Updated: Feb 27, 2019
For young musicians, college is often considered the best time to form a band. And while living in an dorm environment might facilitate jamming, finding places to perform is more of a challenge. Especially at the University of New Hampshire.
Although it is the largest campus in New Hampshire, the live music scene in Durham is practically non-existent. College nightlife centers around bars and frat parties, both which cater to the pop-crowd much more than underground music fans. The closest bet for young bands is to try to perform in neighboring towns like Dover and Newmarket; but without any following, booking remains a challenge.
And so for most musicians at UNH, things seemed desolate. That is, until former UNH student and die-hard music fan Rico Brea started “The Emporium” in the fall of 2016.
“There was nothing (in terms of music venues) close on campus within Durham,” Brea said. “I didn’t really like going to the bars or large UNH parties. My friends were in bands and I noticed there was a demand for live music, but it went largely unnoticed. So I decided to cultivate that scene.”
Like the hang out in “Dazed and Confused” of which it was named after, The Emporium was the fulfillment of Brea’s dream to give local bands a place to express themselves-and for local fans to hear it all go down.
“Dazed and Confused was one of my favorite movies growing up,” Brea said. “So I started calling my college house at the time The Emporium.”
And so Rico starting putting on shows in his basement. He would charge students $5 at the door, and split the income with the bands who ended up playing that night. Word soon spread around about the hip new venue.
“At some point during the house shows I overheard someone say that they thought that The Emporium was some new bar on campus,” Brea said. “That proved my assumption that if I had a brand name for the house shows, the following we created would associate the shows with the existing experience we were providing.”
The psychedelic experience Brea provided was unlike anything else offered to UNH students during the 2016-2017 school year. Every other Saturday night, music fans would head to The Emporium and party all night to the sounds of local bands, with the accompaniment of trippy laser lights. Many local bands now performing at more established venues on the seacoast, such as Plains, Dogs That Know They’re Dogs, Northern Lights, Phatt James and Marvel Prone got their start playing at The Emporium.
“It was the only place in Durham that had live music regularly and it was my favorite thing to do on the weekend,” Plains singer and guitarist Sumner Bright said. “It was great fun and Rico was really good about paying the bands since it was drawing so many people to every event.”
The Emporium came to an end by the spring of 2017 as the school year closed. Without it, many musicians felt that UNH had given up on providing a market for live music. And so when Brea organized two reunion shows at a local bar the following school year, the crowds were just as fervent as ever.
“My house parties made me realize there was a demand for live shows at UNH,” Brea said. “I wanted my friends to continue playing gigs and grow their fan base. It’s tough for new bands to get them. So I figured I’d put on a show at a bar on the campus where the Emporium already had a following.”
The first of these reunion shows took place on Friday, November 17th, 2017. The show featured a who’s-who of local college bands: DJ Kaptain Kirk, Plains, Marvel Prone, Dogs That Know They’re Dogs, and Northern Lights. The second one took place February 23rd, 2018, and featured the talents of Sal & Friends, Timothy James & Incognito, and Umanand. The shows were a fantastic comeback.
“I estimated about 2/3rds of the February 23rd show were new faces,” Brea said at the time. “Because of the lack of Emporium regulars, it was a great opportunity for (the Emporium) to observe its potential for expansion. I believe those who experienced The Emporium for the first time this weekend will return and invite their friends, perpetuating growth.”
Brea noticed a growth in the local music scene, and wanted to step back and reconstruct his business model for a post-college world. With a brand new team of directors, The Emporium returned to business with new model centered around creating a network between artists, venues, and the New England community at large.