The regular crowd does not shuffle into TH 148. They bulge and sway, jump and dance, making this crowd a little different than the usual TH sports party.
The student band for this evening, Pander, warms up above the buzzing mass, like vultures in reverse about to pump the crowd full of energy and life. Lead drummer Alex Koester ’23 hammers his drumsticks away at his Converse sneakers in bullet pace rhythm. He wears bleached-white overalls. They will eventually come off.
Emmett Cashman ’23 is on bass. He sways calmly with his Fender P, the hockey stick-shaped headstock inching dangerously close to my camera.
Sawyer Bush ’22, mellow in contrast to the scene below, shows me his 2013 Gibson ES-335 reissue guitar. “It’s worth half my net worth,” he extols, looking lovingly in its direction.
The first thing you notice about Pander is that the members don’t seem to know they’re in the same band. Ben Scharf ’22, guitarist and self-styled “jack of all trades,” fits his role as hype-man. He wears a Pabst Blue Ribbon shirt under a tight blue blazer. They will eventually come off.
Koester and his overalls evoke “Vassar arts scene.” Jorden Schreeder ’20, vocalist and tambourine wiz, sports a very alt-rock aesthetic; in this case, a grey, checkered suit. And although he found the Vassar arts scene pretty early on in his academic career, Cashman’s still donning the classic first-year look: blue polka-dotted button down and slacks.
Before they went on, I sat with them in a tight circle by the TH laundry building. I have one question on my mind: Who, exactly, is Pander pandering to?
“I think we’re pandering to the people that want more creative energy on campus,” says Bush.
“The people in the audience,” Scharf chimes in. “We’re just trying to make people dance, lose their minds and give them the kind of Saturday night that I always wanted on campus.”
They’re unapologetic about being as appealing as possible. “We want people to walk in and immediately have an amazing time,” says Scharf. “It’s about the music, but it’s really about providing people with an experience,” says Koester. Scharf’s claim is bolder: “We’re a party band in every sense of the word, and we’d like to be known as that.”
So, Pander’s M.O. is having a good time. To do that, they have one trick: covers. You won’t hear renditions of some super underground band that only they know, either. Their catalog is basically an Apple Music “Best of 2000s Indie” playlist. Their opener that night? “Tongue Tied” by Grouplove. The idea, Scharf shares, is “Come out and hear these songs you’ve known your whole life.” Evidently, give the people what they want, and they will dance.
What Pander wants going forward is a little bigger. They don’t see themselves as a band, but as a reckoning of the art scene on campus.
“Vassar is one of the most creative campuses in the country, and I think we would all agree with that—I think there should be a show every weekend. People should be throwing posters in your face, like, go to this show, come to that show,” says Scharf.
He’s right. In my dorm, Lathrop, you’re likely to hear loud blues guitar, floor-shaking bass lines, or classical piano echoing through the common rooms at nearly every time of day. There’s an abundance of talent and interest. Vassar Student Musicians (StuMu) holds singer-songwriter concerts on an almost weekly basis, drawing dozens of people, but these bedroom practice sessions rarely connect to Saturday night.
And a rising artistic tide should lift every boat on the arts sea. There is an equally wide array of bedroom artists that I am sure are eager to collaborate with bands, maybe making a buck in the process. To advertise their TH 148 show, Pander commissioned Sam Ripley ’22 to make the poster. In a separate interview, Ripley was equally excited about revamping the arts scene, commenting, “I’ve been sort of surprised by the relative lack of artistic collaboration on campus … the nice thing about collaboration is that you don’t have to bear that pressure alone. It’s not just your thing.”
Saturday night in 148 became a successful proof of concept. Pander’s theatrics surged the crowd past their conservative weekend bedtime. TH 148 was not befallen by the notorious plagues of most Vassar parties: No one seemed to be tired, no one was glancing down at their phones, no one was taking an exaggeratedly long time to use the bathroom or get drinks.
Scharf, buzzingly energetic just before taking the stage, gives his vision for Vassar’s new music scene: “We’re gonna keep throwing these shows, and we just want more student artists and musicians—creative people—more art on campus that everyone can enjoy.”
Abby Tarwater contributed additional reporting for this article.
All photos by Dean Kopitsky/The Miscellany News