It’s no surprise that music is a huge aspect of a college student’s life. From listening to ipods to attending concerts and going to local clubs, the music culture contributes to a vast majority of the social scene. Even those who aren’t serious music fans can’t argue that having a strong local music scene makes a big difference in the school’s social atmosphere.
Especially for certain college-bound students, choosing a school with the right music scene will be a priority. But where are these places? You can start by looking at the top 10 best music scenes in the book Schools that Rock written by Jenny Eliscu, a contributing editor at Rolling Stone.
Schools that Rock, published by Wenner Books, provides not only top 10 lists of best music scenes, radio stations and record stores, but information on featured cities that have top notch music schools and venues.
“In an ideal world, Schools That Rock would be used as a cross-reference
to the more traditional college guides to provide supplemental information for college-bound high-schoolers who are serious music fans,” explained author Eliscu.
In alphabetical order, the top ten is as follows:
1. Athens, Ga.
The town that is known as the home of rockers R.E.M is also a town where aspiring musicians can be seen and heard. With 40 Watt Club as the best venue in the southeast and the Caledonia Lounge where R.E.M. shot their video “Turn You Inside Out,” it is no surprise that this college town is on the top 10. “The colleges were selected based on whether they either had an esteemed or noteworthy music program that would be appropriate for those interested in classical training,” Eliscu said, “or whether the school offered interesting and unique pop culture-friendly courses both inside and outside the music department.” With that said, the University of Georgia in Athens offers appealing classes such as History of Popular Music and the History of Rock and Roll, which also focuses on Athens history as well.
2. Austin, Texas
In terms of picking out the top 10, author Eliscu was already familiar with many of the places – like Austin. “[They] have deeply rooted rock scenes that consistently churn out artists who make a splash on a national level.” For instance, Emos, a venue located downtown that offers cheap drinks and live shows, is also where bands Spoon and You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead got their starts. Although the University of Texas Austin is not widely known for its music departments, it’s the bustling city itself that calls for prospective students. Each March, the South-by-Southwest Music and Film Festival features four nights of rock n’ roll, punk, blues and jazz, where upcoming artists can display their work.
3. Boston, Mass.
There’s a reason why Boston is called America’s college town. With over a quarter million students and 80 plus universities, college students own the city of Boston. And its music scene is no different. Whether hearing your school’s accapella group in Fanueil Hall or listening to jazz in a club in Allston, Boston has a variety of musical opportunities. “DJ’s from all over the country and sometimes internationally twist out some of the groovin’ beats and remixes,” said BU senior Kevin Moreau. “Downtown, bars and clubs scattered in the financial district play everything from Latin hip hop to house to acid jazz.” As for the schools, Berklee’s College of Music has a knack for breeding those who aspire to be professional musicians. “Berklee is hard to beat when it comes to teaching technical expertise as a musician,” Eliscu said.
4. Chapel Hill, N.C.
While Chapel Hill has slowly become less of an indie rock scene, the area is still very hip in its live music scene and houses the oldest state school in the U.S. University of North Carolina students can major in anything from music history to performance. The unique thing about its music department is that there are specially designed courses for non-majors. Non-major only courses include Great Musical Works and Musical Modernatism. Also, UNC offers a three evening community based musical event on and off campus. The Chapel Hill Music Festival showcases talents from students and performers associated with the community.
5. Chicago, Ill.
Those who attend Columbia College are only minutes away from the musical happenings of the city. The Art Institute and the Symphony Center are just some places where music fans can enjoy their passions. The school also put on its annual Manifest, where students showcase their best performances, arts, writing, and projects. The annual summer Intonation Festival also showcases some of the best in the indie music scene. “[It] really marked for a lot of us the beginning of an exciting period in the indie music/concert scene here,” said Columbia College student Lauren Hool. “The fact that Chicago is being recognized as a focal point for these bands to converge is just amazing.”
6. Los Angeles, Calif.
In a place like L.A., how can it ever be short of musical opportunities? With venues like the Viper Room that is co-founded by Johnny Depp and Wisky a Go Go where one can see the likes of Led Zeppelin, L.A. is no short of infamous areas where celebrities have been and can be spotted. Even the University of South California’s Thornton School of Music has one of the most famous marching bands in the country. The band has played for seven presidents and been in movies such as Forrest Gump and Grease 2, and performed at the Academy Awards along with the 2004 Grammys.
7. New York, N.Y.
One of the criteria author Eliscu uses for the top 10 list is if the place offers music seven nights a week all over the town. “Each of the ten cities is suitable for music obsessive who can’t imagine life without rock & roll,” she said. And of course, in a place like New York, it falls no short of that line. NYU is located in the heart of a city just steps away from where Bob Dylan first got famous and the Stokes recorded “Is this It?” The Bowery Ballroom is another amazing place for live music. Formerly a three-story theatre, the venue has even featured Coldplay on its stage.
8. Portland, Ore.
Lewis and Clark University in Portland has a great balance in a program that offers the best for serious musicians and those who just want to learn about music for fun. They offer lessons in instruments such as harpsichord, organ and from places like Japan and India. Those who studied at Lewis Clark have gone on to amazing positions such as the Oregon Symphony, president of PolyGram Classic and Jazz, composers and arranger of TV and movies. Let’s not forget the Waterfront Blues Festival, the largest blues festival on the west coast and the second largest in the nation. An annual event, the largest blues artists flock to Portland to play in the festival. Not only that, it is a benefit for the Oregon Food Bank. Thousands of fans donate food and money to help the hungry.
9. San Francisco, Calif.
From garage rock at Three Parkside to a club inspired by PeeWee’s Playhouse, San Francisco has all aspects of rock n’ roll you’d need. The San Francisco Conservatory of Music is one of the few conservatories on the west coast and offers two specialized areas of study: baroque performance studies and new music studies, where one can learn to play an organ or a baroque flute.
10. Seattle, Wash.
The University of Washington in Seattle has a school of music with a nationally recognized reputation for its academics and classical music training. In downtown Seattle, places like the Crocodile Café (owned by the wife of R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck) and the Vera Project for underage students are a big hit.
So what makes these places part of the top 10? One word: Opportunities. The cities are filled with places where music fans can fulfill their love every night of the week. “The top ten cities simply have the most abundant rock opportunities for kids (and grown ups) who love discovering new music and who live to see and hear bands before they hit it big,” according to Eliscu.
College-bound seniors, however, shouldn’t choose a school solely based on its musical offerings. “The goal [with the book] is to assist kids who are already music fans in making sure they end up somewhere that will give them access to their rock & roll lifeline,” said Eliscu.
Please email “Schools That Rock” author Jenny Eliscu directly with your comments or questions at SchoolThatRock@yahoo.com.
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