Local scene keeps music diverse

By Emma Claire Sohn

Five bucks and a valid driver’s license can get you a long way in Urbana-Champaign. It can provide a scone and a latte at most coffee shops, a drink and a half at any of the campus town bars, maybe even a pack of Swisher Sweets at Hometown Pantry. My weapon of choice, however, is usually cover at Cowboy Monkey, which provides a less transient fix. The Monkey has come into my favor as I’ve fallen prey to their alluring array of local music, which I find more satisfying than any ice bomb that’s infiltrated my innards.

Over the past few months Cowboy Monkey has welcomed elsinore into their list of regular talent. Led by Ryan Groff, elsinore brews folk and rock into a unique sect of Americana, filling a void in the local scene. I’ve compared the band to early Wilco, but there are key elements separating them from the lack-luster performance I watched Jeff Tweedy deliver in Milwaukee this past summer. There is a gleam to elsinore when they play live. Ryan Groff’s consistently passionate voice sticks with you for days following the performance. It is clearly visible that they absolutely love what they are doing. Elsinore, like many other local bands, is marked by a sense of humility, an earnest quality sprouting from their genuine nature inevitable to a band still reveling in their new popularity.

Perhaps my favor for elsinore is rooted in the fact that my college experience has coincided with their introduction to the Urbana-Champaign scene. I’ve watched them grow from their eight-month stint as the house band for the White Horse to the habitual headliners at Cowboy Monkey while simultaneously advancing through my college career. If their success continues, they will begin touring nationally just before I graduate in two years, and our similar paths of growth will culminate with our respective releases into the “real world”.

Albeit exciting, the “real” music world is a dodgy place. It’s simple logic that music tends to better reflect the true intent of its creator when the unnecessary coo of major labels is removed. Local bands are enabled by their independence to explore a variety of ideas musically and lyrically which would not be afforded to them under the auspices of a major label. Elsinore has proven this case-in-point with the political commentary which has been an important facet of their music since its inception. Protest and politics are areas which have only recently faced a slight resurrection in popular music and are restricted in large part to media influence and ownership. When power is removed from corporate hands and authority is returned to the artists themselves the result is a diverse blend of many influences, straying from any chic sound backed by the music moguls.

The heightened value of our own local music scene exceeds the collective weight of each individual talent. The Champaign-Urbana music scene is built off of the camaraderie that exists between each respective entity. As Ryan Groff noted, “People aren’t just concerned about their band and their band alone. Everyone is a hybrid of fan and friend. And that’s really helpful.” This cooperative spirit, coupled with an extraordinary amount of talent, is what distinguishes our local scene from that of other colleges and communities. The sheer drive of the musicians that comprise the scene is what propels it, while distinguishing it as one of the highest regarded local scenes in the country.

Beyond endorsing musical independence and diversity, going to local shows reflects an appreciation for a strong work ethic and a respect for a way of life defined by passion as opposed to financial gain. Support local bands like elsinore. It not only helps provide for local musicians but it also aids in sustaining a key aspect of our culture as a community.