Neck said. “I said nothing, I told them that I wanted to stay at Tech, so I turned them down, and they called back, and this was when more and more of this stuff was going on, and Arizona State basically said that they would offer what Virginia Tech would not give me.” Neck said his case “went all the way up the chain” to a panel consisting of representatives from each college. “The only decision that really matters is at the department level,” Neck said. “Very rarely will anyone overturn what the department says. In other words, if the department voted for me, no one would ever overturn it, but if they don’t vote for me, the chances of it being overturned, which normally takes a provost to do, and I have seen it before, but not here, is rare.” Titles and salaries do not matter, Neck said. He works at Tech because he loves to teach. “This is what I do, this is what I want to do with my life, teach,” Neck said. “I could have easily seen myself spending my entire career here, but I was forced out. I could have stayed here, but I was mistreated and I was not supported, and even from a big class standpoint, it was never appreciated what I did when I was teaching the number of students that I did.” Neck added that if he had to trade all of the titles in the world, he would trade it for “the best reviews from my students.” “Tech did nothing to prevent me from leaving, and if I am such an asset to the students, that is an issue,” Neck said. “They never brought up anything about my teaching, because they couldn’t. They argued that I was not on enough committees.” Neck also said the he was “not under the radar” as a professor, so that posed a problem when it came to his promotion of full professor. “I viewed my job as teaching this class as doing the best that I can,” Neck said. “I did my research to bring exposure to Virginia Tech, and other people didn’t see it that way. I think they would have preferred that I was in more meetings doing nothing, wasting time and teaching a small class and getting the attention is the status quo. I am controversial because I am different, but that is who I am, and I am going to speak my mind.” Neck said he is not present at all faculty meetings but he meets with thousands
of students per year. “Those are the type of things that faculty members don’t see; they go under the radar,” Neck said. “The type of service I did was different; it was the type of thing that typical faculty members don’t do. I spoke on behalf of Tech for a lot of events; I worked for free at basketball games. I did a lot of things that faculty members were not used to.” Neck said the definition of a full professor is “someone who has research, who has a name, and who does excellent work in the classroom.” “You never hear of someone who didn’t get full professor because of service. That is unheard of,” Neck said. “If they give me that reason, I can argue that it is bogus. Someone first said my service was lacking, and then my dean last year said that my research was not academic enough. I think those are just excuses.” In an attempt to make his case heard, Neck turned to the faculty senate. “I filed a grievance with them, and they came back saying that the process was biased, so they told the provost that I needed a fresh set of eyes to view my record again, and all that the provost did was add some more people onto the board along with the old members who were biased against me the first time,” Neck said. Neck believes widespread university issues are being displayed in his case. “There is more than just my case,” Neck said. “It is a bigger issue, and it is about the credibility of Tech. This issue has really exposed the hypocrisy.” Redican said that Neck did “experience some difficulties” and came to the faculty review committee of the faculty senate
to discuss his case. “The faculty review committee doesn’t do anything except make a recommendation,” Redican said. “If there is a procedural problem, the faculty review committee is not going to make any judgments about the merit of the case. The only time that the faculty review committee will get involved is if there is a procedural error. In that process, if there is a procedural error, only then will the senate take a recommendation. In Neck’s case, there was no procedural error found.” Redican added that he has no knowledge of any bias going on in relation to Neck’s case. “If the assertion is made about that is going on, and if the faculty committee got involved, it would reach some type of a closure,” Redican said. Redican said that all teachers must show themselves to be effective through the information they provide in their dossier. “Teaching is certainly important, and this university does value teaching, and we want all of our teachers to
be effective,” Redican said. Stuart Mease, special projects coordinator in the city of Roanoke, was a graduate student under Neck during his time in the MBA program at Tech. Mease said Neck has an unbelievable gift for connecting college students with very important issues that affect their lives. “At the end of the day, the students are the customers, and the students have spoken out in such positive ways about him, and that says it all,” Mease said. Mease added that Neck teaches several of the largest lecture classes offered in Pamplin, which has made his influence on Tech students even greater. “I can even say that when I was an undergraduate student at Tech,” Mease said, “any class I took under Neck’s teaching was one of the best and most influential classes that I took at Tech.” Neck will begin his new position as a “master teacher” at Arizona State in the fall of 2009.
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may 1, 2009
Delightfully vulgar, Kultgen’s Eating it up: Insatiable fans feast ‘The Lie’ isn’t for the faint of heart on celebrities’ tweets via Twitter RYAN ARNOLD features reporter
Bid farewell to dental hygiene and macaroni, for you will never see Listerine or Velveeta the same way again. Chad Kultgen’s second fiction offering, “The Lie,” crosses more lines than hopscotch — but wasn’t that game occasionally
a blast? The book follows the inner monologues of three students at a mystery university, SMU, in Dallas. The reader is welcomed into a residence hall during the first few vulnerable weeks of freshman year and eventually departs the cast upon their graduation as seniors. Well, two-thirds of them turn their tassels. There’s the BOOK REVIEW old adage that proclaims, “Everything is bigger in Texas,” and Brett Keller is certainly a giant jerk; furthermore an invincible one. Brett is the presumed heir to his father’s business, Keller Shipping, the second largest freight and shipping company in the southwest. With numerous students depending on Keller Shipping for wellpaid jobs, Brett traverses campus trailed by a legion of brownnosers. His father also attended SMU where he was the president of a highly regarded fraternity. Brett is expected to mimic the tracks laid down by generations past, and while he entertains his supposed destiny, he truly craves a unique existence. Brett holds a wicked disdain for the constructs of wealth and status; specifically, those who try to acquire them through associating with him. While he manages to emasculate several fraternity brothers, Brett far more frequently exploits women. He views them as deceitful and disposable — tick marks on his bedpost, and he is running out of writing room. His sexual appetite is insatiable and infinitely immoral (a $12,000 vacation to Viking’s Island, populated entirely by prostitutes), and it started at the tender age of 11 when he slept with his 16-year-old babysitter. You read about his fateful Jacuzzi so often that you can feel the jets on your legs. Heather Andruss’ priorities are more confused than Joaquin Phoenix’s rap career. She majors in elementary education, but only because she thinks it will be valuable when she has a baby. She totally, like, loves her sorority and, like, Kultgen clearly, like, stereotypes the verbal, like, capabilities of such girls. Heather wants so badly to be the only junior in Greek life who is engaged, but only if the ring meets her catalog
“The Lie” Synopsis Follow three university students whose minds are warped by love and lust. You might also like:
“I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell” TUCKER MAX
“Post Oﬃce” CHARLES BUKOWSKI
of requirements. Her nightstand drawer packed to the max with condoms hints that she’s not picky when it comes to a mate. Kyle Gibson is possibly more malleable than Play-Doh. Brett’s best friend since third grade, Kyle is pre-med with intentions of becoming a doctor. He is enamored with Heather the moment he meets her freshman year. She was drunkenly walking a friend back to her dorm (on the wrong floor) when Heather fell face-first into the wall, passing out next to Kyle’s room. He cared for her wound, she found it chivalrous, and the hook was firmly in place. An infatuation led primarily by his second head, Kyle is manipulated by Heather on countless occasions. The central theme (I use that word loosely) is arguing the validity of love. While Kyle maintains the notions of romance and monogamy, however misguided in this instance, Brett tirelessly tries to convince him otherwise, noting that mutually rewarding relationships are impossible. Our only purpose as organisms, he says, is to repeat the sexual act. Through a disturbing series of interwoven, infectious (literally) events near graduation, all three characters find their lives drastically altered, although not each of them finds the shift negative. Cresting 400 pages, Kultgen appears to have crafted a marathon read, but he runs the race in sprints. Each chapter bursts with shock value before quickly passing the baton. Kultgen often forfeits more traditional grammar and punctu-
“Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puﬀs” CHUCK KLOSTERMAN
ation in favor of fractured hyper-talk he must feel better captures our generation. I don’t think he’s too far off. Kultgen also creates subtle anticipation when characters’ chronological narrations are interrupted with retrospective revelations. “And that inability to see things that are right in front of my fucking face,” Kyle said, “is what led me to where I am now.” That ignorance is actually the only part of the story to which I, and possibly you, can relate. If you yourself have not been in one, you likely have a friend or roommate who was (or is) in an all-consuming relationship that inexplicably morphs them into a drone. Those blinders are unfortunate, and it’s so frustrating to observe from the outside. I feel Kultgen’s most significant cowardice is including several important plot twists that are ridiculous. Stumbling upon an orgy that elicits brilliant revenge, for instance, is highly improbable. Regardless, I submitted to the willful suspension of disbelief. “The Lie” is not intended for enlightenment, but rather raw entertainment filled with tearful laughs and crooked winces. Kultgen’s take on collegiate life is wildly pessimistic, framing it as a cesspool of savages obsessed with carnal lust and infidelity. From XXX toys to pregnancy announcements in Quiznos, cocaine to ecstasy, there is not a shred of dignity in this novel. If you are morally sensitive and susceptible to shame, keep this one on the shelves. If not, feel dirty and like it.
contra costa times On April 15, Britney Spears used a break in her arduous concert tour to play “Slip ‘N Slide” with her sons. A couple of days earlier, John Mayer found himself pigging out on M&Ms. That happened to be around the time MC Hammer was gazing at sea turtles in Hawaii, and Rainn Wilson was thinking about getting a tattoo in the likeness of a “mid-’70s Elvis.” Innocuous showbiz items culled from People Magazine or “Entertainment Tonight”? No, they’re bits of blow-by-blow minutiae provided by the celebrities themselves via Twitter, the social micro-blogging service that enables users to share their musings with their “followers” in 140-character posts known as “tweets.” The phenomenal growth of San Francisco-based Twitter Inc. continues to make jaws drop. According to Compete, a Web analytics firm, Twitter.com had 14 million unique visitors in March, up from 8 million in February. Not bad for a startup founded just three years ago without a business model. Much of that rapid growth has been fueled by celebrities using the service to open a new line of communication with their fans. The stars send out messages about their latest projects or what they happen to be doing at the moment – and more people seem to be hanging on their every word. On April 17, actor Ashton Kutcher beat CNN in a much-ballyhooed race to be the first Twitter account-holder to reach a million followers and promptly sent out a tweet proclaiming, “Victory is ours!” But his reign might not last for long. On the same day, Oprah Winfrey made her Twitter debut and had more than 73,000 followers even before issuing her first tweet. By Monday, that number had soared to nearly 400,000. Twitter co-founder Biz Stone knows that kind of big-name endorsement is promotional gold. “We didn’t expect celebrity interaction (when we started), but it does help make more folks aware of Twitter, which is a positive for us,” he says. “... There seems to be two reasons why celebrities enjoy it – a more direct connection with their fans and the fact that they can control their own messaging.” Indeed, Twitter essentially allows celebrities to sidestep typical media outlets – and even their publicists and
agents – to go straight to the people with bite-sized messages delivered to a computer or cell phone. “Stars can use it to not only build their brand, but to control their brand,” says Rodney Rumford, a new media expert who has written a book on Twitter. “They don’t have to wait to be written up in People Magazine. They can make their own news.” Sure, but is it really news? After all, why should we give a tweet that Jimmy Fallon is playing “Mafia Wars” on his iPhone, or that Ryan Seacrest warily admits he likes the new Miley Cyrus song, or that Vanessa Hudgens is jonesing for an In-N-Out burger? Clearly, a lot of people actually do care, insists Lee Goldberg, a veteran television producer and writer. He says that, for many celebrityobsessed fans, the glory of Twitter is all in the details. “I’m astounded by how mundane some of the interactions are,” says Goldberg, who joined Twitter three months ago. “But it seems that the more mundanity there is in the tweets, the more personal and intimate the experience is for those involved. It’s like, ‘Hey, Madonna’s having her period, and I know about it!’” Even better is when celebrities occasionally go beyond the one-way declaration to actually reply to a fan. Case in point: Amber Tsuchida, a Northern California Twitter user, recently asked Kevin Spacey if she could get a hug. The actor responded by sending a “big cyber hug” and Tsuchida was thrilled. “It’s cool that you can be in direct contact with someone like him – to have a connection you couldn’t have had any other way,” she says. “It’s easier than trying to walk up to them at a restaurant and ask for an autograph.” On the other hand, some scoffing skeptics characterize Twitter as a mere gimmick and say it creates relationships that give off the illusion of being more intimate than they really are. Among the detractors is Simon Cowell, the cranky Brit of “American Idol,” who was quoted in a TV interview as saying, “Why would you want to talk to people like that? It’s like phoning someone randomly whose number you don’t even have and saying, ‘Hi, it’s Simon. I went out with my family this weekend.’” Regardless whether it’s gimmicky and frivolous, the Twitter craze rages on. And it’s intriguing to see the vari-
ous ways in which stars are making it work for them. Some, like Spears, tend to leave the tweets to staff members who mostly post messages that hype a concert or album. Others, like MC Hammer, type up their own messages several times a day and often respond to fans. “It is taking down the velvet rope and doing away with elitism,” says the rap star. “It’s making (celebrities) realize that, yes, we’re blessed, but we’re not too big to talk to the regular, hard-working guy. It’s humanizing us.” Hammer apparently has no problem exposing his private life – he’ll star in a reality series this spring on A&E – and that accessibility has enabled him to amass nearly 500,000 followers on Twitter. “I love the fact that you have this instant kind of communication happening in real time and a culture that is alive and breathing around the clock,” he says. “And I love the idea that some ordinary guy in some little town is saying, ‘Wait man, I’ve gotta talk to Brad Pitt.’” Or perhaps even taking part in a rare, impromptu get-together. A couple of months ago, basketball superstar Shaquille O’Neal used Twitter to clue in fans to his whereabouts in Phoenix. Shortly after, several of them joined him for a meal at a local diner. But it’s not all fun and games. Increasingly, the famous are using their tweets to raise awareness for charities or causes they back. Kutcher, for example, has been drumming up support for Malaria No More, an organization that provides mosquito bed nets to needy residents in tropical countries. But whether they’re harnessing the power of Twitter for social good, or just providing little peeps into their private lives, celebrities are clearly taking over the Twitterverse. As recently as January, the rankings of the site’s top users were dominated mostly by geeks and technophiles. Now, Kutcher leads a star-studded parade that includes, among others, Lance Armstrong, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Ellen DeGeneres, Al Gore, Martha Stewart, Dave Matthews, and Kutcher’s wife, Demi Moore. During the next few months, the Twitter celebrity bandwagon is expected to get even more crowded. “You know how Hollywood works,” Rumford says. “Stars will sit there and say, ‘Well, if he’s on it, I need to be on it.’ If not, you look like you’re getting passed by.”
