The history and legacy of student bands at UD

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The University of Dallas has a rich history of student musicians and student bands. For instance, the Stillwater Hobos, an Irish American student folk band conceived by the 2011 Spromers in Galway, Ireland, and formed more earnestly in 2013 in Asheville, NC, were a significant part of the cultural ethos of music of the university.

Austin Walker, class of 2014, was the banjo player and singer of the Stillwater Hobos. Describing the music scene at UD during his time as a student, Walker said, “It was pretty good. There were a lot of people playing. A good deal of interest in the ‘Friday Nights’ thing, but a bunch of other things going as well. Paul Spring was a real hot item my freshman year. He was a senior and was also pretty frequent at the ‘Friday Nights’ from what I understand […] Andrew Esherick’s bands were always rowdy, loud – a pretty good mix of genres.”

The ‘Friday Nights’ tradition has been alive for many years. The tradition typically involves gathering in the woods next to the Holy Trinity Seminary where students play live music and socialize. The Stillwater Hobos grew in popularity by playing at these get-togethers in the woods.

“Certainly [our style] was informed most substantially by the St. Greg’s boy’s music and the ‘Friday Nights’ tradition, which was pretty strong at the time,” said Walker. “[Stillwater Hobos] was really a ‘Friday Nights’ thing. We didn’t have too many gigs in Dallas, though we played [at] a TGIT or two and at Mallapalooza. Most of the live stuff we did was in Asheville during the summers.”

The Stillwater Hobos were neither a rock nor pop band. Rather, they play Irish-American folk music on the guitar, banjo, mandolin and mandola. They have released one album in 2014, “My Love, She’s in America,” with 12 songs, the most popular song with UD students being “St. Thérèse.”

The sounds of the Stillwater Hobos are still heard within the UD community to this day.

Student musicians like Martin Ellison, senior classical philology major, and Ryan Weiland, senior theology and philosophy major, play music together with other students at UD events, and often play songs of the Hobos.

Ellison and Weiland played folk music together at Disorientation 2023 to welcome the freshmen at the start of the academic year; they played “St. Thérèse.”

“[The Stillwater Hobos] have put several songs that are still being played. ‘St. Therese’ is like the UD song. It’s just an amazing song. It’s about St. Thérèse of Lisieux and unrequited love, so it’s like literally the two things that Catholics can most relate to,” said Ellison. “St. Thérèse is far more requested than anything else.”

More recently, The Battle of the Bands took place at the end of this year’s Fall Fest on Saturday, Nov. 4, bringing the student body together to enjoy a free concert showcasing the best of UD’s musical talent. Three bands passed the auditions and played that night: A Dozen Moths, Groundhog Shoes and the Wacky Tobackers. A Dozen Moths continued the legacy of the Stillwater Hobos and played “St. Thérèse” that night in their set.

However, Groundhog Shoes was the champion of the people, winning the popular vote and earning themselves a spot as the band for the 2024 Groundhog festivities.

The winning band is decided by a vote, and not by a panel of judges. Because of this, the competition is less serious and the technical skill of the student bands is under a less critical light. Nevertheless, popularity and technical skill often go hand in hand when determining what impresses the audience.

James Ryan, senior French major and lead singer of Groundhog Shoes, believes winning the Battle of the Bands was crucial to the band sticking together. “I could definitely see [breaking up] as a possibility,” said Ryan, “if there wasn’t something keeping us together.”

Because Groundhog Shoes will play during Groundhog 2024, they will continue to practice as a group until then. Check out the Wednesday, Nov. 15 issue of The Cor Chronicle for a more in-depth look at Groundhog Shoes.

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