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Duke Coffeehouse will keep serving up virtual concerts this semester

Before the pandemic, Duke Coffeehouse functioned as a study space and underground music venue on campus.
Before the pandemic, Duke Coffeehouse functioned as a study space and underground music venue on campus.

Duke’s Coffeehouse is a place that strikes a balance between relaxation and excitement, a place to unwind throughout the week, learn what hypnagogic pop means and dance through the weekend. 

Unfortunately, like every other library, cafe and social space, the Coffeehouse has been closed since March 2020. This spring, however, they will continue to host socially-distanced and online events. Senior Nathan O’Hara, the booking manager of Coffeehouse, revealed how the space is trying to maintain a presence on campus and catch the attention of new students. 

“Ultimately the Coffeehouse serves as an alternative and arts space on Duke’s campus — so without the actual physical space available to us, we’ve had to pretty much reframe everything we do,” O’Hara said in an email interview. “We can’t serve coffee or hold in-person events. Instead, we’ve decided to use our budget to do two things: hold virtual performances and occasionally, outdoor and socially-distanced art workshops. Basically, the goals are to continue supporting artists during a time where live performances are near impossible.”

Last semester, the Coffeehouse and WXDU, both DUU organizations, hosted a socially-distanced screen printing event where students could make t-shirts and posters with their respective designs. They held online performances with artists including Al Riggs, Luxe Posh and Owen Fitzgerald. They plan to continue these live-streamed concerts throughout this spring, kicking off on Jan. 30 with legendary NYC anti-folk artist Jeffrey Lewis and local acts jphono1 and Empty Disco.

As a major supporter of Durham-based artists, the Coffeehouse is planning a livestream featuring Triangle-area shoegaze/psych/dream-pop bands Feb. 4. Raleigh’s The Veldt will headline this event supported by Durham’s Sweet Homé and Chapel Hill’s Gallus Mag.

“I think that show will be really fun,” O’Hara said. “The Veldt have a super interesting story as indie outcasts in the Chapel Hill of the ‘90s, who went on to tour with bands like Slowdive and the Jesus and Mary Chain. Of course, we’re planning alongside WXDU to bring back Brickside Music Festival in virtual format in April.”

Brickside Music Festival — known as the “biggest day of the year at Coffeehouse” — is an all-day event, usually lasting over ten hours. Last year’s festival was supposed to feature Helado Negro, Josephine Foster and Saariselka, but was abruptly cancelled when the spring semester was moved online. After nearly a year of navigating virtual classes, meetings and now performances, the Coffeehouse team is ready to bring this massive event online. 

In addition to being Duke’s premiere venue for indie artists, the Coffeehouse serves as a social and study space, especially among alternative students. Without the physical space being open though, the sense of community has diminished. 

“I definitely feel the impact of COVID on the ‘coffeehouse community,’” O’Hara said. “In the end, it’s really meant to be a social space. The events really make the Coffeehouse unique, but I think my favorite part of working there pre-pandemic had to be just during working hours. Usually we’re open 6 p.m.-2a.m. as a study space, and I really miss the variety of people coming in to grab an espresso and talk about their thesis research, art projects or just listen to music on the PA and shoot the shit. It’s definitely a great community and as much as I miss it, I’m more bummed the first-years won’t be able to experience it for some time.” 

The Coffeehouse, located on East Campus, is a convenient study or social space for first-years in particular. While they may not be able to understand the Coffeehouse experience this year, there is hope that these upcoming events — and the passionate students managing them — can preserve the culture of Coffeehouse. 


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