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may 1, 2009
Commencement speaker should receive student approval With graduation a little more than two weeks away, Tech recently announced who will be the commencement speaker this spring. While Tech’s decision to bring Gen. Lance Smith to Tech has received no substantial criticism, the University of Virginia has received an outpouring of rage from some students over its university-chosen commencement speaker. At least 414 UVa students are upset by UVa’s choice of Harvie Wilkenson, an alumnus from the school of law and a federal district judge because of his views on gay marriage and rulings that many students feel alienated minorities. There is currently a petition to revoke Wilkenson’s invitation to speak at the 2009 commencement ceremony circulating among UVa students. To prevent future backlash, UVa recently changed its process of choosing potential commencement speakers in the future to allow for more student involvement. The process now allows five extra students to sit in on the commencement committee, which helps compile a list of 10 possible speakers. The list is then submitted to the president for the final decision. The university president may pick from the list or select someone of his own choosing. When graduating seniors feel like they are more involved in the process and are given more responsibility, they’ll be more likely to support the president’s speaker selection. Additionally, graduating students should play, in the very least, a minor role in the process, as it is their graduation ceremony and should be allowed to help in bringing respected individuals to campus to speak. Currently at Tech, there is no system in place to allow
for students to take part in choosing the commencement speaker. The Tech Class of 2009 Woman At Large is the only student representative on the commencement committee, and, although she attends monthly meetings, she has nothing to do with choosing the speaker for graduation. The Class of 2009 student representatives are allowed to choose the two student speakers, however. Tech definitely moved toward a process similar to UVa in allowing students more input in choosing their commencement speakers. It’s understandable that some UVa students would feel upset about the decision to invite Wilkenson as their commencement speaker based on his rulings in the past; however it’s difficult to please thousands of students with the decision. Furthermore, commencement ceremonies have little to do with speakers’ actual beliefs, as speakers aren’t trying to push their individual agendas; rather they were invited to serve as a model for the students as to what they can achieve. When the speaker is an alumnus from the school, this is especially true. Making the process of deciding whom to invite as commencement speaker more transparent to students would ultimately benefit everyone. It would allow students to be a part of bringing someone they’re truly excited about to campus to speak and allow for the administration and students to work closer in pursuit of a common goal — producing a fun and inspirational commencement.
Mountaintop removal has negative community impact PAIGE PINKSTON regular columnist Having just finished “Lost Mountain” by Erik Reece for my Literature and Ecology class, I am motivated to share my new knowledge concerning mountaintop removal, what I am newly convinced is one of the world’s most dire problems. The book chronicled the taking down of one mountain, appropriately named Lost Mountain, in eastern Kentucky over the course of a year. Besides a month-by-month synopsis of the progress of the destruction of this particular mountain, Reece included individual stories associated with the poverty and exploitation of this area’s people and resources. Though I was formerly aware of and relatively concerned about mountaintop removal practices, this particular book demonstrated the extent and gravity of the problem, which truly moved me. Many of you have probably heard of mountaintop removal in relation to the struggle against the local strip mining planned by Dominion Power in Wise County, Va., or possibly because of Mountain Justice, the Virginia Tech organization founded specifically in opposition to mountaintop removal. Thus, hopefully you already know the basics; the issue, at its simplest, concerns using explosives to blast away a significant portion of a mountain in order to more easily reach the coal inside. To be honest, that was more or less all I knew before beginning Reece’s book. However, I have since learned of a wider span of appalling consequences than I previously could have imagined. For instance, much of what is cleared away before blasting the mountain, such as dirt and plant life, as well as much of the waste and debris that
results from the explosions, rather than being safely removed, is simply dumped into the valleys below. This often buries streams and infiltrates the water sources of the surrounding communities. This waste contains poisonous toxins, such as mercury and lead, which often renders the water on which these surrounding communities depend undrinkable. Beginning during the Clinton Administration, it was illegal under the Clean Air Act to dump such waste into streams. However, under the Bush Administration, the Department of the Interior, headed by a former coal lobbyist, rewrote that particular provision of the Act so that all waste from strip mining could be classified as “fill” rather than “waste,” and therefore could be legally deposited in waterways.
While strip mining is a destructive and dangerous means of mining, no method is necessarily safe or clean. The heart of the problem rests with the nation’s overconsumption and dependence on coal. Furthermore, in order for coal companies to reach the mountains, entire forests are being wiped out, and the trees that are cut down, rather than being used for timber, are simply being burned, because that is more cost efficient. During this decade, over 2,000 square miles of forests in the Appalachian region alone will be destroyed in the name of mining. Such deforestation has drastic negative consequences on the world’s ecosystems, and accounts for the ever-increasing rates of endangered and extinct species. In fact, current
extinction rates are estimated to be 100 to 1,000 times what the fossil record indicates is natural. The coal companies are required by law to replace the areas they are destroying through a process of “reclamation.” However, it is extremely easy for the companies to find loopholes in this policy, such as simply forfeiting their original deposit on the mountain, which is less money than the reclamation would cost, and then leaving the mountain. In these cases, it is up to either the state or federal government to reclaim the flattened mountains, but it is an expensive process, and there is little funding for it, and the mountains end up remaining utterly barren. For example, of the 89 mine sites abandoned by the coal companies in 2003, 88 went completely unreclaimed. While strip mining is a destructive and dangerous means of mining, no method is necessarily safe or clean. The heart of the problem rests with the nation’s over consumption and dependence on coal. In Reece’s words, “To have an economy based solely on the short-term growth of our gross domestic product follows a dangerous and absurd logic; that we can have infinite growth based on the use of finite resources.” Coal is a finite resource, and instead of destroying the environment on which we depend in order to exhaust what will in fact one day be exhausted, logic points to finding alternatives. Many alternative energy sources are renewable, and do not harm or pollute the environment at nearly the rates the nonrenewable resources do. We live in a day and age when our knowledge and technology lie far beyond our actions. Knowing all that we do, there is no excuse to be destroying the oldest and most diverse mountain range in the country just to be able to turn on the AC.
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Death penalty in US is deterrent for potential crimes As of April 27, 2009, 15 states and the District of Columbia have moved to ban capital punishment in their jurisdictions. This leaves 34 states in the U.S. that still allow for capital punishment upon conviction of certain crimes. According to Amnesty International statistics, approximately half of the U.S. population now prefers life without the possibility of parole, and every state that offers the death penalty also offers life without parole as a sentencing option. The federal government still retains the power to sentence defendants to death for federal capital crimes even if the defendant commits the crime in a state that does not have the death penalty at the state level because, in keeping with the idea of federalism, federal law takes precedent over state laws. There are some differences between the federal death penalty and state death penalties. First, the federal death penalty is not used as frequently as the state death penalty. After the initial ban on capital punishment in 1972, the federal death penalty was not used at all until the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 was enacted in order to include murders committed through the process of illegal drug trading in federal jurisdiction so that defendants convicted of such a murder could be punished by execution. In 1994, the scope of the federal death penalty was again increased
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by the Federal Death Penalty Act in order to set the death penalty as a possible punishment for more than 60 crimes, such as murder of a Supreme Court Justice, espionage, murder for hire and death resulting from aircraft hijacking. The major difference between the federal death penalty and state death penalty is that the federal capital crimes go far beyond murder in the first degree, whereas the majority of state capital crimes are in fact murders in the first degree with one or more aggravating circumstances as prescribed by state legislatures. In the case of a defendant accused of committing both a federal and a state capital offense, the federal charge will supersede the state charge even if that means the ultimate punishment is more stringent than the state’s ultimate punishment. The Supreme Court has been influential when it comes to interpreting capital punishment under the 8th Amendment, which bans cruel and unusual punishment. First the Supreme Court has (for the moment) declared that capital punishment is in fact constitutional in its “Gregg v. Georgia” decision. This forced anti-death penalty supporters to reevaluate how to present cases to the Supreme Court that over time might have the power to chip away at the validity of capital punishment. Because the Supreme Court has heard and ruled in cases that limit different aspects of the death penalty, such as when it is appropriate to use capital punishment, whom it is appropriate to sentence, and what evi-
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dence can be admissible to capital trials, the Supreme Court has impacted capital punishment practices and norms in the U.S. Since “Gregg v. Georgia,” the Supreme Court has issued several appropriate decisions regarding the death penalty. First it ruled in 1977 in “Coker v. Georgia” that the death penalty was excessive punishment for the rape of an adult woman that does not result in death.
