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Lester Biggs and the Robber Barons: homegrown rock and roll

By Nathaniel Livingston '14

November 29, 2012

You are standing outside of the Sadove Student Center.  It is a cold and unforgiving November evening in the middle of upstate New York, where the wind blows with a vengeance over the cusp of College Hill, where the small liberal arts college that you attend resides.  It’s a Thursday night and you aren’t expecting a night unlike any others, nothing out of the ordinary, just a drink or two in the ELS basement where the women’s field hockey team and the men’s baseball team decided to have a party. 

But once you descend those dungeon-like stairs, you become aware of a sound you are not used to on campus: live music.  No, it is not the sterile sounds of “Levels” by Avicii or the autotuned croon of Kesha you are hearing, it’s much too alive to be anything emanating from a speaker box.  This is amplifier music.  This is the sound of a voice through a microphone.  This is the sound of Lester Biggs and the Robber Barons playing music. Live music.

The music is best described as rock & roll.  The band has been known to cover standards such as “The Weight,” “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” and “Johnny B Goode.”  And with such an eclectic and talented line up, every song they do is explored to its full potential.  Ravi Jariwala ’13 will turn those metal strings into electric tentacles of ecstasy, and Bret Turner ’13’s smooth responds with a solo tinged with passion and the E Street Band flavor.  A sharp wailing wheeze indicates that Matt Sherman has started breathing into his harmonica.  Dan Knishkowy ’13 is the band’s leader and main singer.  The energy he brings keeps the whole band together and his vocals emanate straight from the soul.  It’s almost as if The Tallest Man on Earth went and started a rock band.  And when Chelsea Wahl ’13 joins her beautiful voice to the chorus, the band reaches its full potential.  Beneath it all, drummer Dave Schwartz ’13 keeps the beat, accentuating the movement of the music with cymbals and tom rolls, while Ian Rothenberg ’16 provides the pulsating rhythm of the bass.

Lester Biggs and the Robber Barons aren’t about making a name for the band.  There are no aspirations or pretensions to stardom.  The eclectic nature of the band allows each member to perform outside of his or her usual musical context.  Three of the members are in Jazz band, Dan is a solo musician, Chelsea is the musical coordinator for Special K, and Dave Schwartz is also a DJ.  Each member brings their own expertise to the table.

The band is ultimately out there to have a good time and provide the College with something it needs—live music performed by student musicians.  It’s music that is fun—live music you don’t come see to get credit for class.  It is this kind of student initiative that adds life and originality to any late night event, inspiring the audience with music.
This Friday, Nov. 30, the band will be playing in the Woollcott Co-op basement at 11 p.m.  Not as dark and strange as the ELS basement, the Co-op basement is a great, intimate space to experience the band.  If you have never heard the band before, consider what a dose of live music could do for your typical weekend experience.

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