Three men performing in a punk rock group.

Members of Cement Babyhead—(from left) Dan Moon ’98, Huy Dao ’97, and Mason Wolak ’94—play at the Nines during the first Punk Rock Reunion in 2016. (Evan Hanover ’97)

With Punk Reunions, Alums from the 1990s Rock On

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Editor's note: Arts & Sciences alum Melanie Lefkowitz ’95 is editor-in-chief of the Cornell Chronicle—and the drummer in the ’90s “riot grrl” band Pon.

By Melanie Lefkowitz ’95

For members of the Ithaca 1990s punk community, “do it yourself” was a guiding ethos—whether it meant publishing a zine, putting on a show, or starting a band.

“What I really liked about the punk scene,” says A.J. Bouchie ’99, “was that when someone said they were going to do something, they actually did it.”

Decades later, Bouchie and others channeled that DIY spirit in a new direction: reunion planning.

Members of that ’90s local music scene, which included numerous Cornellians, held their first-ever Punk Rock Reunion in Ithaca in 2016, followed by another in 2022.

This summer (July 2023) saw a third, which drew several dozen alumni and others to see old friends, visit campus with spouses and children—and, of course, play and hear the music that had brought them all together.

“The best part is that everyone here is still a punk,” says Jaime Villamarin ’93, who performed at the 2022 and 2023 shows with his current band, the NYC-based Absolute Garbage.

A poster for the punk rock group I FARM
A vintage show poster.

“People’s ideals haven’t really changed, no matter what kind of clothes they wear. These are people who care about society, who want to change things.”

Seven years earlier, that first Punk Rock Reunion had exceeded expectations: more than 100 people showed up from as far away as Texas, Oregon, and South Korea.

Fans packed a show—featuring reunited ’90s bands such as Stab, Cement Babyhead, Fat Finger, and Tuesday Said—at the Nines, Collegetown’s now-defunct bar and pizza place.

A group shot of the 2016 Punk Rock Reunion
A group shot at the 2016 gathering. (Evan Hanover ’97)

Those who attended the reunion wanted to do it again; those who couldn’t make it wanted another chance.

The pandemic scuttled plans to gather five years later—but the two recent events each brought a mix of bands to Hopshire Brewery in nearby Dryden, with future reunions on the table.

The best part is that everyone here is still a punk.

Jaime Villamarin ’93

“I’m glad people still want to come back and do it,” says Bouchie. “As long as people want to come back, I’ll keep doing it.”

Back in the 1990s, an alternative music scene was on the rise in Ithaca and beyond.

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Indie-label punk bands such as NOFX, Rancid, and Bad Religion (led by Greg Graffin, PhD ’03) were drawing a national fanbase, and acts like Green Day and the Offspring were bringing the sound into the mainstream.

A poster for a punk rock concert
The shows’ PR was often handmade.

Reunion organizer Mike Choi ’97 encountered the 1990s punk scene through Just About Music (JAM), then a themed floor of a West Campus U-Hall and now its own North Campus program house.

“Punk rock is a subculture for people who don’t really fit into the mainstream,” he says. “We were a bunch of outcasts trying to find each other.”

In Ithaca, punk shows were often held in the hot, crowded basements of Cornell co-op houses, heralded by hand-scrawled posters tacked around campus.

Sometimes band members had just learned how to play their instruments—or were still learning as they performed.

“The complete rebelliousness of it was awesome,” says Villamarin, who was the original drummer for the punk trio I Farm as an undergrad. “It worked because punk was getting popularized on TV. Kids in every town knew punk. Kids in every town were doing zines.”

The music was important; so was the style, whether it meant dyeing your hair, festooning torn clothes with safety pins, or simply dressing however you wanted.

But for those who were part of the scene—not just Cornellians but Ithaca College students and locals—friendship was the primary appeal.

“We became fans of one another,” says Jessica Troy ’98. “I was from California; this was an alternative scene and it made sense to me. These were the people I was drawn to. They had their own sense of style.”

Merging bands from Cornell, IC, and the local community was key—as was connecting in real life in an era before social media and YouTube, says Arun Chaudhary ’97, whose set with the Nogoodniks at the most recent reunion featured his 10-year-old daughter on backup vocals.

A punk rock group including a young girl performing outside
The Nogoodniks’ set in 2023 included backup from the next generation. (Ben Miller)

“You had to have not just skills, but craft—whether that meant knowing how to make a button or learning how to press records,” says Chaudhary, who was also the bassist and lead singer of I Farm.

“Today, people are already armed with some of the things that we would have had to figure out ourselves, together.”

Top: Members of Cement Babyhead—(from left) Dan Moon ’98, Huy Dao ’97, and Mason Wolak ’94—play at the Nines during the first Punk Rock Reunion in 2016 (Evan Hanover ’97). All images provided, unless indicated.

Published August 10, 2023

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