The Supreme Court has been influential when it comes to interpreting capital punishment under the 8th Amdendment, which bans cruel and unusual punishment. I support the Supreme Court in its decision because I do not think that capital punishment should be applied unless a human life has been taken. In 1978 with “Lockett v. Ohio,” the Supreme Court declared state laws restricting the number of mitigating circumstances a jury could consider in a capital case unconstitutional. Again, I believe the Supreme Court made the correct decision because a defendant guilty of a capital crime should have every opportunity to present evidence that might explain his actions. Finally, in my favorite decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in “Payne v. Tennessee” that states can in fact allow victim impact statements during the sentencing phase of a capital trial. The court’s
reasoning was that a jury should be able to consider the effects of a crime as they debate sentencing, and I agree whole-heartedly with the court. I think the effects of a crime on the victim’s family, neighborhood and greater community help a jury determine the heinousness of a crime and therefore whether the death penalty might be an applicable course of punishment. Of course in the years following “Gregg v. Georgia,” the Supreme Court has also issued some very poor decisions. The Supreme Court erred in my opinion in “Atkins v. Virginia.” I think the court should have upheld “Penry v. Lynaugh” in ruling that mental retardation should only be considered as a mitigating factor in capital trials. I think it is far too easy for a defendant to fake mental retardation without being caught by any safeguards within the judicial system. Atkins’ prosecutor Eileen Addison summed it up quite nicely: “I bet you I could score a 59 (on an IQ test) if my life depended on it.” Additionally the Supreme Court decided incorrectly in “Roper v. Simmons” in 2005. In this case, the Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional under the 8th Amendment to execute defendants convicted of capital crimes if they were under the age of 18 at the time of the offense. I think this decision is faulty because I believe that at 16 or 17, an individual should be held fully responsible for his or her own actions and furthermore that such an individual knows whether or not engaging in capital
crimes is acceptable behavior. I think the court has opened a door for younger offenders to commit violent crimes knowing they cannot be sentenced to death for their actions. The death penalty is necessary because I believe it does in fact act as a deterrent. While surveys may indicate it has little to no effect, I would like to see a survey that takes into account those people who have never committed a capital crime because they do not want to possibly risk losing their own life. I also believe that death is the ultimate price to pay for taking another human’s life and is often the only punishment left for many criminals for whom the capital crime is simply the end result of a lifetime of criminal behavior. I know that anti-death penalty supporters argue that it is less expensive for the state to maintain prisoners in prison for life without the possibility of parole than to carry out a state execution and if true (accounting for bias in terms of statistics), I would propose some sort of streamlined system for processing capital crimes and the capital trials with all the mandatory appeals. While I do not have a clear plan for how to cut the cost of capital punishment, I cannot help but feel that surely the government could cut the cost if it was motivated to do so. Perhaps pro-death penalty supporters such as myself should petition our state legislatures to devise a plan to make state executions more cost effective as a means of helping the death penalty remain an option for punishment in the future.
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may 1, 2009
He Said, She Said: Thanks for letting us have our say As the Doors’ song goes: This is the end. Ba dum dum. My final “he said.” The end. “He said/she said” for me, has been a labor of love. I TOPHER agreed to writing the column last FORHECZ August in addition features to the two stories reporter that I am required to write as a reporter for the Collegiate Times. Going into it, I didn’t quite realize what it really takes to put out a weekly column. I have a pretty demanding schedule, with me taking more credit hours this semester than ever before in my collegiate career, and “He said” has been part of that juggling act. Out of all the bowling pins or chainsaws or whatever, it has probably been my favorite to have to keep spinning round and round. I’ve really enjoyed the little pulpit I have been allotted, and I tried to make the most out of a chance I will probably never have again. Of course, I know that some people are probably thrilled that this year’s column is coming to a close. I’ve gotten a lot of mixed reactions to “he said/she said,” but the most that I could hope for is to leave my own distinct mark, to attempt to live up to the characteristics of the column. I think I have, at least a really drunk girl I met at Sharkey’s a few weeks ago told me so, and I believe her because she started off the conversation by saying “I’m a Chris Gustin fan.” Which reminds me, I need to thank a certain group of disgruntled readers: the people who have commented on the “he said/ she saids” throughout the year on the CT Web site. Some of the stuff that people posted on there was funnier than anything I’ve ever written, and it was a great source of entertainment. I got burned pretty good a few times. So I guess to all the people online who have enjoyed ripping me a new one, bust out the champagne — the headaches will be gone. At the same time your career
has most likely not come to a close, as I know you will always find something to pick apart. I mean, we’ve already picked out next year’s “he said” author, so have fun. In writing the column, I tried my best to do something that had a unique voice. I guess the main thing I tried to do was vocalize the nerd in everyone and to bring back to light all the childish tendencies and feelings that we try to forget in college because all of a sudden we’re “adults.” When I was in high school my mom would rather eat a spoon than identify me as an adult, but once in college, students are forcefully elevated to this position. In college, we are told we need to get past those inspirations that have added color and shaped us up until this very moment. You’ve heard someone called a “child at heart” before and now that we are here, coming ever closer to staring cold, hard life in the face, the meaning behind such descriptions become increasingly at risk. Those early life instincts are what will keep us from being boring later on: The hours we spend yell-
ing at one another about Super S m a s h Brothers or racing one another on our skateboards down the halls of our dorm. I don’t know about you, but I never want to wake up 20 years from now on a Sunday afternoon at a tea party, with a cardigan around
my neck, engaged in a lengthy discourse on the variations of the previous month’s weather. There were also our dirtier columns and I really can’t argue that those are so innocent, but I’m confident that I approached them like a 10 year old. Finally, thanks to Bethany for being the foil to my babbling. I think that through this process Virginia Tech has come to learn a lot about us. Essentially, that I like Star Wars and that she likes her boyfriend. To everyone else, thanks for taking the ride along with me. This is where I get off.
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So it’s that time of year again. We all know what it entails. Despite the prospect of summer lingering and stirring about in BETHANY our minds, we go against the innate BUCHANAN nature of spring features fever: staying up editor late cramming for finals, drinking (probably way too much) coffee to stay awake to finish those pesky papers, and
It makes me think of the glorious tree adjacent to the balcony of my apartment. I have this strange habit of always having to write my articles outside, and I’ve been lucky enough to not only have the time but the consciousness to have watched this tree cycle gracefully through its natural phases. It has cheered on the Hokie football team during the fall — sporting ridiculously beautiful orange and maroon leaves; it has been blanketed with snow and stood barren but proud during blistering Blacksburg winters, and finally, as I’m typing this, has dressed
acting as conscientious students for, perhaps, the first time in the semester. But it also means something else for me, personally. It’s the end of my time as “she said.” While many of you (I’m sure) are relieved with the news, it somehow fits in with this period of time.
itself again with vivid green leaves. It has come full circle, like our year here at Virginia Tech. We have had our time in the sun, such as watching the football team win the Orange Bowl or reminding the world of our gratitude for their support. We have also had our times to feel naked, but confid e nt l y so in the strength of our roots, when we lost a fellow student tragically that night in the Graduate Life Center. But we’ve experienced and contributed to change when President Obama was elected earlier in the year and later celebrated our growth with the anniversary of April 16. The parallels could go on and on (which I won’t, and for
that I know you’re appreciative). But, I wanted to express my sincere thanks to all of you for putting up with my weekly rants and raves on a particular topic, perhaps even enjoying them — which I hope you have, because I can’t tell you how many times Topher and I have struggled and tugged at the ends of our minds to find suitable things to write about that you wouldn’t just enjoy or have a good laugh with. But, we also wanted something that you could relate to, commiserate with and understand. Sometimes this got a little out of hand — remember that set of columns on fetishes? Oh yeah, we got a little desperate, too. But I like to think that we’ve had our own moments of glory with such columns about Sarah Palin, crushes and many others on the dating scene. And you’ve been kind enough to grace us with your comments and responses, regardless of whether they were positive. I’m determined to frame the letter I got in my cubby mailbox from this alumnus about our sex articles. In this large envelope I didn’t only learn about the time in Virginia Tech history where women had to sign in and out from their residence halls and check in at a certain time of the night (I still don’t know how they could have lived through that), but also received some gospels about the holy significance of remaining abstinent until marriage. And, when I still read the comments — honestly, they got a little hurtful after a while when someone reprimanded my smoking habit when that wasn’t even the point of the piece, just merely a fraction of an anecdote — you told us how you felt. And I can tell you truthfully that they meant a lot. We always appreciated, respected and considered your opinions. When it comes down to it, I just hope that whatever Topher and I wrote brought you a little bit of sunshine to brighten up your days — or tickle the chlorophyll in your leaves, however you want to take it.
editor: thomas emerick, brian wright email: firstname.lastname@example.org phone: 540.231.9865 office hours: w 12:30 p.m. - 2:30 p.m.; t 11:30 a.m. - 1:30 p.m.
may 1, 2009
California ‘dudes’ bring West Coast flair to Tech baseball JOE CRANDLEY
ct sports reporter “Hey guys! Dude, the waves are going off, let’s go to the beach,” Steve Domecus said. Doesn’t quite sound like Blacksburg, does it? Well, for three new Hokie baseball players, that used to be college life. Outfielders Domecus, Mike Kaminski and right-handed relief pitcher Ben Rowen left the California routine they grew accustomed to in order to continue their collegiate baseball careers after junior college, and they each took unique paths to get to this point. Domecus started out at the University of California Santa Barbara and redshirted his freshman year. He got some playing time in his redshirt freshman season, but not as much as he felt he deserved. “I hit really well in the fall at Santa Barbara, and the coach was just like, ‘Hey, you’re going to be a designated hitter against left-handed pitchers only,’” Domecus said. Unhappy with the situation, Domecus moved on to Moorpark College for one season before choosing Tech over established baseball powers such as Texas, the University of San Diego, current No. 1 ranked University of California Irvine, and Fresno State, which won the College World Series last year. “Going through a process like that, you really got to make sure you’re going to the right place because I guess I kind of messed that up the first time around going to Santa Barbara, and that’s why I ended up redshirting. So, I came here,” Domecus said. “The coaches treated me right when I was here. I just got a good vibe, and I felt like they weren’t going to sell me out. Some of the other schools, I thought the coach would sell their first born son to win a College World Series, and I came here, and they were in it for me. If they’re in it for me, they’re in it for their players, and that’s going to be good for the team because we’re going to start winning.” Domecus was motivated less by the potential to win the College World Series and more by the prospect of being a key part of turning a struggling Tech program around. “I could have gone to Texas, and they’re in contention to go to the College World Series every year, or
Outfielder Steve Domecus contributed five hits and three RBIs in the two home wins against Clemson this April. I could have come here and worked on something big that’s going on now,” he said. “Our team is trying to put some wins together here, make the ACC playoffs, hopefully win the ACC playoffs … I wanted to be part of something that meant more than just being at another school that’s supposed to go there — supposed to do this. I wanted to be on a team that pulled off the upset, kind of the miracle team.”
Like Domecus, Rowen started out at the Division I level but was cut from the team at Southern California in the fall of his freshman season. From there, he attended Los Angeles Harbor College for two years prior to his stint with the maroon and orange. “It was interesting. Actually, my junior college coach got an e-mail for a summer league in North Carolina, and then when I got there my coach
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sent out e-mails to (pitching coach Dave) Turgeon, and he came down and saw me, and he liked what he saw,” Rowen said. Only lightly recruited out of high school, Kaminski went straight to junior college to play at Cuesta College for two seasons. He initially was seen by head coach Pete Hughes at an all-star game. It wasn’t much longer before Kaminski was set to become a mem-
ber of the Tech ballclub. “I guess he saw me there, liked my swing, kept in contact,” Kaminski said. “I came out here on a visit, loved the place, came to a football game. That’s pretty much what got me.” The three junior college transfers have certainly paid off for Hughes. Domecus currently holds a .408 batting average, the highest in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and ranks in the top 20 in hits, RBIs, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Kaminski also holds a .355 batting average that ranks 14th in the ACC. Despite two rough outings recently, Ben Rowen also has contributed, pitching 28 innings, often late when the game is on the line. “Two of the top five players in the ACC, they’re on base machines, they’re athletic, they’re good kids,” Hughes said. “Those three kids have been invaluable to our program; great addition to a really young team that we had last year. They’re a year older with a lot of experience, and to add those three older guys, it was the right thing to do.” Even though the three transfers are now highly regarded Division I players, Hughes maintains that luring them away from the comfort of California wasn’t too difficult. “A lot of the time on the west coast, they don’t want to leave in high school,” Hughes said. “When you get them in the junior college, they’ve been humbled a little bit by the recruiting process, and they’re like, ‘I don’t care where I’m going, I just want to go to play at the highest level and reach my potential and go to a good school’.” With the instant success of junior college players comes the potential for them to also leave early. Despite being drafted after a season at Moorpark, Domecus stayed in school, but he still has an eye on the upcoming draft. “I’d love to get drafted again,” he said. “I’d love to get drafted in a spot where I would want to go sign. At this point I’m just not trying to worry about it … I’m playing a game that I love, I’ve been playing it since I was two or three years old, and I’m basically getting paid since I’ve got a scholarship playing baseball. If I get drafted, that would be the optimal thing for me to happen. If I don’t get drafted in a spot I like, I can come back to school next year, play baseball, finish my degree. It’s basically a win-win for me.”
