By Alexander Cole
A small crowd of about 30 gathered in the Demarest Dorm’s main lounge last Thursday. Demarest is located on the College Ave campus of Rutgers University. Damian Kulikowski, a tall and imposing figure, grabbed the mic and announced, “Hey guys, we’re Headlock Jukebox, and we’re a Christina Aquilera cover band with a death metal twist!” Some in the crowd sat in silent confusion while others laughed at the joke. The drummer, Pat Kulikowski, started off the song with a fast-paced snare beat, heavy on the bass drum. Damian, the lead singer and guitarist, jumped in with Mark Norton, the bassist. The band played improvised heavy metal for a half hour, to the delight of some and horror of others.
As Rutgers sophomore Kara Zola said while she watched a few expressions, “Metal isn’t for everyone, I guess.” Shortly after the music faded away and the band packed up, another performer took the stage. Why were people gathered to sit in the main lounge and listen to performances they might not even like? They were attending the Demarest Dorm’s second Coffee House event of the semester. The Coffee House is an open-mic talent show in which anyone is able to attend or perform. Damian told this reporter that the word “performers” is preferred, as not all of the people involved simply sing and play instruments. There is spoken word, poetry, sketch comedy, and music of many genres based on who wishes to participate during each individual event. There are usually several of these events each semester and they typically run from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m., although sometimes later if the crowd is large enough and there are enough performers. As per its name, each Coffee House also provides free coffee, soda, and light snacks. Each time the event is organized, publicity is handled through word of mouth and Facebook.
Although during some of these events the room is packed to capacity, the average number of attendees is about 20 to 40 people, including those who run the event and the performers themselves. One might wonder, with such a small turnout, why anyone would attend to showcase their abilities. Pat, a School of Arts and Sciences student, also volunteers his drumming ability to those who wish to perform but have no percussion. When this reporter asked him why he plays at all, let alone for others, one thing became obvious. For these and other Coffee House performers, the enjoyment of their craft far outweighs the number of people listening. “I play coffee house because it’s the best way to show unique music,” he said, “and because it’s a good medium that Demarest and Rutgers students in general can use to show their talents.”
After his set, I asked Damian what kind of performances I could expect. He simply smiled and nodded towards the stage as the next performer started. Sean Battle, a poet and member of the group “Verbal Mayhem,” proceeded to fill the room with his powerful words, including one of his more popular pieces, “Crash.” Afterwards, 100% Cotton, an acoustic soft rock group, performed various original and cover songs with great skill. Still later a Rutgers student who had walked in during Sean’s performance approached one of the Demarites (the title for residents of Demarest) and asked for a time slot. Those in attendance were delighted by her original and cover songs with acoustic guitar accompaniment. Throughout the night this reporter would witness performers across many art forms, all of different races, majors, and ages. Raymond Dib, a soft-spoken Rutgers College Philosophy major described it not as a show per se, but as a release from ordinary college life. “Oh,” he commented with a modest smile, “and I play, too.”