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Top of the evening


Saturday night at the Skybox. (Ben Barnhart photo)

The Hatch and the Blue Wall are just cafeterias now, but for some alumni, the names conjure images of rocking out to the sounds of bands on their way up. For about a year now, a group of students has been working to revive that image.

     An elevator ride up in the Campus Center from the old music venues, the space formerly occupied by the Top of the Campus restaurant has been rocking out with a mix of live and deejay music this year. Currently called “The Skybox,” the venue is a provisional step toward what some hope will be a return to hot music on campus.

     “We’re trying to do what the Hatch and the Blue Wall used to do,” said Tom Sadlowski a fifth-year senior, who heads up Skybox Entertainment, the group behind the music. And by all accounts those venues offered up legendary shows. Cheryl Dellecese ’78 recalls The Cars passing through on their way to national acclaim. Greg Lauzon ’90 saw the ska band Bim Skala Bim there.

     Lauzon’s most vivid memory, though, is of a show at the Hatch: “the Beat Farmers, a crazy-ass hillbilly rock-and-roll band from Texas, I think,” he wrote us in an email.

     “Their drummer left his kit to sing lead vocals on one song, but not before jumping up on the bar and pouring a pitcher of beer over his head. He was a giant, imposing cowboy-type guy who wore a long black slicker-type trench coat and cowboy hat, and he just roared into the mike. It was utter mayhem and easily the most fun I ever had down there.”

     While successive administrations have been hesitant about bringing such mayhem back home, many alumni lament the passing of these places. “I don’t know why they don’t have it anymore,” says Dellecese. “It’d be much better on campus,”.

     She isn’t the only one who thinks so. Tom Sadlowski says the idea for the Skybox came out of studies of on-campus programming and alcohol use. Repeating a maxim that undoubtedly reflects many students’ opinion, Sadlowski asserts that “Kids were drinking because there’s nothing to do.”

     In addition, he says the Valley is less friendly to college music as it once was. Pearl Street in Northampton, for example, now caters to an older crowd.

     Students first proposed the idea of the Skybox in April, 1998, a point at which discussion of campus alcohol policy was particularly intense. A pilot show featuring UMass bands went well, and a year later, the students had their venue, funded with a $27,700 loan from the Campus Center’s Auxillary Services.

     Rocking for now on the top floor of the Campus Center, with its smashing views of campus and valley, the Skybox crew has its main stage in the old restaurant. On dance nights, the restaurant, back room, and bar each feature different deejays spinning different styles of music. The kitchen is used for storage.

     Over the past year, the venue has hosted the Flaming Lips, SR-71, Superdrag, Tree, and Rane – all national acts. But in an effort to nurture the local scene, Skybox books Five College bands as opening acts. “Artistic development services, to help bands gear up for the industry,” are part of the Skybox mission, says Sadlowski.

     Students are finding their way to the venue. “The music-savvy crowd comes all the time; we have a following,” Sadlowski says. At all shows, the bar serves alcoholic beverages to those 21 and over. Ashoke Ganguli ’77G, the Auxiliary Services director who approved the plan, says he felt it addressed “a major problem” of bringing students back to the complex in the evenings.

     “We were desperate to try to get more students to come,” says Ganguli. “The options are incredible for them.” He describes Sadlowski and the other students involved in the project as “creative, very energetic.” That “the bar is open for the appropriate age crowd” is important, he feels. “But really, the bands that they get, that’s the focus,” says Ganguli.

     This top-of-the-campus location is not Skybox’s final home. Eventually, the department of Hotel, Restaurant and Travel Administration will take over the space. In the meantime, the students must repay their loan, meaning they must at least break even.

     Any profits, says Sadlowski, will go to renovate the Skybox’s future home. And that is planned for a location sure to warm alumni hearts: the Hatch.

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