Despite the risk of turnover, Hughes takes a calculated approach to taking on junior college players. “We don’t want to go JC every year because you don’t build depth in your program, and it’s a flip of the coin because you get those kids one year, and they get drafted because they’re draft eligible or you get them for two years, and you keep turning your program over,” Hughes said. “We want to have some consistency so that’s why we’ll always recruit the incoming freshmen and try to have a good blend with the JC’s, so that’s kind of our recipe right now.” In addition to the three junior college transfers, freshman pitcher Clark Labitan hails from San Diego. Undersized at 5-foot-9 and overlooked by the California schools, Labitan ended up across the country to continue playing baseball. “Honestly, Virginia Tech wasn’t really an option for me,” Labitan said. “I didn’t really know anything about the school. The process was a little complicated for me. Size was a big deal. A lot of California schools didn’t even look at me. I happened to go to a tournament in Georgia and (Coach) Turgeon happened to see me, and he really liked what I had. I came out here for a camp along with a teammate, Luke Erickson, and he offered me a scholarship the next day right on the spot.” “He’s going to be really good,” Hughes said. “We’ve put him in a lot of situations because we’ve had some injuries to our bullpen and arms, but we’ve put that kid in a lot of situations that normal freshmen don’t get put in ACC play out of the bullpen.” While all four players definitely miss the beach and the great weather, they have enjoyed their short time at Tech so far. “Back in San Diego, colleges weren’t a really big deal. Here, it’s all about Virginia Tech or UVa. I love how you get all this attention, you feel like you’re famous on this team,” Labitan said. “You feel like if you go to this campus everyone knows you. Younger kids look up to you, older folks, and I like that the most. I’ve never been in that kind of environment before.” “I actually really love this campus,” Domecus said. “This is one of those places where you walk on campus and you’re a Hokie the first day you’re here … (It) doesn’t matter that I’m from California, I’m a Hokie.”
friday, may 1, 2009
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may 1, 2009
In its infancy, bass fishing club reeling in recognition BRANDON SHIPP
ct sports staﬀ writer The Virginia Tech Hokies may be best known for their dominance on the football field or their tenacious defense and high-flying feats of athleticism on the basketball court, but any student who attends this university is well aware of the splendor of nature that surrounds the campus. The landscape offers a plethora of lakes, rivers and streams. In early 2007, one student decided to take advantage of Blacksburg’s beauty by combining his childhood pastime with a competitive sport. Scott Wiley, 23 and the founder of the Tech bass fishing club, has been freshwater fishing for more than 20 years. Introduced to the sport by his parents, Wiley smiled as he reminisced about the five-minute walk to the dock with his father carrying just a bobber, fishing pole and a can of worms. There they would sit, talking and enjoying the sights and sounds produced by the 1,700-acre lake. So when Wiley was accepted to Tech, he assumed that there would already be an existing fishing club, similar to the team at North Carolina State. When he discovered that there was none upon his arrival, he took initiative and started Tech’s own fishing club, focusing specifically on competitive largemouth bass fishing. “The first thing I did was go out to a professional tournament at Smith Mountain Lake. I knew the best way to get recognition was to talk to the big name sponsors,” Wiley said. After acquiring a few sponsors at the
tournament, the foundation for the club was set. The response was immediate. Once the word was out, the team quickly grew to about 25 members. “I couldn’t believe how many people wanted to fish; we had to come up with a point system just to keep it fair,” Wiley said. “Guys got points for coming out to meetings, doing community service and just fishing better than each other in member tournaments. But the number of guys that came out was really impressive.” The level of participation wasn’t the only impressive trait about the students in the club — these kids had some serious talent. Wiley reminisced about the team’s opening year. “Our first event we ever competed in was an invitational tournament held by N.C. State. There were easily 20 teams there, and our two teams finished in first place and fourth place, so we knew we could seriously compete.” Not only could the team compete — it could dominate. Toward the end of its first year of action, it received an invitation to participate in the 2007 Under Armour College Bass National Championship and a chance to test its skills against 36 other universities across the country, including powerhouses N.C. State, Alabama and Texas A&M. The Hokies proved their worthiness by stealing the title and etching their name into the top ranks, a spectacular achievement for such a young team. The next year, the defending champs headed back to Texas to take a shot at a repeat championship. “We went out, just two of us, and on the first day I made my best fishing
COURTESY OF J.M. ASSOCIATES
Scott Wiley, left, and Wyatt Blevins quickly developed the bass fishing club into a national power. Wiley started the club in 2007 and received an invitation to that year’s Under Armour College Bass National Championship. memory,” he said. In a lake not known for producing big fish, Wiley cast his soft, plastic worm under a worn dock and slowly finessed it across the muddy bottom. He didn’t have to wait long. After a few seconds, his ultra-thin, six-pound test line went tight and, after a nerve-racking battle, he landed an eight-pound largemouth. The fish moved them into first
place by the end of the first day. Unfortunately, they had little success the next day, dropping to and finishing in 17th place out of 96 teams. Still, the club’s success during its initial two years put Tech fishing on the map and attracted plenty of local talent. Wyatt Blevins, a junior fisheries science major and native of Pulaski, was initially deterred by the lack of
a fishing team at this school. Despite being a local, he nearly committed to another school in order to be able to join a fishing team. “I always wanted to fish competitively in college; I knew that in high school,” Blevins said. “I almost went to N.C. State because I knew they had a good competitive program. If I went to Tech, my goal was to start a team, but the year before I came here Scott beat
me to it. I even started going to meetings before I got accepted at Tech.” It took little time to realize that the guys in the club were “just as crazy about fishing as he was.” Only a year into his membership, Blevins’ skills, experience and dedication to developing the team earned him his current position as president of the Tech bass fishing club. A tournament fisherman since early high school, he was a perfect role model for the younger members. Although Blevins provides strong leadership for the team, Charlie Machek is also responsible for assisting Wiley in getting the team on its feet. The former vice president and current senior building construction major was hooked by the sport when he arrived here from Richmond in 2005. Machek fishes competitively for largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass, but will never miss an opportunity to do some saltwater fishing at his parent’s house in Topsail, N.C. After Wiley got the idea of starting the club, it was Machek and Brett Thompson who jumped on board, never really thinking they’d be the founding members of such a successful organization. Machek exemplifies the attitude held by the rest of the team. “I am graduating this spring and plan to go into the field of construction management,” said Machek. “I will never stop fishing, though. Wherever I end up working I will find a weekend series or tournament trail to fish, and then we will see where that takes me.”
friday, may 1, 2009
A year older, Tech receivers a serious threat MELANIE WADDEN
ct sports reporter When people think of Hokie football, they think hard-hitting linebackers, punt blocking and — most recently — Tyrod Taylor and the running game. When fans do remember that there are wide receivers on the line of scrimmage too, they either discuss a lack of depth or that time former quarterback Sean Glennon lined up at wide out when Greg Boone was taking a few snaps. Either way, since four of Tech’s five receivers graduated in 2007, and the fifth — Zack Luckett — was indefinitely suspended from the team this fall, not much light has shone upon Tech’s receiving corps. With inconsistency, countless big plays broken down by lack of experience and just two touchdowns scored (both by Jarrett Boykin), the receivers for this fall wants fans to know that things will be different. “I think a lot of last season was a mental thing,” said redshirt sophomore receiver Danny Coale, who started all 14 games in 2008. “But we’re a year smarter now. We’ve been getting in there and seeing the mistakes that we made last year — watching film — and we’ve been seeing the mistakes that we make during practice, trying to get better.” With such a strong running game, Tech’s receivers have a lot to prove before they can ultimately define themselves as a legitimate option in the attack. “I think the main things we’ve got to work on are finishing and making something happen after the catch,” said wide receivers coach Kevin Sherman, who is going into his fourth season at Tech. “I think that’s where we lacked last season — the big play capabilities and making something happen with the ball after the initial grab.” After a season where the first touchdown by a wide receiver did not come until game 11 against Duke in late November, it is not hard to see why much of the Hokie faithful have been worried about the receivers’ abilities to produce. “I think that we have the capabilities,” Sherman said. “Now that they’re seeing things and playing faster, we just have to do everything on a more consistent basis so that if they’re called, they can step up and make plays. We’re still a work in progress, but we’re coming along.”
In addition to its lack of experience, another reason why Tech did not use its receiving corps very much last season was because the group had not yet proven itself to the coaches. “We were holding back on plays because we weren’t experienced enough, but this year they’re just throwing the whole offense back in,” said sophomore Dyrell Roberts. “(The coaches) don’t have to worry about us playing slow or not playing as fast as we should because we go at game speed all the time, and we’ve got enough experience now for us to all go out there and be confident.” Hard work and perseverance has been key for the development of this unit in the off-season, which began surprisingly early. “We’ve been lifting since as soon as the season was over; maybe we had a week off, but we’ve been working on our speed and catching the ball, on our foot work,” Coale said. “Physically, we always try to get faster and stronger,” he said. “But most importantly, mentally, we’ve been trying to get sharper than we were.” Individually, Coale and Roberts have shown the most improvement to Sherman. “At the end of last season, I told (Coale) to step it up,” Sherman said. “Danny Coale is consistent. He’s been stepping up, making plays and gaining consistency as well. But I challenged him to be better. … “We understand that we’re still in the developmental stage, and he needs some more game experience and the experience from scrimmages. But I like where he’s at and where he’s headed.” Roberts, on the other hand, showed 41,000 what he was capable of in Tech’s spring game at Lane Stadium on April 25. He connected with Taylor three times for 52 yards and a receiving touchdown, along with returning a punt 41 yards in the opening quarter. One of the main worries of players and coaches alike has been that of the receivers synching up with Taylor. Having to switch between two quarterbacks with different passing styles took a toll on the group last season, but with a more traditional offensive set this year, that should not be a problem. “(The coaches) are not allowed out there when (Tyrod and the wide receivers) are together, but on the practice field you can tell that their timing is getting there and that they’re on the same page,” Sherman said. “I
Danny Coale catches a pass and breaks a Virginia tackle last November. Coale led the Hokies in receptions last year with 36 as a redshirt freshman. think that was another issue last year with the guys not seeing the same thing that Tyrod was seeing. The timing is there, but it’s still something that we work on daily, weekly and in the scrimmages because it’s going to be different every week.” Sherman believes that the team will have a solid group of receivers running five to six guys deep in the fall, yet still more hold a chance to be in that lineup. “Everybody’s getting in the rotation and everybody’s playing. It’s spring practice. That’s where everybody gets reps in,” Roberts said. “The coaches are trying to see what everybody
can do. We’re all out here doing what we’ve got to do and showing the coaches that we’re ready.” On a side note, Lucket, Tech’s projected main receiver last fall who was indefinitely suspended from the team in August after being arrested for a DUI — and who was later convicted of said DUI — may have a place on the roster. Luckett, a redshirt senior, has spoken out in downtown Blacksburg, asking people to support the Tech football team in the fall and not to drive home after drinking. “Right now, Zack is still suspended from the football team. His status has
not changed,” Sherman said. “I know that he’s still in school and he’s taking care of his business off the field. Once we see where he is at the end of the semester, that’s between him and Coach Beamer. I don’t know when or where, but ultimately Coach Beamer is going to make the call on that. And really there’s no comment about it until then.” Roberts and Coale both confirmed that they had heard talk around campus of Luckett’s possible return, but also that he had not been at any practices. This fall is the time to prove that Tech can be a multi-faceted team.
