Craig Finn is the lead singer of The Hold Steady, an indie group that has been called “America’s best bar band” by Rolling Stone. Tad Kubler is the guitarist. They both cheat at beer pong.
As to the cheating, Derek Kraft ’06 noted, “[Arms] just hanging over the table, things like that. I don’t even remember if they won.”
Kraft is referring to the aftermath of a show that The Hold Steady played at Bowdoin in March of 2006, mere months before the release of its most commercially successful album, “Boys and Girls in America.” The band had such a good time in Brunswick that it gave Bowdoin a lyrical shoutout on “Chillout Tent,” the record’s 10th song, writing about young people attending a music festival in the line: “She drove down from Bowdoin with a carload of girlfriends.”
Kraft, along with Jesse McCree ’06 and Matt Murchison ’07, helped plan the show and also celebrated with the band afterwards. McCree, who lovingly refers to Kraft as “DKraft” and Murchison as “Murch,” recently recounted lazy afternoons spent at WBOR, throwing the frisbee on the Quad and the arrival of their “rock heroes” Finn and Kubler, who ultimately tried to twist ping pong balls into Solo cups in Red Brick House. This tale includes fake tattoos, morning beer showers and, of course, an overzealous Orient reporter.
“The Hold Steady was just playing bar music. Just, head pounding, foot stomping, you could slug back a beer when you were listening to this stuff. But it was also literary and it was smart,” McCree said. “When [the band’s second album] ‘Separation Sunday’ came out in May of 2005, we listened to it and we never stopped playing it—we played it on our WBOR show, we played it at our parties, we played it while we were studying and that whole summer, which I spent on campus with DKraft, that was our summer anthem.”
The lyrical smarts of The Hold Steady are undeniable. On “Boys and Girls in America” alone, listeners will find lines such as “We started recreational/It ended kinda medical/It came on hot and soft/And then it tightened up its tentacles” and “We drink and dry up and now we crumble into dust/We get wet and we corrode and now we’re covered up in rust.”
As such, McCree and Kraft were not the only fans on campus. According to Kraft, there were about 75 hardcore fans of The Hold Steady when it came to Bowdoin, many of who were members of the men’s and women’s ultimate frisbee teams. When their favorite band came to campus, they were going to make it known.
“Three of four days before the show, it was just one big festival,” said McCree. “We did listenings. We dressed up like the characters [from the albums], one of our friends on the girls’ frisbee team was [the character] Holly; for three days before the concert she didn’t break character. We took Sharpies and put fake tattoos on us, wrote lyrics and made t-shirts with the lyrics from the songs.”
“[The people who dressed up] probably got some weird looks,” Kraft continued. “But we were used to getting weird looks at that point.”
When the show began, around 75-100 people were stationed in Smith Union. By the end of the 90-minute set, though, the number had grown to 400.
“Anyone who walked through ended up staying,” Kraft said.
After the conclusion of their set an Orient reporter promptly arrived, looking for an interview.
“You could tell the reporter just seemed so starstruck,” said McCree. “I remember Craig looking at this dude and looking at me. [And I said], ‘Do you want to come to our apartment and drink some beers, play guitar and just hang out?’ And he looked at me, and he said, ‘Let’s do that.’”
McCree describes the night as “good times—beer, music, and good conversation until four in the morning… [later] we said let’s just go, wake them up and pour beer onto them. And they looked at us, like, who the hell are you guys. They were clearly blown away and they were appreciative. I think that was why we made such a big impression.”
As Murchison remembers it, Kubler helped to lead the charge in waking up his bandmate Finn, sauntering around Red Brick with a bottle of liquor in his hands and a sombrero on his head, saying, “Come on guys, Craig doesn’t like to be touched. Let’s go divebomb him.”
The New York Times lionized the story of that epic night and morning by advocating that diehard rock fans write their favorite lyrics on their bodies and share an expensive bottle of Scotch with the lead singer. The Hold Steady noticed that Bowdoin students had dressed up as characters in their songs and returned the favor by creating a new character based on their night at the College.
Ultimately, although it was certainly a perfect confluence of events that led The Hold Steady to shout out Bowdoin in song, it was also just a night in which a group of people enjoyed one another’s company. Regulations surrounding concerts on campus and drinking games may have changed, but the ability to have an unforgettable night with friends likely never will.
“I think Bowdoin probably has changed in some ways and in some other ways it hasn’t,” said McCree, who’s still an avid listener of The Hold Steady a decade later. “But when it’s genuine love of the music, all of this stuff happens naturally.”