De Grads at the University of Rochester @1983 [Photos: De Grads]
Recently, the Brighton High School newspaper,The Trapezoid, did a nice retrospective on the De Grads, an art Punk band from the early to mid 1980s formed by then Brighton High students and recent alums. The solid and well written piece fits well within Trapezoid ‘s long and award winning tradition.
In the article (below), Adita Tangirala interviews brothers Sam Elwitt and Jonathon Caws-Elwitt — both have since pursued successful music and writing careers — and takes us back to the pre-digital era when Brighton students made and performed their own homegrown music. And — not incidentally — an era when the drinking age was 18. (The NY drinking age became 19 in December 1983, then 21 in December 1985.)
To learn some more about the De Grads, I turned to my friend Stephen Shapiro, BHS ’82, who now teaches English in England.
While not in the band, Stephen was a regular in the Rochester music scene. Visiting Rochester when he can, these days Stephen especially likes Dinosaur, Lux and Abilene’s.
Describing the De Grads as “retro punk,” Stephen looks back at a mini-Golden Age for downtown Rochester live music, one that can be a model as the inside Inner Loop is revitalized.
A Black soul/Rhythm & Blues club, Ruth and Irv’s Astrological Fish & Steak (88 North street, catty corner from Jim’s in the Liberty Pole area), was short lived, but known for its fixed drink price ($1.50). Ruth and Irv’s was one of the cluster of Rochester clubs that booked New Wave/retro-punk bands.
The very early 80s, in retrospect, were a mini-Golden Age for downtown Rochester live music, with several clubs (Scorgie’s being the lead). A mainstay was the Calabash Lounge (265 N. Clinton St, which closed in 1987), a destination club to hear reggae in the 1980s.
A new band like the De Grads had several places to gig, and Rochester had on for a time a few contenders for indy break outs, like New Math and The Chesterfield Kings , a “paisley underground” group (who the De Grads opened for).
In recent discussions of how to revitalise downtown, it is worth looking back at this period to ask a model for a hive of activity running from Andrews Street (Scorgies) to the Liberty Pole area at a time when the city centre was said to be in decline. Several of these had mixed-race clientele, rare for Rochester, as white New Wavers were interspersed with Black disco fans.
As Stephen’s hive of activity attests, downtown Rochester was never really dead and can be more alive than ever. Time for a De Grad reunion concert at the Rochester Club Ballroom!