“We don’t have to have any limitations to our offense anymore,” Roberts said. “We can run the ball and pass the ball now.” With four months until the official kickoff, the players and coaches alike are showing more confidence in this offensive unit each day. “I think they will be (ready this fall),” Sherman said. “I don’t think it will be easy. I think they’ll step up to the challenge, but we’re in the present and we have to get better right now. We’ve got a long way to go until the season starts, and we’ve got to keep working and getting better every day until then.”
friday, may 1, 2009
All Kinds of Gravity comes to The Lantern featuring
An Easy Friend The Shack Band Local bands duke it out at The Lantern’s ‘Battle of the Burg’ HE T S S A n yi T H a G
RI jonath G N GI ies by G A BR .’ stor S AIM ATTLE L C Y ’S ‘B T I V A TERN R G F LAN or the most part, all “battle of the bands” events O S E D IN OF TH bear some sense of redundancy. The suspects are K L L R A NE the usuals — scenesters, 45-minute delays, and WIN a residual fragrance of cigarettes and melodic
This is the culture and it’s not going to change anytime soon. While the triple bottom line may heavily rely on one’s manifestation of competition, urgency is drowned out by a reassuring atmosphere. These pleasures are provided courtesy of the Lantern, Blacksburg’s largest nightly music venue. Offering an ample stage and in-house PA and professional lighting, it’s frequented by a mix of local and regional bands as well as national touring break-out level bands. With a passion for that live music, the Lantern presents its own Battle of the Burg, in which the winner is awarded the opportunity to open for a national headlining act at the venue. Other prizes include the possibility of regular stage time at the Lantern, not to mention local bragging rights. SARA SPANGLER/COLLEGIATE TIMES
see ALL KINDS OF GRAVITY, page two
friday, may 1, 2009
All Kinds of Gravity: Exciting stage presence contributed to win from page one
t’s a pretty solid prize,” said Chris Gustin, an electric violinist for the competing band All Kinds of Gravity. “We talk to them about what bands are coming through and then pick out a show we wanted to play. We met some really cool bands and the show turned out absolutely fantastic.” Battle of the Burg held a few simple provisions that resemble any battle of the bands. The free event took place on the last day of March, kicking off the first round with two separate pools performing on separate nights. The rules are pretty simple: Two winners from each night move onto the second round, in which four bands play in front of a panel of judges, who base their performance in three categories — originality, technical ability and overall presence (the crowd factor). “We definitely go hard for the originality category,” Gustin said. “I believe it gives us sort of an edge in this kind of thing.” Elite musicianship is judged via audience response in downtown Blacksburg. Our mountain town certainly gravitates to a particular local music scene that never sees a reason to brag — we know Blacksburg isn’t the cradle of rock and roll. And there are always going to be bad apples in every barrel. Not that it’s hidden from the general public either, but you’ve got to know where to look. It can be heard coming out of Burruss Auditorium once in a blue moon. In the smallest nooks of Blacksburg, there’s some great art, comedy and music just waiting to be devoured by famished enthusiasts. The Battle of the Burg was no exception. “The Lantern provided the ideal dark and smoky basement-bar environment for such an event,” said business information technology major Neil Bolin, who attended the show. “Also, the ample space and staging area allowed the multitude of bands to set up and tear down their equipment with minimal interruption to patrons.” The buffer period between bands should always be kept to a minimum. Not that anyone’s patience is wearing thin — it’s just the joy of instant gratification. We are seeing similar trends of on and off stage principles develop throughout our nation. Whether or not one sees Blacksburg as an exception to this expansion depends on taste. Bolin, a junior, finds that Blacksburg can accommodate the demand. “In my opinion, downtown Blacksburg caters well to the music scene,” Bolin said. “I’m always hearing about friends from Radford coming to see particular bands. Usually I can get off work at night, wander around the block, and find a good show from bands I may or may not be familiar with for $5 or less.” Not everyone is used to the feel and sound of these bands playing in such unperturbed environments. Those falling into frequency seem to be avoiding any sign of sensory overload. The crowd is relaxed, occasionally checking and shaking their heads at the NCAA Basketball Championship spread. And much like Roy Williams and the rest of his Tar Heels watching their lead grow, the bands on stage couldn’t help but feel somewhat relaxed in the midst of all the competition — but this isn’t to say the contenders aren’t equipped. During this musical March Madness, there are those who see the stage as all business and those who see a playground. Everyone’s wits are razor sharp, hoping to put on a theatrical show with its own undeniable niche. Some are more at ease than others, while other’s dedication could even electrify the late Mr. Miyagi. Wax on, rock out. A six-piece progressive band, All Kinds of Gravity blends hip-hop and rock sounds. But above all, the band emphasizes its live show, citing MUSE and Incubus as influences. Although an evident match, no one seems to be praising the prospect. For them, any opportunity to perform is always an opportunity well taken. With eyes set on the future, All Kinds of Gravity condones admiration for what local music there is. “Awareness and respect for local and semi-regional musicians is what’s key,” said vocalist Rob Martinez. “Ironically, the Blacksburg music scene was once at a low point a decade back with a few bands left standing. Before the Lantern, most of our members were from older bands. We started booking shows at the Gobbler, Champs and Awful Arthur’s, and I feel like we’re a part of a revival.” All Kinds of Gravity brought their melodies to life with enigmatic showmanship. Entering the Burg’s battle, band members traded vocals seamlessly, enhancing each tale, rib or witty remark complemented by clever facial expressions. Denying any sort of veteran status, All Kinds of Gravity exhibit serene signs of comfort as they sound check with a little instrumental version of “Lose Yourself,” brushing cynicism aside. “Rob and I are big Eminem fans,” Gustin admits. “We wanted something really recognizable to open with and pull everyone in. The rock and hip-hop sound of that song sums up a lot of our style. We thought revamping it with the electric violin playing the hook and Rob freestyling would be a good way to warm people up for our set.” To warrant stage presence, there are a few fundamental requirements. Such a moniker requires that you don’t sound
Top: Vocalist KC Moyer of All Kinds of Gravity belts out a tune. Bottom left: Rob Martinez raps to their song, ‘Fight for Your Rights.’ Bottom right: Moyer and guitarist Kevin Fitzgerald perform at the Lantern during the preliminary round of the ‘Battle of the Burg.’ like anyone else, possess unique swagger and foster the ability to convince people to believe in your message. Many talented bands were on stage, but only a few exhibited all three of those prerequisites. However, Gustin, a Virginia Tech graduate, smiled from the bar. The night blended conversations under a musical blanket, where the “battle” aspect just didn’t seem to matter to anyone, especially not to him. “We know some of the bands personally and hang out with them a lot, so the competition aspect was just kind of secondary,” Gustin said. “Plus they waited to announce the winners until the next day on the first round, so it really helped keep things pretty loose and fun.” The Appetite and Uncle Funkle advanced to the next round for the first night while the second’s night pool included All Kinds of Gravity, The Bourbon Shades, Killing the Secrets, Vegas on Fire and The Rosco. With All Kinds of Gravity
and The Bourbon Shades winning their round, the final four elites were All Kinds of Gravity, The Bourbon Shades, The Appetite and Uncle Funkle. “They announced the winners on the second night, so everyone was understandably a little more on edge,” Gustin said. A thudding baseline conducted a march to the morgue while vocalists Martinez and KC Moyer traded visceral rhymes that could blow doors open for the uninspired. They brought that hard-rock edge and a hip-hop bravado that set the tone for the entire evening. Martinez rapped deftly and dexterously, offering lively lyrical fireworks and ripping through rhymes that garnished his partner’s melodic twang. Moyer complemented by showcasing some soul histrionics, bouncing verses with relative ease and passionate delivery. After the give-and-take reached a symbiotic flow, there was no holding back. All Kinds of Gravity gave the
crowd pure showmanship, leaving a sea of satisfaction in their wake. A blasé, yet firm approach to the whole rendition of a battle pays off — All Kinds of Gravity took the prize, with The Appetite and The Bourbon Shades closely behind. “I was happy with our performances as a band overall in both rounds — everything was tight and the chemistry was really on,” Gustin said. “From a personal standpoint, I was a lot happier with the first round. There are some nights when you nail every riff and solo and nights where you just don’t feel it. I felt really tight during the first performance and a little shakier during the second round, mainly because I couldn’t hear myself too well.” Alas, technical difficulties on stage are almost a rite of passage and didn’t seem to bother the judges, or the audience. “All Kinds of Gravity was all about entertainment,” Bolin said. “Their music was genre-less and complex,
with several sounds that one could focus in on, despite the general proclivity to just space out and take it all in as a whole. I was impressed by their showmanship as well. There were moments of improv during warm up as well as masking temporary equipment failure that sounded cohesive, unlike some band’s more amateur jams that kept the listener’s attention.” The concept to battle bands emerged not too far from here in Fredericksburg, Va., during the winter of 1862. Union and Confederate armies camped out near each other across the Rappahannock River. For morale purposes, Union camps struck up some patriotic tunes and were answered from across the river by the Confederates. Attempting to mimic each other’s tunes, the duel went into the evening hours and soldiers of both armies listened to the musical battles and cheered for their own bands. The duel finally ended when both bands played “Home, Sweet Home.” It was
then that the men of both sides, who were so far from their homes, cheered as one. Though we have certainly progressed, in some essence most of the rules are still in play. But the lesson to be learned from this historical brief is that battle of the bands ultimately brings people together. Mission accomplished? Not quite. As winners, All Kinds of Gravity have merely reached a milestone, but more importantly, they are pleased with their new opportunity to give back to Blacksburg. Local music is simultaneously a product of a vibrant artist community and that hunger for the Pacific — possibly why good music may be one of Blacksburg’s best-kept secrets, but certainly not for long. “The battle really brought out a lot of people,” Gustin said. “It was really amazing that the Lantern was able to put it all together and have everyone there.”
friday, may 1, 2009
Booking, promoting and prevailing: How to score gigs
nce you’ve got the music down to a science, it means that your band needs a gig. While it would be great to lay it all on some hip, better-than-you music agency, the reality is that many bands have to book their own shows while they’re building their careers. It may sound like a tedious process, but promoting your band does not require any particular educational background or experience — which may or may not add to the diversity we find in downtown Blacksburg. This means that playing live may be perhaps the most important thing a band can do — a true test in the dexterity of your band. It’s no different in Blacksburg — just like any local, unsigned band, playing live is a way to build up a loyal fan base, get media attention, and draw label interest. And there are surely the intrinsic benefits of playing as well. The energy felt on stage is indescribable. Stevie Ray Vaughn would tell you all about it over whiskey and blues. Gigs serve three functions: building your audience, promoting your music, and having a great time. Booking a gig can seem like an overwhelming process, but the reality is that the opportunity to play while networking out to local venues and other promotion companies is a no brainer. “We all self promote,” said An Easy Friend lead guitarist and vocalist Sean McCalla. “I think that it definitely depends on the size of the show a band is booking, but at the current time for An Easy Friend, we benefit more by not having to pay someone to promote for us.” This seems to be the trend around Blacksburg, and rightfully so. For starters, it is best to start looking for gigs in your own backyard. With local venues like the Lantern, Champs and Gillies, most of the promotion is done first hand by bands like An Easy Friend. They make the best of a town where the road to effortless publicity is a rare commodity. Native to Blacksburg with roots in Richmond, An Easy Friend is a powerhouse rock band that walks softly with a big clip. With their latest demo, “If It Were That Easy,” currently up for listening on the band’s MySpace Web site, McCalla braces a combination of rock influences and serves as the threshold of An Easy Friend. Self promotion usually tailors better to bands needs in Blacksburg, but this is not to say that the support isn’t out there. It is more so reliant on the current state of the band. Before you can even think about booking a gig, there a few basic prerequisites. You need an outlet for your music, whether it is a demo, EP, full-length CD, or cyberoutlets like MySpace. “We rely heavily on our MySpace,”
said An Easy Friend bassist and vocalist Talia Haughn. “We also have a Facebook, so we make events for every show we have and send invitations to our hundreds of friends online. Whether or not they can come, it at least gets the word out there.” “If It Were That Easy” was recorded at Detached Sound Recording and mixed and mastered at Cykert Labs, both in Richmond. With Haughn, guitarist Chris Hennessey and drummer Bob Klopfer, An Easy Friend has all eyes set forward. Besides the obvious stipulations of a female bassist, the band stresses selfpromotion through parties and word of mouth. “Word of mouth is the strongest form of advertising you can rely on,” McCalla said. “If people hear it from their friends, it seems a little more real and a little more personal, not just propaganda.” It is also extremely helpful to have a press pack, which includes any information about your band and clippings of any press coverage you may have had. These channels of promotion can be extremely helpful in getting a band’s name out there.
