If a stage is merely its core 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 shifting, settled dust kicking up, cowboy boots stomping on hardwood and thrumming speakers. Shouting. Movement. This was Emory Musician Network’s (EMN) Equinox Fest: music resurfacing.
College students clustered in the house, all the way from the kitchen island to the living room mantle. After two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, it felt like, just maybe, the kids are alright.
Michael Nguyen (16C), known by the pseudonym Ninjeezy, took to the stage in a cowboy hat and sunglasses. His backing guitarist wore a fake beard on a strap of elastic around his jaw.
Nguyen’s set introduced “country trap,” a blend of trap beats with a southern twang that swaggered to life under the colored stage lights.
A solo artist with an ever-changing band, Nguyen performs with various friends and musicians, playing gigs like Equinox Fest as a member of the Georgia Tech Musician’s Network.
Nguyen describes his sound as a departure from Atlanta’s classic trap music.
“It’s essentially just a twist on normal trap music, like Gucci Mane or something,” Nguyen said.
Giuliano Rengifo (22B), known by his stage name G.R.E., performed original hip-hop tracks to a crowd that reflected his passion for music.
“For me, it’s really a method of self-reflection,” Rengifo said. “I’m a pretty introverted person, so for me, it’s a lot easier to speak through music.”
Onstage, framed by two ivy-wound speakers and colorful stage lights, Rengifo spoke. The crowd listened, spread in a close scatter from the deck in the back of the house to a crush of bodies like pulsing liquid around the speakers.
“You can feel the love and energy from everybody in the crowd,” Rengifo said.
Outside of school, Rengifo said that he commits “all [his] free time to making music.” In addition to performing at EMN events like open mics and Equinox Fest, Rengifo has released five albums.
Emory students who make music thrive under EMN’s umbrella.
Lev Sheinfeld (25C) played Equinox Fest solo, commanding the room with just his voice and a keyboard. His band, Livingroom, has released an album and an EP, and Sheinfeld has a passion for the singer-songwriter genre.
Sheinfeld, who draws his inspiration from singer-songwriters like Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen, pursues a major in vocal performance at the University, sings in the Catholic choir and plays at EMN open mics on campus.
While most Equinox Fest performers are Emory students, some are local to Atlanta, like Portmanteau, a guitar-heavy band. Lead guitarist Jonah Stadler, guitarist Harrison Halicki, bassist Caleb King and drummer David Bittenbender formed the band within the past several months.
Halicki and Bittenbender met at Maynard Holbrook Jackson High School in Atlanta, where Halicki is still a senior.
“We like psychedelic music,” Halicki said. “Half of us like metal. We all like different things.”
Portmanteau’s sound is a lively blend of its influences. The band has a striking silhouette onstage: three distinct guitars, Bittenbender on the drums and Halicki’s unruly curls tossed back and forth around his shoulders.
Halicki and Bittenbender have been making music together for the past year and a half. King and Stadler joined them recently, and though the band has played only two shows together, their chemistry suggests more.
The bond between band members who started out as friends seems unbreakable, the chemistry unmatched. Queen of Hearts, a band of Emory students, is another example of how music can bond people.
The band’s lead singer, Sophia Bereaud (23C), is Emory’s own pop star, rock star and punk-stress rolled into one.
Queen of Hearts only recently acquired a formal name, and Equinox Fest was the group’s second show as a true band, Bereaud said.
Before they decided to form the band, Bereaud, guitarist Sawyer Gray (22C), bassist Lonnie Reid (23C) and drummer David Mosden (23C) were friends first.
Bereaud classified the band’s style as “very eclectic,” formed from the members’ varying personal tastes, ranging from rock, pop and punk to emo.
“Everybody chooses a song, and from that we get a pretty nice amalgamation of stuff,” Bereaud said.
In 2018, Bereaud co-founded EMN, a revival of the now-defunct Emory Society of Musicians, and has served in various executive positions since.
“[Equinox Fest] was an initiative that I was really pressing earlier this semester because I’ve gone to Georgia Tech house shows, and they’re so much fun,” she said.
Bereaud said she is motivated to create musical 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 at the house show, gesturing toward the elevated deck. Students dangled their legs from railings and stairs, sat on the arms of a sofa and held plastic cups under the porch lights. Before the spring equinox, it was too early in the season for mosquitoes, allowing for the crowd to comfortably gather outside.
Bereaud has been a musician all her life, which is evident in her passionate presence and powerful vocals.
“It’s my favorite way of being with people, of being in community,” she said. “It really unifies in a beautiful way.”
Unity: the house was bursting with it. As Queen of Hearts played, the crowd was full of belting lips and scrunching eyes. And something was sparking from the speakers, streaming from outstretched hands, transcending the house. Was it youth? Love? Something eternal revived in the wake of so much illness?