New Brunswick Music Scene Takes Its Place in History

February 12, 2016 | Arts & Entertainment

Frank Bridges played in three bands, deejayed, and owned an indy record label during his undergrad years at Rutgers in the ’90s. Like his friends, Bridges amassed a small collection of albums and ephemera that encapsulated that moment in his personal history and in the broader story of the New Brunswick music scene. But those relics weren’t being protected for posterity.

“A basement would flood and a cardboard box of material would get lost,” explained Bridges, a Ph.D. Candidate and Part-Time Lecturer at the university. “There were also a couple of people that I knew involved in the New Brunswick music scene who passed away, and then that really made it clear to me that this material should be preserved and there should be some kind of process.”

Partnering with Rutgers Archives at Alexander Library, the New Brunswick Music Scene Archive was born.  The developing collection is a rarity–following in the footsteps of only a handful of others, like the D.C. Punk Archive. And there’s a LOT of ground to cover.

“I mean there’re the historical bands, like the Smithereens. They played in New Brunswick a lot,” said Bridges.

And then there are all the local, home-grown bands. Bridges said the college town is fertile ground for those.

“There are also these real magical moments where bands break through and get national exposure,” Bridges said, “and it’s really exciting.”  He rattled off a few: “The Gaslight Anthem, Thursday, Screaming Females…I mean, those are three really well-known acts.”

The scene has grown and changed a lot over the last three-plus decades, and Bridges said everyone he talks to thinks their era was the best.

“I think for New Brunswick, as that growth was happening, ironically, there were certain things that were disappearing, like the clubs to play at,” he said. “There was the Melody, there was the Roxy, there was The Court Tavern…Plum Street, Bowl-a-Drome…I think that has disappeared, but….the New Brunswick underground scene really started bubbling up.”

Bridges is working with Rutgers archivist Christie Lutz to capture the big club concerts and intimate basement shows alike through donations of all sorts of items.

“Anything that people have collected that sort of documents the scene over the decades in New Brunswick,” said Lutz.

So far, about 20 donors have reached out with photographs, flyers, patches, and of course, music.

“My dream situation would be that every time there’s a show in town, someone swings by the library to drop off a flyer for the archive,” Bridges said.  “And every band that puts out a release, they would be swinging by.” So this is just the beginning.

“Right now, we’re just trying to get whatever we can and then process the material at that point and then see what we need,” he explained.

“We’ve been focused on hard core, and punk, and rock so far, but there’s a lot more music going on,” said Lutz.

Bridges added, “We’re trying to capture it all.”

The archive’s growth will rely on donations of items like vinyl, posters, set lists, and everything in between, so Bridges and Lutz encourage music-lovers to dig through their basements and get in touch.

By Maddie Orton
Arts Correspondent