“I think that booking the initial show is easiest, then depending on how many people a band can bring out, how the band behaves and other factors determine whether a venue will want to book you again.” - TALIA HAUGHN ‘AN EASY FRIEND’ BASSIST “For out of town shows, it’s usually best to send a demo along with a press kit,” McCalla said. “Since they most likely haven’t heard your music, this gives them a sense of what your band is like and fits you in better with better local and touring bands.” To book a show at the Lantern, bands must send in press kits including a demo of their latest release, contact information, and possible dates to play. Because they do not handle booking over the phone (and this is the same with so many venues), it is important to present the best qualities of your band in your press package. McCalla, a junior, also finds that promoting around Blacksburg requires some physical efforts. “We’re on PureVolume, Distortion Radio, YouTube and Jukezoo, which helps,” McCalla, a computer science engineering major, said. “But we like to hand out flyers around campus and tell as many people as we can about shows too. Oftentimes, we’ll go to a venue to see a show a few days before
we play that same venue and hand out flyers and talk to people about coming back out to see our band play.” Once you’ve developed some circulation around downtown, why not flow your tunes on the airwaves? An Easy Friend has been featured on WUVT, and there is effort behind those endeavors. “Usually if you contact a radio station with a local music show, you can send them your music and press kit and try to convince them to put your music into circulation,” McCalla said. “After a band has become well established in a certain area, they can usually get their music on local shows or independent radio stations, such as WUVT,” Haughn added. “I used to work for 105.3 The Bear and Hot 100, and with being in a band, I would love to have our music on these stations, but unfortunately for local music you have to start with independent radio and stations with local music shows, which The Bear and Hot 100 don’t have. It actually costs them more money to play local music, but once a band is signed, they can have their record label send the music to major broadcasting stations to have their music played on air.” This is why Blacksburg tends to the particular circumstances of local music. Which means with such narrow resources, promoting your band requires that you find the people that can make it happen. Once you’ve got your press and demo ready to go, you can usually book directly with the venue, in which many cases the band takes on the costs and responsibilities of promoting the show (this could be anywhere from informing to selling tickets). That or get an agency to take care of the dirty work. Blacksburg doesn’t see much of the latter. While there are organizations dedicated toward promoting your band, it may be much more efficient and less costly to do it yourself. You will find venues will sometimes work with a specific promoter or they don’t — calling a venue to find out how they run their gears is a great first step. Do not be afraid to ask the venue or other bands in the area for advice. This method can give your band a better understanding about the procedures that booking demands, and An Easy Friend is no stranger to this process. “Usually we’ll all talk about it in practice as a band,” McCalla said. “After we find out what dates we’re available for shows, we’ll go to different venues and try to coordinate dates that they have open with our schedule.” That brings up another important point — you should have an idea of when you want to play. Approaching a venue or promoter with ambiguous intentions can be counterproductive or may infringe on how committed
COURTESY OF ‘AN EASY FRIEND’
A promotional band flyer shows, from top left, bassist and vocalist Talia Haughn, drummer Bob Klopfer, rhythm guitarist Chris Hennessey, and lead guitarist and vocalist Sean McCalla. they think you are. Having a window of preferred dates that everyone in the band is comfortable with is a strong way to start your booking process. Remember that you must be internally secure before making external decisions. Being flexible regularly pays off. “We’ve played all over Blacksburg — Champs, The Gobbler, Awful Arthur’s and the Lantern,” Haughn said. “We’ve also done a few charity events with Tech, including Relay For Life. I think if you schedule shows far enough in advance there isn’t too much of a hassle, but places like the Lantern obviously fill their show schedule quickly and far in advance.”
The brash penchants of music industry moguls aren’t too visible here, which means the promotion process entails some sort of subjective “booking etiquette.” “I think that booking the initial show is easiest,” Haughn said. “Then depending on how many people a band can bring out, how the band behaves and other factors determine whether a venue will want to book you again.” A proper concentration of promotion aligned with a release of a new demo has paid off for An Easy Friend, who just had their demo release show in April. Adhering to this process pays off in the end — hopefully in the form
of more opportunities to play. “We played Champs and had two touring bands play with us that Friday,” McCalla said. “We generated a great turnout, and then we were able to do it all over again the next night at the Gobbler.” “People really seem to enjoy the new stuff, especially with the new influences that Bob and Chris bring to the band,” Haughn added. Bear in mind that none of this music scene success could be possible without accommodating venues. “We’ve all had great experiences in Blacksburg venues we’ve played at and will continue to play these places regularly,” Klopfer said.
Advocacy group works to make music ‘contagious’ T
o survive in Blacksburg, the downtown music scene requires a particular approach. “It’s not about meeting the right people,” assured senior Rana Fayez. Fayez, a communication major, founded The Fever to Sing Arts Advocacy Collective, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting musicians, filmmakers and artists in the Blacksburg area. After realizing that many projects have failed because of a lack of involvement, Fever to Sing instills a high independent workforce, focusing on the do-it-yourself ideology. “We’re about providing a community service that helps out everyone who doesn’t receive promotion,” Fayez said. “Dave Matthews doesn’t need the promotion, it’s all the underground artists that need it. … That’s where the advocacy comes in.” Founded in Blacksburg, Fever to Sing was spearheaded in 2005 by Fayez. Fayez, who acts as the president of the organization, has been promoting here in Blacksburg since high school. The organization holds a hefty resume, previously working with The Young Sinclair’s, The Caribbean, Themselves and The Bastards of Fate. Fayez had personally booked Rhode Island’s The Chinese Stars and ex-Fugazi member Ian MacKaye’s current project, The Evens. “The first show I ever put up was jam-fest in my high school cafeteria,” Fayez said. “Carrying on a tradition that had already been in place, I wanted to put a different spin on it, inviting students from Virginia Tech to play. I wanted to have two stages with constant music playing.” Fayez almost got in trouble with the school administration for trying to put on the show and was almost canceled after she attempted to change venues to the Blacksburg community center. In the end, the music made possible for a lot of the students to feel connected with musical aptitude.
“The administration did not completely agree with my ideas,” Fayez recalled. “I ended up negotiating with them and used a different approach the next time around because I didn’t want to be suspended. I was able to get one band from Virginia Tech to perform to get high school kids in tune with that professionalism.” Fever to Sing didn’t fully kick off until 2007, when it added freshmen Yvonne Yee and Oscar Salguero to the mix. These additions expanded the organization’s interests, which aimed to serve both the Tech campus and Blacksburg. The organization is working to receive official non-profit tax-exempt status. “I’m really glad that Yvonne and Oscar are on the team because it was so much work to do on my own,” Fayez said. “Since they’ve joined, we’ve expanded beyond music into art and film. I’ve done some independent work with filmmakers, but now I feel like we can get really far. Our philosophy is to revive the fine arts in any way we can. We believe we need to enrich the community and help each other out.” The expanded sphere of responsibilities has created a framework for Fever to Sing to truly utilize their talent. “Besides helping out with booking bands and planning certain music shows I am also involved in the design of flyer and promotions products and the overall image of Fever to Sing,” said Salguero, director of creative writing and design. Salguero, an industrial design major, focuses on both the internal and external facets of the organization. While actively involved in the marketing of the organization, Salguero also is in charge of the creative writing arm of Fever to Sing. “One of my goals is to run an independent electronic magazine of works by students, artists and people from the community to showcase their visual and literary works,” Salguero said. “We are looking for innovation
and something that highly appeals to the senses and the imagination. I am also trying to recruit people interested in filmmaking, especially short films and experimental films.” Salguero offers an expertise that certainly enhances Fever to Sing. With several poems published on high school journals, Salguero offers a poetic and artistic proficiency to the product mix. “I have a strong artistic background,” Salguero said. “On the poetic side, I have won a couple scholarships for an online poetry workshop given by poet Tom Delay last year. On the artistic side, I have a general understanding of several design software and love sketching and drawing. On the music side, I have an interest in homemade musical instruments and experimental music.” Director of Arts Yvonne Yee, a management and marketing double major, also brings her talent to the table — whether that means spreading the word or other multi-media expertise. “Right now we’re all focused on building the organization’s reputation and ability to serve the arts community,” Yee said. “I attend multiple shows a week here and basically spread the word about us and do press coverage, which involves taking pictures and video, and making it available for the community.” While Fever to Sing has been trying to expand their scope of interest beyond just music, adhering to all the different mediums of art in Blacksburg comes naturally — especially when it is in such abundance. “It takes some effort, but there’s always something going on in every scene,” Yee said. “The more I look into it, the more art shows, plays and fusion-art showcases I find. The challenge comes in exposing the community to different events going on. It’s hard to get a lot of people to go to a new sort of event. It is a little easier in the music scene because people are
generally open to seeing music that is the type they listen to, but as for other art mediums, people aren’t as motivated to go out.” These are some of the challenges that face any organization dedicated to promoting. However, these unique specialties provided by talented individuals translate into effective promotion. “I would like to think that my eclectic interests contribute to the openmindedness of Fever to Sing and its overall ideology of ‘do-it-yourself,’” Salguero said. And the open-mindedness aspect of Fever to Sing is something of utter importance. In order to become a successful promotion organization, responsibilities must encompass all facets of local art through all possible outlets. Thus, these fresh product mix aids a new synergistic astuteness in downtown Blacksburg. “We are open to any type of artistic expression, everything from the avant-garde and non-sensical to the activist, meaningful and everything in between,” Salguero said. “We are trying to revive the arts in the Blacksburg scene and to get more people interested and excited about the rich variety of artistic styles and the talent existent out there.” Fever to Sing’s mission statement supports all forms of local art including shows, which they don’t even organize. With an independent film showcase in the works, Fever to Sing has been networking to fulfill the demand. Beyond the local music scene, they hold many ideas for the future. “While our other projects aren’t to the extent of our focus on music, we’re always working to promote other people’s art,” Fayez said. “It can be difficult because we’ve recently formed, still considered ‘start-up’ and don’t have many resources. But we’re starting to reach out and meet more and more people.” The internal talent is there. Now it is
only a matter of funneling that ability in order to make things happen. “We already have the commitment and enthusiasm to make of Fever to Sing a tool for the arts to be exposed and better appreciated,” Salguero said. “Some fundraising activities include booking local bands for shows over the summer; offering art workshops for students and community members in the near future; bringing professional artists or filmmakers for special conferences, and so on.” Besides networking contingencies, there is a degree of the Pareto principle when it comes to promotion. “Since I’ve been around for a while, I’ve come to know a lot of people,” Fayez said. “We heavily rely on word-of-mouth and whatever we can get our hands on whether it means handing out flyers. I joined WUVT and received a lot of support and gained a lot of experience, but I’ve been promoting things on my own for a really long time.” Alas, Blacksburg is kind of a unique situation and certainly isn’t the cradle of music. Fever to Sing has definitely noted the exceptional qualities of a college town like Blacksburg and has recognized and adjusted to its circumstantial conditions. These conditions demand somebody to facilitate and provide an organization dedicated to promoting local musicians. “The thing is, I’ve always wanted to start something here,” Fayez said. “There are always so many things that go on in bigger cities you don’t receive in smaller towns and it’s ridiculous to drive out. I never thought I would be able to see more of that here until I started building connections, meeting people, and learning about the process.” Every approach toward booking a show requires knowledge of procedure. And beyond creating a relationship with a client, it’s more important to foster a relationship between them and their dreams.
