Exploring the company we keep at UCI and beyond

Roller derby girls. God Without Religion. Harry Potter enthusiasts (fanatics?). These are a small sampling of the groups and organizations that have formed at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) and around Orange County. Members share a devotion to their cause and a desire to pursue it in collaboration with others, which are the subjects we examine in this blog.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Musicians Find a Home Base in UCI’s Open Jam

By Ashley Sioson

The cover of Boys Like Girls’ “Two Is Better Than One” fills the room as Grayson Villanueva and Kristine Hoang’s voices harmonize to the song’s acoustic melody. The duo’s performance is just as alluring as the version by Boys Like Girls, who originally recorded the song with country-pop star Taylor Swift. After 4 minutes of song, the two finish their performance and with just a click on her laptop, Charlyn Arellano is onto one of Grayson’s next covers to determine what she would like him to request for Open Jam’s next Open Mic Night.

“That’s one of the good things about YouTube, you get to enjoy a customized set list from the comfort of your own bedroom, and I’m glad some of our club’s members are into it” says Charlyn, who is currently Open Jam’s acting President. Open Jam at UC Irvine serves as a stage for UCI students who wish to share their passion for music with others, sponsoring live performances and in some cases promoting UCI musicians on YouTube. “I like to think of us as more of the middle ground—if you’re a local YouTube star and need a place to perform, that’s cool! If this is the first time you’re performing outside you’re bedroom, that’s cool too! It’s all about getting your music out there!”

And out it goes. At the club’s Open Mic Thursday nights, which normally take place at UC Irvine’s Phoenix Grill, you’ll find Grayson Villanueva at the corner of the room strumming his guitar and quietly singing sweet nothings that will soon be amplified once the next act walks off stage. Minutes later, the audience finds out that the sweet nothings they saw Grayson quietly lipping go a little something along the lines of “And when we dance, I stare into your eyes and I can’t, oh I can’t, I just can’t help but smile.” At that moment, the eyes of every second year girl were captivated as Grayson’s lullaby continued to fill the room. The atmosphere of Open Mic nights is more relaxed than not, making it easy for performers to feel comfortable in front of an audience, and allowing spectators to relax, and bask in the melodies of UC Irvine’s hidden talent. “I started attending Open Mic nights to see what kind of talent could come out of our campus. If I hear someone I like, I head straight to YouTube to see if they’ve got anything posted, or come back another time in hopes that they’ll have something new for me to hear” says Raiza Rivera, who some might call a “regular” when it comes to Open Jam’s Open Mic sessions.

“It’s always interesting to see what other musicians at our school have to offer,” says Kristine Huang, a singer and officer in Open Jam. As for Grayson, other than an Open Mic regular, he is also quite the familiar face among YouTube music scene. Controlling his own personal YouTube channel, Grayson has reached 481 subscribers and averages 4,222 views per video upload. He is also one of various UC Irvine based musicians on YouTube, others being Joseph Vincent, Jennifer Chung, and Kris Mark Cardenas, one of the founding members of Open Jam.

Open Jam doesn’t only house YouTube user Grayson Villanueva. Surprisingly enough, Open Jam also caters to a crowd of musicians who more shy than the YouTube crowd. “They just want a more intimate setting so they can feel comfortable sharing their music. And from there, they usually grow,” says Charlyn, who speaks of Open Jam’s musicians like a proud talent agent. Other UC Irvine based musicians such as The Ostentatious Gentlemen, or “The Gents” for short, Jared Fernandez, and Kristine Huang make up the organization as well. “I joined it because I thought it was awesome how they gave people opportunities to perform,” says Kristine, who like Grayson, is also part of Open Jam’s Board of Officers. Established as an official organization at UC Irvine by Dan Steinman in 2007, Open Jam has continued to make a name for itself at UCI by participating in various school-wide events such as the campuses annual Wayzgoose Festival, which is sponsored by the Associated Students of UC Irvine. Open Jam also has gained recognition through its participation in philanthropic events such as the Hearts of Haiti concert, a benefit show sponsored by both Open Jam and UNICEF at UCI to help with relief efforts going towards Haiti after its devastating earthquake in January 2010. As Charlyn took the reigns as President of Open Jam, she looked to further expand Open Jam’s network across the UC Irvine campus. “I also wanted Open Jam to be further integrated into the UCI community, not just a stand alone musicians club. Like now, we’ve worked with groups like UNICEF—we did a concert called Hearts for Haiti, we’ve worked with Circle K, and now we’re working with APSA for their talent show,” she says.

One such activity that Open Jam is known to put on every year is their Spring Concert. Aside from Open Mic Thursday nights, consider the Spring Concert Open Jam’s signature event. “We are doing the concert with the Uncultivated Rabbits,” says Charlyn. Uncultivated Rabbits is a spoken word poetry organization also located on the UC Irvine campus. Last year, the Open Jam Spring Concert donated its profit’s to VH1’s Save the Music Foundation. This year, they are currently in the process of deciding which foundation to donate to.

Open Jam combines music, philanthropy, and a bond founded upon one common passion for performing. For certain members who are new Open Jam however, the passion for performing may be disguised by nerves. This is where Open Jam strives to be the transitional point for UC Irvine musicians, bringing them out of their bedrooms or dorm halls and onto the stage. The YouTube medium serves to be helpful for musicians who would like to get their music out to the entire world. For musicians who are not so comfortable on stage, YouTube gives them the chance to feel like they’re performing in their own bedroom and in fact, they can do exactly that! “YouTube is just the newest thing—it’s instant “celebritydom”—it really is!,” says Charlyn. “People can promote you even through YouTube because it’s so easy to link people to stuff. Over the past few days I must’ve seen 50 different Joseph Vincent links on my Facebook—and it’s from people who don’t even know him!,” she adds.

The Gents, who strive to broaden their fan base outside of UC Irvine and into the Orange County music scene, prefer to perform their gigs at local bars such as Hogie Barmichaels. “Personally, I believe that their act is best viewed in person, a simple computer screen is unable to do their sound justice,” says Charlyn. Unlike Grayson’s R&B and acoustic covers that give off a more laid-back and relaxed vibe, The Gents’ performances are fast-paced and full of energy. However, just because The Gents don’t use YouTube as a performance medium doesn’t mean you can’t find them on the web. Search this band name on YouTube and you’ll find fan recordings of The Gents during their gigs – again, instant access to rock heavy music from your own own. Aside from local gigs and performances in front of Orange County’s rock loving community, the Gents have also made efforts to secure a spot in The Warped Tour and have participated in various “Battle of the Bands” type competitions, specifically Open Jam’s competition which took place in February.

So what makes Open Jam different from the cliché garage band jam session? Structure is the answer. Without the established organization and support from Open Jam’s Board of Officers, the members of this group would not be able to network and push their music to further extents. Anyone can play music with their friends in the living room, but Open Jam offers the opportunity to perform live in front of a campus with thousands of students. Whether a musician is stuck on the YouTube stage, or stuck in the bedroom, Open Jam is the middle ground where artists of all levels and experiences can come together to learn, interact, and share their passion for entertaining.

Article notes:
- 1 hour interview with Charlyn Arellano, Open Jam acting President
- Attended 1 Open Mic night at Phoenix Grill
- 1 interview with Open Jam officer Kristine Huang
- 1 interview with Raiza Rivera, regular Open Mic Night attendee

- Grayson Villanueva’s YouTube channel
- Kris Cardenas’ YouTube channel
- New U Article: http://www.newuniversity.org/2010/01/news/haiti%E2%80%99s-effect-in-the-oc/

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