The hills of Charlottesville are alive with the sound of live music. On any given Saturday, the soundtrack of Rugby Road almost certainly includes a myriad of voices singing along to covers of classic rock anthems performed by one of the many fraternity bands on Grounds, from The Big Slice to The Jellies.
The past few years have seen a marked increase in the presence of such “frat bands,” groups birthed from or associated with a certain fraternity and characterized by their penchant for jamming out to crowd-pleasing repertoires. Joseph Ascoli, singer and fourth-year College student, feels the trend has a lot to do with the community already present within fraternities — all five members of his band, Weekends and Wednesdays, are members of Phi Delta Theta.
“It definitely goes a long way, being in the same fraternity and already kind of having that rapport... I think it helps us work pretty well together,” Ascoli said. “It's always nice to have that friendship to fall back on.”
Not only does there exist this supportive community within the fraternity bands, but also between them. Christian Tessier, guitarist for Loose Leaf and third-year Batten student, said he and his bandmates — two of which are fraternity members — will always try to come out to a live show if there is another student band involved.
Ascoli echoed Tessier’s comment, stating that his band feels “fortunate” and grateful for the abundance of musical talent in both Greek life and Charlottesville at large.
“It's really cool to see all the talent,” Ascoli said. “You want to show out, help them out as best you can, and just see what other people are up to.”
Lily Altman, singer for Split Decision and third-year College student, feels that the community has been incredibly supportive of the formation of new relationships. Apart from Altman, a member of Tri Delta, all members of Split Decision are brothers of Chi Phi.
“A lot of the friends I've made at U.Va. have been through our love of music and through attending each other's gigs,” she said. “It’s opened up a whole new network for me. I love getting to meet other people who love music as much as I do.”
This network of musicians and performers has been aided by the creation of University Records — or URecords — a student-run organization that offers aspiring musicians opportunities to book practice spaces and rent equipment through their website and GroupMe group chat, in addition to finding bands for house shows.
According to Altman, Split Decision has rented equipment for shows from URecords, while Tessier said that URecords helped him find several of his Loose Leaf bandmates. Ascoli said that URecords’s practice spaces have been “clutch,” adding that several of his bandmates are members of the organization.
“[URecords is] often our go-to for asking questions about equipment or how to get gigs,” Ascoli said.
Ascoli also cited the unique music culture in Charlottesville as having a huge impact on the ascent and abundance of frat bands.
“The live music scene in Charlottesville is awesome,” Ascoli said. “Once you get a gig like Crozet or Coupe's and you get to play one of the bars, it's a pretty big milestone for the frat bands. It makes it feel real.”
This increase in the number of bands present on Grounds has also led to a more diversified and thus competitive circuit.
“Now that there are so many of us, every individual band is working really hard to get as good as they can and get as many gigs as they can,” Altman said. “There is such a pool of options, and not a million chances for gigs all the time.”
But even as bands have expanded the scope and scale of their performances, playing shows on the Corner and the Downtown Mall, they remain true in their allegiance to and nature as frat bands. Tessier said fraternities are a “good environment for music,” adding that though only two members of Loose Leaf are members of fraternities, they love the “energy” present when playing at them.
Ascoli added that he thinks the fraternity band culture is part of what makes the University social scene so special.
“You always have fraternities that are looking to have live bands at their functions, so not only do you get to play at Coupe's and Crozet... you also get to play for your friends,” Ascoli said.
Friendship, after all, is the agent behind the genesis of these fraternity bands, and perhaps also responsible for creating a culture that has become a major component not only of Greek Life but of all corners of the University. Find them at the Downtown Mall, on the Corner, in a fraternity house, or even this Friday at Lighting on the Lawn — no matter the location, these bands will always guarantee a good time.