The College of Wooster campus is buzzing with talented students looking for places to express themselves, and our community has created a multitude of ways to allow students to do just that. Some students choose to express their talents through productions put on by the Department of Theatre and Dance, others through student organizations such as a capella groups, while other students perform at Common Grounds or Covers. But Common Grounds and Covers have not always existed — so in the past, where could students perform in a coffeehouse setting?
Before there was Common Grounds, there was The Zeitgeist. The exact start date of The Zeitgeist is hard to pin down, but Don Frederico ’76, commented that it was there for a while before his time on campus — at least a decade before according to advertisements in previous editions of The Voice. Frederico worked as the manager of The Zeitgeist his sophomore year at the College and commented that it was “your sort of typical 60s, early 70s era coffee house, which means not that it served coffee, but that it provided acoustic music entertainment,” and emphasized that “the main attraction was the entertainment.” The Zeitgeist was open most Friday and Saturday nights and was primarily, if not exclusively, student performers. “The music was all acoustic — mostly guitars. It was held in the basement of Westminster house where we had lighting for performers with a small stage and candles on the tables (yes, they were allowed!),” commented Frederico.
Reminiscent of Covers, performances at The Zeitgeist were mostly covers of songs; the most commonly heard covers were of people like Elton John, JamesTaylor, Simon and Garfunckle and Joni Mitch- ell—mostly soft/folk rock music. The Zeitgeist ran announcements in The Voice with one such announcement in the May 5, 1969 edition stating that Navajo Folk Songs and Stories were to be performed at The Zeitgeist by Ruth Roessel. Frederico commented that“ there were some student groups that performed multiple times,” and it was easiest for him to keep a roster of people to call and ask them to perform on any given night.
One of those routine performance groups was a trio— Debie Smith ’76, John Rice ’76 and Benny Antagnoli ’76. The trio’s time performing at The Zeitgeist has propelled vocalist Smith into a professional music career. Smith has gone on to be a part of and tour with the groups The Smith Sisters and The Four Bitchin’ Babes. According to her website, Smith has “recorded over twenty albums and compilations—her solo recordings and songs have garnered numerous Washington Area Music Awards (Wammies), ASCAP composer awards, American Library Awards and a Grammy nomination.”
Smith recounted her time performing at The Zeitgeist fondly, and stated that she “particularly remember[ed] singing at Lowry Center, indoors and out — there was a concert around the pit one time, and I remember being on a stage singing behind Lowry during some kind of student barbecue event — we sang things like ‘Teach Your Children’ and ‘Ohio,’ (Crosby, Stills and Nash) and ‘Desperado’ (Linda Ronstadt).”
Ultimately, The Zeitgeist was meant to be a place for students to experiment with music and have fun — much like Common Grounds today. Founded in 1999, Common Grounds functions as a student run, substance free alternative to parties on campus, according to Mercer McLennan ’21, Common Grounds program coordinator. McLennan stated that “the goal of Common Grounds overall is to give the campus a space they can use, and highlighting and giving a stage of sorts for students’ talent or interests is one of the ways we do that.
Common Grounds has events planned every weekend for the rest of the semester, so whether you want to sit and listen to others perform, or perform yourself, head on over, and maybe get a milkshake while you are at it.