Take the modern and slatted-steel architecture of our current airport-looking ASUCD Coffee House and imagine a much more laid back but wild scene. Imagine blue drapery suspended on walls, a modest stage buried in sound equipment and 350 chairs jam-packed in the small room. Better yet, imagine the legendary Elvis Costello, Talking Heads, The Police and Rory Gallagher rocking out on stage inches from the audience, with their sweat and spit literally dripping down right on top of them. These were the glorious days of the CoHo which have vanquished to unspoken stories and memories trapped in time.
Although the fashion trend of tight-fitting trousers paired with loose blouses and blazers have made a definite comeback, the Davis music scene during the late 1970s and early ’80s was wildly different. So, how did the CoHo become such a big stop for legends like Costello and Gallagher? There to make it all happen was a student named Peter Afterman.
Afterman, who recently told his story in a letter published by Davis Life Magazine, was in charge of booking shows at the CoHo. With a strong enthusiasm and love for music, Afterman took time out of his studies to focus on bringing new wave-rock ‘n roll artists to Davis. Afterman relied on personal connections and strategic planning to get the musicians to agree to play at such a small venue as the CoHo.
“The trick was to not have the band come too early,” Afterman said. “We needed three hours to set up. It was magical to see the place become a really cool room – we put tiles in with “wah” sounds for sound equipment and other high-end equipment. We pretty much had a studio set-up for mixing and playback. We would have the CoHo staff cook huge meals and the band would have this big area to wander around. The bands would absolutely love it because they had just gotten off the road on a long tour. With that, we started to become a hit place to play.”
Before the age of the World Wide Web and easy access to musician’s contact information through sites like Facebook or Myspace, personal connections were key. Afterman would directly contact the managers and schedule the musicians to stop by Davis between their stops in Sacramento and San Francisco.
“We did week nights with rarely any Friday or Saturday nights,” Afterman said. “I would also follow whatever acts were on Saturday Night Live. I saw Devo on SNL three days before their show in Davis and it was an automatic sellout. It was like taking candy from a baby.”
Afterman and his small crew of about four to five volunteers would cram about 350 seats – filling up every square inch of the room. On average, 90 percent of tickets were sold per show by basic word of mouth and hand-made posters and flyers. Just between the year of 1978 and ’79, Afterman booked the following (in order of appearance): Oregon, Devo, Flora Purim, Dave Edmunds/Nick Lowe, Talking Heads, Rory Gallagher, Carlene Carter, Leroy Jenkins, Elvis Costello, Camel, Pat Metheny, John Fahey, The Police, Emmylou Harris, Ultravox, Dire Straits, Don Cherry, Tom Robinson Band, Tim Weisberg, John Cale, Gil Scott Heron, Joe Jackson and Jorma Kaukonen solo.
Mark Champagne, who was the ASUCD Business Manager at the time, gave Afterman approval of shows. Like Afterman, Champagne appreciated the intimate value that the CoHo provided as opposed to the large Freeborn Hall.
“It was easier then, because there were so many touring groups and they weren’t charging the amounts of money that they do today,” Champagne said. “Groups would play for very little and some of those groups made it big. What a college experience to see a band that was just breaking in a 300-350 seat intimate facility. It provided lots of memories for students that attended during that time.”
Robert Toren, an art studio graduate in 1981, currently manages a website dedicated to the Davis music scene during the late ’70s and early ’80s, called Davis80smusic.com. Toren believed that the radio was a huge factor in the success of the CoHo.
“[The ’70s and ’80s] was a time when college radio was coming into its independent own,” Toren said. “And, record companies saw the opportunity in sending bands like Talking Head, Devo, Iggy Pop, etc. out on college town tours, so local venues could get them for a song. The Bangles played at a local club just weeks before they went big with Walk Like An Egyptian. Someone at UCD saw the CoHo as a potential competitor with local bars and started booking all these great shows.”
So what happened after 1980? Afterman, who was a history and art history double major, graduated in 1979 and with no one to take over the booking and planning, the CoHo shows slowly died down. Tim Chin, assistant director of ASUCD Entertainment Council believes the internet is a major contributor of the lessening popularity of small and intimate shows.
“As far as why the trends with the CoHo shows have died down, I really think it’s because of our continually advancing society,” Chin said. “Back in the ’70s and ’80s, there was no internet. So there was no file sharing, no Facebook or any other technologies that we take for granted nowadays. Back then, if you didn’t tour, you didn’t make any money. So you had to really throw yourself out there and play as many shows as you can.”
The following are mentionable memories from the CoHo shows:
Peter Afterman: Rory Gallangher came with his two bass-players and drummer. Normally, the artists have requests for food and drinks or what not. Rory and his crew asked us to get them six cases of beer. We’re talking about 144 beers for four guys! They drank all the beer and the second set they played, Rory was practically passed-out and playing guitar. It was the craziest thing I’ve ever seen that they went through all the beers. But of course, the performance was still great.
Donnette Thayer (’81 UCD alumna): When the Ramones played the [CoHo], Joey Ramone showed up wearing a hospital bracelet which I thought was ultra-cool. It seemed like found art on Joey Ramone on the stage at the [CoHo]. Naturally, during the Ramones show there was a suffocating crush that occurred near the stage and since I always found my way to the front of the stage, I became quite nervous as people thrashed around when we were packed together like so many sardines. Joey let a 30 second or so pause go by between songs-an eternity for the Ramones, their songs last only two minutes on average-and said in a very calm voice that we needed to make some room up front. Everybody obeyed him immediately and we all just had fun for the rest of the show.
UYEN CAO can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.