“We always try to get a touring band a show and then get local support,” Fayez said. “Through that process, we try to allow local musicians to make connections with these bigger artists. We try to facilitate that for them. A lot of people ask why we pay the bigger bands money, and it’s because the traveling costs are so high, and to benefit the local scene in the long run.” Venues have been supportive of these efforts to promote local music, providing flexibility. In a convalescent sense, their goals are very similar. “The Lantern has been our favorite place to go because they’re the first real venue Blacksburg has had in a really long time,” Fayez said. “Before them, we’d have to find empty spaces in warehouses or cater rooms and try and convince them to have a show. Because there was no type of security or doorman, so it was basically me running around. I’m really grateful to have Oscar and Yvonne helping out.” Running an organization dedicated to promoting music sounds remarkably similar to promoting a band itself. As for the future, Fever to Sing is always keeping their eyes forward. “While nothing is set in stone, we’re doing a lot of fundraising over the summer,” Fayez said. “Oscar and I have a lot of things planned.” While the organization is destined for growth in the next decade, Fever to Sing is ultimately hoping to expand the influence of the organization beyond Blacksburg. “I am convinced that Fever to Sing will grow to become a symbol for independence and talent among the local artists, and that in the future this will resonate in other places,” Salguero assured. “One of our big goals also includes helping our local music/art scene to establish contact with other renowned artists that may visit our town, so as to contribute to their expansion and recognition in other areas of the country.” “We hope that we can show people what they’re missing,” Yee said.
friday, may 1, 2009
Starting from scratch: Blacksburg garage band 101 the Dre m Tea am
Recording your Demo
Choosing a Name
nce you’ve got your song ideas, gear and dream team, the next thing to do is to find a practice space. Blacksburg doesn’t necessarily have a constant supply of jam spaces. Some of us wouldn’t dream of putting a drum set inside of an apartment, but a lot of do. The truth is if you live in Hunters Ridge or Chasewood Downs, forgetaboudit — you need a practice space. So there are three requirements for a legit practice space. It must have enough space for your entire band’s equipment, it must be flexible enough to allow creative juices to flow, and you won’t get arrested for playing AC/DC at 200 decibels. Many bands practice in the garage or basement, so if you live in a house, you could be in luck. It helps to be creative — bands like The Shack Band rehearse at a onebedroom, run down historic Blacksburg landmark known as “The Shack.” Rehearsal studios dedicated to bands either have an hourly rental or lockouts, which work like apartments in that you sign a lease and pay a monthly fee. In most cases, you’ll have to provide your own equipment, which includes a PA system. Some
experience. Great places to start looking for musicians are local venues. Venues like The Lantern, Champs and Gillie’s are great places to find people as keen and passionate about music as you are. Also be sure to check out record stores, especially independently owned. Venues and local record stores like Crossroads will usually have message boards where you can advertise for band members. Be sure to talk a little bit about the music you’re interested in, or at least some of the bands you cite as influences. Talking to the staff at venues and stores is a great way to meet the right people who can connect you to the right band mates. Don’t be limited to these suggestions; think about other places that musicians prowl — coffee shops, bookshops, and even local press. When advertising, be sure to be as specific as possible. It’s great for band members to have different influences they bring to the table, but mutual interests should remain aligned. You don’t want Chris Martin show up for your metal auditions — keep your vision intact. Do you want a ninepiece Slipknot?
hat’s your band name? It’s a question that many of us have cringed answering. Most would argue that this is the most tedious stage in forming a band — and rightfully so. There is no saying that you have to immediately formulate a name from the get-go, but having that identity and brand early in the game pays off. No need to avoid clichés like putting “the” before your title, or putting a numerical value after. What’s important is that your name comes naturally. A good indicator of a fitting band name is whether you feel uncomfortable telling people it. This is a decision you’ll have to live with for as long as the band exists. There is no particular format of approach (who knew there were band name generators online?) and changing your name becomes increasingly difficult as your move further up the establishment. A name that may have seemed clever yesterday might not feel the same tomorrow. Be sure to sleep on it.
our band is your family, plain and simple. These are the people you’re going to be spending hours upon hours in rehearsal spaces and studios, not to mention in the back of jampacked vans. But these experiences are in some sense a rite of passage. Summoning the right musicians for your band requires a high level of discretion. You need the ability to not only find the right talent for your band, but also the ability to evaluate their compatibility with the rest of the members. And as Mr. Ocean and the rest of the 11 will tell you, finding the right people for your melodic heist requires a good sense of judgment. A great resource to find band mates is the Web. Web sites like BandMix.com offer “musician classifieds,” which is an unrestrained community of like-minded people. Musicians make personalized pages that include location, equipment, instruments played, level of commitment and time available to practice and for gigs. To better pinpoint a scope of interest (or a genre you have in mind), BandMix also asks for influences and preferred genres. Craigslist and MeetYourBand.com are other outlets of harmonious networking. If cyberspace isn’t your alcove, perhaps you prefer a more personal
s many would attest, playing in a band can be one of the most satisfying and memorable experiences of your life. However, those same people would tell you there are many things to keep in mind to prevent some sort of musical fall out. Axl Rose, Zach de la Rocha and Steven Morrissey would all testify against the hasty and impetuous nature of being in COMMENT a band and its unfavorable consequences. So it’s important to start off on the right foot. All these bands started in their own backyard, fulfilling local clamor. Many of us want to form a band but may not know where to start and how to make it work, particularly in a town like Blacksburg.
rehearsal spaces have equipment available for rent. If you have connections within the Virginia Tech music department, you may be able to utilize their recording studio located off Draper Road. If not, Sweet Eddie’s Recording Studio at Bridge Kaldro Music in Christiansburg also offers jam spaces available for rent. Practice spaces are usually fairly cheap and again, Craigslist can be especially helpful to find jam rooms. Most importantly, it is vital that everyone in the band is comfortable with the rehearsal spots. Your band’s success is directly correlated with how much time you put into practice.
Finding a Place to Jam
s a musician, your recorded tracks are your calling cards. Contrary to popular belief, demo recording doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive. If your songs are great, people will listen. To book shows, you have to be able to offer a press package. Promoters will rarely take up additional risk and book a band they can’t grasp, which means you have to be able to provide tangible tracks. When you’ve got about three songs to the tee, it means you’re ready to record. It’s common for somebody in the band to have some sort of recording experience, but the quality of your tracks is really contingent on your budget. Whether you decide to four-track it or hope to have a creation that sounds like it was produced by Rick Rubin, what matters is that you’re happy with the finished product. Labels don’t expect your demo to be perfect. There are two methods: record live, or multi-track. Unless you play in the Dave Matthews Band, recording at an amateur level won’t emulate any live record (the ones only worth listening to) they’ve had. The decision relies on your budget and on the genre you’re planning on tackling. If you’re a punk or jam band, go live. Eyes pointed toward the mainstream market? Go with multi-track. Mixing and mastering (equalizing and compressing) are different processes. The latter is optional. If you’re recording in a studio, the engineer or producer will probably do most of it for you. If you’re looking for a more affordable alternative, programs like Acoustica Mixcraft can be found online. If you have a little more cash, ProTools is what most professionals use. If you’re not a PC, most MACs come with a Garage Band application. But if you decide to spend some money, Blacksburg’s Flat Five Press & Recording, Clear Blue Productions, Catawba Sound Studios, and Studio 101 in Roanoke are some local studios in the New River Valley area. Don’t get caught up in spending too much time and money on recording. What good is it to sound crisp on a CD with no weight on the live show? I’m sure Ashlee Simpson knows.
Pull the Trigger
hen you’ve constructed somewhat of a following, it’s time to showcase your skills on the stage. You may want to start at a more basic level with an open-mic night. If you choose to go with a bigger venue, keep in mind that persistence is crucial. Venues and promoters have many, many bands trying to contact them. To
avoid this market saturation, be sure to follow up more than once. Make sure that the venue and times are comfortable for everyone and provide realistic expectations. Your first shows are all about exposing your new music and gaining experience, so be prepared to not cash in from early shows. Most important of all, a
successful band is heavily endorsed by mutual goals and personal relationships. To keep your band happy, always strive for continuous improvement. Constantly challenge your band. This will keep the sound fresh and prevent band practices from turning into mundane routines — bands are supposed be fun. Relish those moments and God speed.
friday, may 1, 2009
Blacksburg music scene has ‘really grown with the arts in mind’ R
eferred by Chris Gustin from All Kinds of Gravity for an exceptional perspective of downtown Blacksburg, I had the opportunity to sit down with Publisher and Editorin-Chief Hart Fowler of 16 Blocks. A Virginia Tech alumnus, Fowler founded 16 Blocks, an independent magazine that hopes to bridge the gap between local art and campus. According to its Web site, “16 Blocks is for the dishwashers, the clerks, the baristas, the cooks, the drivers, the staff, the waitresses, the bouncers, the managers, the bartenders, the cashiers, the landscapers, and the out-of-work loungers. 16 Blocks is in the scene.” The diversity of readership entails a diversity of local art and music. 16 Blocks and Ceritano’s Italian restaurant have taken this important part of our culture off of the street and onto the interior walls of a warehouse in downtown lacksburg. FOWLER BTwelve graffiti artists from Roanoke, Q&A Blacksburg and Radford will be displaying their spray-painted pieces for a graffiti contest on Friday, May 8. A $1,000 Grand Prize given by Ceritano’s owner Nino Ceritano as well as paid commissions from local design firms and venues. A documentary about the event will be on a display, as well as photographs taken by the graffiti artists detailing their process. As the editor-in-chief of a publication dedicated to local art, Fowler shared his experiences, personal philosophy and involvement in the local music scene. CT: Where did you first get the idea to start a magazine like 16 Blocks? Did you find it accommodates a particular demand in Blacksburg? HF: Directly so. That was the reason I started 16 Blocks because of the demand. I believe there’s no publication here as there is in other cities both big and small that caters locally. I believe the CT reaches underclassmen, 18 to 20; I think when you outgrow that, the only thing in between locally is the Roanoke Times, which is mostly read by baby boomers. I’ve written for other local publications before. I was a freelance reporter for the Roanoke Times as well as the New River Magazine and I got tired of writing articles that people my age didn’t read. CT: Sixteen issues in, how has the reception been thus far? HF: I couldn’t be more pleased; this is the biggest month we’ve ever had in terms of advertising support. We celebrated our year anniversary in February; the niche I thought existed truly did. We’ve been embraced by our readership but also people involved in local media as well as advertisers. We’ve really grown with so much from the beginning. CT: What does Blacksburg has to offer to the world? HF: I would say one of the beautiful things about Blacksburg is that it is such a microcosm. The diversity of the students is wonderful; it really adds a rare culture. Music-wise, due to the fact of the Lantern opening recently has really been providing these wonderful regional acts that have not been available before. We have that now going for us. That and the new performing arts building going downtown as well the new arts building going on Schultz that we can see right now. It’s a nice time for the arts here in Blacksburg — I think that’s due to the fact that engineering is strong and always will be here. Architecture, art department, performing arts and the new school of the cinema really goes to show we’ve really grown with
Nick Ross’s submission into the 16 Blocks Magazine’s graffiti contest features 12 artists from Roanoke, Blacksburg and Radford. the arts in mind here. CT: From your position, give me a diagnosis of Blacksburg’s supply of local art. How far has it come and how far does it have yet to go? HF: The school of art based on the Armory art gallery is doing some amazing things. The biggest achievement is the new art building coming up. Some of the artists they have been attracting student-wise are great, not only for the magazine but for the exhibition of the Armory and XYZ gallery. There is such a wealth of young people here. Convincing people that are drinking out of a red cup at an apartment party or however you spend your time raises culture in a way that takes away from what’s local. I love football games, but there is much more than seven home games a year. With the changes in the arts being more embraced here, more live shows are happening at the Lantern. Attitudes Bar is starting to revamp their music due to that fact. It’s some fallout due to the Lantern providing great shows. CT: I read on your Web site that 16 Blocks is the “scene.” Besides music, has the diversity of local art made coverage tricky for the magazine? HF: Honestly there’s a wonderful supply of art to cover — more than we could possibly cover here. It also comes from being a freelance reporter where you get paid to find these stories. CT: Obviously 16 Blocks is extremely beneficial to local musicians, whether they get profile or show coverage. What kind of relationship do you develop with local musicians? How would they approach you if they wanted some press? HF: I am happy to be very much involved in the local scene. I’m a keyboard player myself and I’ve been playing in bands for years now.
