If a stage is just its main components – the performer, the music, the stage lights and the speakers – the foyer of the house at 1152 Houston Mill Road was one. I felt Atlanta moving, dust kicking up, cowboy boots stomping on hardwood, and speakers thudding. Shouting. Movement. It was Emory Musician Network’s (EMN) Equinox Fest: the music is resurfacing.
The students clustered around the house, from the kitchen island to the living room mantle. After two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, I felt like maybe the kids were fine.
Michael Nguyen (16th century), known as Ninjeezy, took the stage wearing a cowboy hat and sunglasses. His backing guitarist wore a fake beard on an elastic strap around his jawline.
Nguyen’s set introduced “country trap”, a mix of trap beats with a southern accent that swaggered under the colored stage lights.
A solo artist with an ever-growing band, Nguyen performs with various friends and musicians, playing gigs like Equinox Fest as a member of Georgia Tech. Network of musicians.
Nguyen describes his sound as a departure from classic Atlanta trap music.
“It’s basically just a twist on normal trap music, like Gucci Mane or something,” Nguyen said.
Giuliano Rengifo (22B), known by his stage name GREperformed original hip-hop tracks in front of an audience that reflected his passion for music.
“For me, it’s really a method of self-reflection,” Rengifo said. “I’m quite an introverted person, so for me it’s a lot easier to talk through music.”
Onstage, framed by two ivy-wrapped speakers and colorful stage lights, Rengifo spoke. The crowd listened, scattered from the patio at the back of the house to a crash of bodies like liquid pulsating around the speakers.
“You can feel the love and energy from everyone in the crowd,” Rengifo said.
Outside of school, Rengifo said he did “everything [his] free time to make music. In addition to performing at EMN events like Open Mics and Equinox Fest, Rengifo has published five albums.
The Emory students who make music thrive under the REM umbrella.
Lev Sheinfeld (25C) performed solo at Equinox Fest, commanding the room with just his voice and a keyboard. His band, Livingroom, has released an album and an EP, and Sheinfeld is passionate about the singer-songwriter genre.
Sheinfeld, who draws inspiration from singer-songwriters like Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen, is pursuing a vocal performance major in college, sings in the Catholic choir and plays open mics at REM on campus.
While most Equinox Fest performers are Emory students, some are local to Atlanta, such as Portmanteau, a guitar band. Lead guitarist Jonah Stadler, guitarist Harrison Halicki, bassist Caleb King and drummer David Bittenbender formed the band over the past few months.
Halicki and Bittenbender met at Maynard Holbrook Jackson High School in Atlanta, where Halicki is still a senior.
“We love psychedelic music,” Halicki said. “Half of us love metal. We all like different things.
Portmanteau’s sound is a lively mix of his influences. The band has a striking figure on stage: three distinct guitars, Bittenbender on drums and Halicki’s unruly curls swinging around his shoulders.
Halicki and Bittenbender have been making music together for a year and a half. King and Stadler joined them recently, and although the band have only played two shows together, their chemistry suggests more.
The bond between the band members who started out as friends seems unbreakable, the chemistry unmatched. Queen of Hearts, an Emory student group, is another example of how music can connect people.
The band’s lead singer, Sophia Bereaud (23C), is Emory’s pop star, rock star and stress punk all rolled into one.
Queen of Hearts only recently gained an official name, and Equinox Fest was the band’s second show as a real band, Bereaud said.
Before deciding to form the band, Bereaud, guitarist Sawyer Gray (22C), bassist Lonnie Reid (23C), and drummer David Mosden (23C) were friends at first.
Bereaud called the band’s style “very eclectic”, formed from the members’ varied personal tastes, ranging from rock, pop and punk to emo.
“Everyone picks a song, and from there we get a pretty good mix of things,” Bereaud said.
In 2018, Bereaud co-founded EMN, a revival of the defunct Emory Society of Musicians, and has held various leadership positions since.
“[Equinox Fest] It was something I was really pushing earlier this semester because I went to Georgia Tech house shows, and they’re so much fun,” she said.
Bereaud said she was motivated to create music spaces because of the sense of community they cultivate.
“You can see we have a really cool cross section of people from the school here today,” Bereaud said during the house display, pointing to the raised patio. Students slung their legs from railings and stairs, sat on the arms of a couch, and held plastic cups under porch lights. Before the vernal equinox, it was too early in the season for mosquitoes, allowing crowds to comfortably gather outside.
Bereaud has been a musician all her life, which is evident in her passionate presence and powerful voice.
“It’s my favorite way to be with people, to be in community,” she says. “It really unifies in a beautiful way.”
Unity: the house was bursting with it. As Queen of Hearts played, the crowd was full of squinted lips and eyes. And something gushed from the speakers, flowing from outstretched hands, transcending the house. Was it youth? Love? Something eternal resurrected after so many diseases?