So I’m able to view that relationship from a player’s perspective. Now that I’m covering local bands I’ve come to know them in a different way. We have yet to have a band from Blacksburg “make it.” Charlottesville would be an obvious comparison in state for bands that I’ve pushed through. I’m fairly curious for the reason that there isn’t a band we could talk about right now that’s pushed through. There are local venues that support music. We have very fine local bands I’d be happy to talk about. But it’s more up to the band showing initiative to get out, and playing in your hometown or HQ doesn’t really get you there. CT: Is that your philosophy on how a band should promote itself here in a town like Blacksburg? HF: I do and a lot of it comes from arguments from being in a band — day jobs getting in the way and not really defining yourself from the beginning. Playing music for a living is definitely a dream, and it’s a harder art form than painting or writing. It’s harder to work in that field and have a proper day job. With writing you can be a reporter, as an artist you can work in graphic design or advertising. On the other hand, as a musician, studio gigs are rare. It makes it very difficult to base your life on your music dream. A local band defining themselves, I’ve learned, is critical. Nothing would make my day more than to hear local bands announce the fact that they’re going on tour or that they have a new album coming out. Many local bands don’t have a definition of who they want to be. They have dreams of playing music in other places, and they tend not to pursue them in a way. If that’s the case, I think you should embrace playing locally. There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s also a
beautiful thing to that which is being honest about where you want your music to go. Being in-between is not good for culture; I recommend bands make a decision early on whether they want to go on the road and on tour, or they want to be here representing the local scene. CT: 16 Blocks seems to have a really relaxed layout and the freelance flow from your writers. The modern look of your Web site and publication — is that a particular type of the organizational approach? HF: Definitely. I’ve started as a reporter and have been a publisher and an editor. David Fraunusich our head print designer and Christina O’Connor our directory of photography have been very helpful. I met Christina at the Roanoke Times, and when I first had the idea for the magazine I talked to her first and she was all about it. I landed her and David at the same time, and if it wasn’t for that we wouldn’t be speaking right now. They’re both amazing photographers and graphic designers; that’s where the look of the magazine comes up. Dave Williams is an excellent webmaster, that’s where the look comes from, and Amy Splitt is one of the best editors I could ever imagine. She’s a godsend; she’s going to be part of many magazines in the future. I am so blessed with this team that I’ve found that allows me to pursue and make the magazine grow because they can handle each of their parts. I couldn’t be more pleased with the organization, the brainstorming of stories. The delivery of projects puts us in a position to succeed, which is difficult in the publishing world — especially print these days. It is a loose managerial approach, but we always have our eyes on the finished piece. I’ve always known that movements
happen in circles; it’s not one person. Knowing the transcendentalists, these movements happen in groups. I feel like 16 Blocks is kind of a sounding point, a call of people that can learn on their own and together. CT: There is an evident split between Virginia Tech and the downtown Blacksburg music scene. How do you think we could best integrate those markets? HF: That’s a really get question which is really what the magazine is very much founded upon. One of the most interesting aspects is that the success of the magazine is the bridging of the gap between campus and Blacksburg. Integrating the two is a wonderful idea, and I think it’s happening as we speak. The Lantern and 16 Blocks hopes to bring students that call here college and not home. In the current state of recession that we’re in, the question I beg to ask is, “is moving back to the urban centers where you grew up really a viable source?” Have you ever considered Blacksburg as a home? If you look around, keep your eyes open, and show up to some of the events that are going, I think you’ll be more pleased. … Plus, it’s walking distance. CT: Why do you think that separation is there in the first place? HF: Well compared to Richmond or Charlottesville, we have a technical school. Embracing the arts, not to be so straight-laced, but why drink at TOTS when you have to wait 30 minutes and what are you doing once you get there. Why hang out on a deck where the best thing is drunken drama — why? I think that’s a question that’s not been answered. Go to the show. Drama happens there, and it’s not stupid drama. Go the events, hang out downtown, get out of the dining hall, be involved — you’re only young once.
You want to spend your time engaged in valuable cultural experiences and you’ll definitely be rewarded — better memories, too. CT: What local bands have done that? HF: Hope Hop is really a fine local band that has a lot of experienced players. Bitter Hill is great, too. They just moved a piano down into The Lantern recently as well. CT: Yeah, I tried to talk to Dan the owner while he was doing that. HF: Exactly. Aaron from the Appetite and Hope Hop is a fine piano player around. I’d like to see the house party scenes do better. Where the basement parties at? Something I would like to ask the readers is what is a music act you would come out to? What is your draw? The Lantern has managed to bridge the gap between punk and jam bands like we saw last week. This wonderful young population can attract bands we want to see if we show up. The ball is in your hands. CT: What local venues have responded? HF: I know I’ve talked about The Lantern. Quality music four nights a week — it’s amazing. The Cellar has wonderful blues and jazz during the week. Attitudes have revamped their sound system and band list. They have a very fine stage. Champs has been a long time representation of local music — five days a week. Awful Arthurs also has a fine space upstairs. We really do have the venues here, if you keep your eyes open. Pay attention to flyers and Facebook announcements to see what’s going on; I think you’ll be amazed at the quality of our venues. I think that will continue to grow, hopefully with this venue behind Ceritano’s.
KYLE COTHERN /SPPS
Senior architecture major Nick Ross works on his submission to the 16 Blocks graffiti contest behind the restaurant Ceritano’s. All of the entries will be judged on Friday, May 8.
friday, may 1, 2009
Guitarist Jonathan DiSalle, bassist Mason Owen, and guitarist Daniel Schutt performed for charity at last Friday’s Relay For Life on the Drillfield.
‘The Shack Band’ jams for a cause at Relay for Life W
hile The Shack Band encountered some technical difficulties setting up, all problems seemed to melt away once the first note was struck. “Once we alleviated the stress of setting up, everything went great,” said The Shack Band’s bassist Mason Owen said. “It was one of the coolest stages we’ve ever played. It was a gorgeous night. I remember seeing myself on the JumboTrons. It was bizarre but at the same time it was really cool.” Local efforts hold the key to generating a more powerful message, even if that means starting in downtown Blacksburg. Although the current circumstances have shifted the approach, playing local shows for charity surely hold intrinsic benefits on its own — especially if you’ve been asked to play on the Drillfield for the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life. “It always feels good to get out there and get your hands dirty for a
good cause,” Owen said. “You get to play on the Drillfield, play for a ton of people, and help raise money for a good cause.” Proven over and over, music is often the remedy. Music is medication for many occasions — whether it was Jimi Hendrix’s redemptive rendition of
“The Star-Spangled Banner” in 1969 at Woodstock on a sweaty August day, or the German’s singing “Stille Nacht,” which echoed into the ears of American soldiers of the 101st Airborne division encircled in the woods outside of Bastogne, Belgium, during the Battle of the Bulge. Today, there is an uprising in similar efforts much closer to home. “It’s really a win-win,” said Owen. “We get to raise money for a great cause and we get the opportunity to play in front of so many people.” It was an opportunity well taken. The Shack Band, along with Dog Lips and Naturally Sharp, contributed to making Virginia Tech the number one Relay for Life event in the country, which broke every prescribed record. The Shack Band’s music reached the ears of the 480 teams, composed of more than 5,300 people. As they set up their equipment around 1 a.m., the group was eager to contribute. They helped raise funds to what eventually fig-
ured to be around $482,000 toward the fight against cancer. The gig was offered via Relay For Life’s entertainment coordinator Kristen Walker. Walker, an international studies and Spanish double major, first got involved in Relay For Life as a participant at Tech and at her home in Williamsburg. After deciding to take her involvement in Relay For Life further this past year, Walker applied for the executive committee position and was chosen for entertainment chair. “Because the Shack Band is local, it’s one of those names that were floating around campus,” Walker said. “I had seen them perform once before at a benefit concert held by Pi Kappa Alpha, and knew that because they play a good mix of originals and covers, they would be a great fit for Relay For Life.” Walker, a junior, began communicating back and forth with Owen, after one of the committee members pitched to them the opportunity to play. The response was evidently warranted. “The Shack Band was more than willing to play at Relay For Life,” Walker said. “I think they saw it as a great opportunity to get their name out there with an audience of over 5,000 people. It was also a great cause and probably a unique experience to be able to play a show on the Drillfield.” “Literally, when they sent us an email, we took the opportunity immediately,” Owen said. And as for every local band who has played shows with a canned food admission, nearing to half a million dollars is no joke. While the music surely isn’t the directly profiting the fundraiser, it is impossible to deny its contribution. As the stars swept into the Blacksburg night sky, The Shack Band added its proverbial guitar riffs and a harmonious perpetual groove to the atmosphere. “We love playing for people and that’s why we started it,” Owen said. “This is an
many shows, and I feel like we’ve been working our way across the scene, but it’s totally an honor.” A classic-rock influenced, jam band music group from Blacksburg, the guys have been playing together since August 2007, but have roots dating back for years. During their freshman year at Tech, drummer Terrence Dolan, bassist Owen, and guitarist Jonathan DiSalle lived in the same dorm and began playing together on a regular basis. The following year, the trio hooked up with guitarist Daniel Schutt, who was already an accomplished songwriter and solo artist on the local music scene. The four members began playing music together in their apartment. In fall of 2007, Mason moved into a one-bedroom, run-down historic Blacksburg landmark known as “The Shack.” After packing it with music equipment, the Shack Band was born. Not long after, keyboardist Andrew Gillespie was invited to sit in with the group and was soon a fulltime member. After several months, the band had compiled an impressive repertoire of covers and originals as they took the stage for the first time in spring 2008. Since then, they have added the talents of Hunter McWaters on percussion and have created a buzz on the local music scene from playing primarily fraternity parties and local bars. In May 2008, the Shack Band hit the studio for the first time in Charlotte, N.C., to record their first EP. After
several long nights, the “Charlotte Sessions” was complete. Overall, this collective vision was facilitated through great friends with a desire to make great music. “We got to know Andrew Gillespie through a fraternity, and he’s also in Naturally Sharp,” DiSalle said. “After we got together, we met Hunter who was introduced through a mutual friend and pretty much has played with us for all our shows.” The Shack Band seems to always have plenty of shows on the schedule. With a show this past week at UNC, The Shack Band is playing at the FIJI house tonight and the Sigma Alpha Epsilon House and the German Club Manor tomorrow night. Owen, who handles a substantial portion of the booking, heavily relies on ample networking among the collegiate community. “I do the majority of the booking, but everyone chips in with networking at other schools,” Owen said. “We actually just signed with a good booking agency that a friend of mine from high school started, so he finds gigs for us at other schools. Really we book gigs in any way we can — there is no main format we use.” There is certainly some truth to that — in terms of promotion, the procedure of earning gigs should be a flexible and open process. Playing at Relay For Life holds mutually beneficial contingencies. While the overarching purpose is for charity and cancer awareness, it’s hard to deny the opportunity to play in front of so many people on the Drillfield. Even for the veteran Shack Band, this was a first. “We were unbelievably excited,” Owen said. “In a way, the Drillfield was our goal; it was our dream venue when we started playing, and it’s truly a dream come true.” Although they had never played before this year, The Shack Band is no stranger to Relay For Life. “We’re familiar because we’ve been to it in the past,” Owen said. “I’ve actually been to Relay For Life in Richmond the whole four years I was in high school. Our drummer Terrance went to it in North Jersey and Andrew has been to the Charlotte one.” Also familiar with playing at charity events, The Shack Band is developing its own niche in the area. “We played a benefit gig for Emily Dao and her struggle with cancer that was set up through a sister we knew at Delta Zeta,” Owen said. “It was an idea and it was made possible after talking to the sisters. After we started doing that, more organizations got us to play for their events and we have enjoyed playing all of them.” But this isn’t the end of the road for The Shack Band. Events like Relay For Life allow local acts to perform for a great cause, while providing a door for cream-of-the-crop bands to raise their profiles. Especially in the local music scene, there is no plateau of success that one can thrive off for very long. Achieving victory in the music biz demands a continuous effort. “We stay busy,” Owen said. “We basically play out every weekend and we’ve got great friends. We’ve got loyal friends. It doesn’t matter where we’re playing or who we’re playing for, they’re going to be there.” But this is not to say there’s no enjoying the ride, especially with such unremitting success. “The Shack Band put on a great show,” Walker said. “They had the crowd dancing and cheering for more.”