With all the attention Jay Matheson has been getting around town this month leading up to his Jam Room Music Festival, the fact that he’s playing a reunion set with Bachelors of Art (Also known later in their lifespan simply as BOA) has almost been an afterthought or aside. For anyone who was active in Columbia’s music scene in the 80’s, however, this is an event of major proportions and reason enough to show up on Saturday afternoon.
The only previous reunion since the group quit playing twenty years ago was at 2007’s Rockafellas Reunion gig, where they performed to a full house like they’d never stopped.
“It’s hard to remember 2007 now, I was apprehensive for that show, for coming back from being gone so long,” BOA’s lead singer Robin Wilson Hall says. “I wondered what it would be like, and it turned out to be a great night.” She isn’t as nervous this time around, she claims.
“I’m such a perfectionist usually but even though the nerves are still there I’m not as worried about whether or not it will be just right,” Wilson Hall says. “The older you get, we’re just appreciative of being able to go out there and do it again, and it’s fun to hear Tom (Alewine, BOA guitarist) and it’s fun to be back in Columbia.”
In addition to Alewine, the one constant member of BOA’s various lineups, Blake Liles will again fill the drummer’s seat as he did in 2007.
For most BOA fans, Robin Wilson’s voice was the signature of the band, but she wasn’t even the group’s original lead singer.
“I was in another band before BOA and Rick Griffith (drummer for local rockabilly legends the 88’s) told me they were looking for a new singer, so I went and auditioned with Tom,” She remembers. “A lot of the early songs we did were written for their previous singer, we didn’t start writing together for a while because they had all these songs already written but it evolved from there with Tom writing a lot of the material.” It took the addition of Matheson on bass to solidify the group’s sound, she says.
“With Jay, it became a real hard rocking band,” She says. “We were looking for a new bass player and Tom mentioned Jay—I said ‘oh, no, he’s too hard rock for us.’ Jay joined up and really helped define the band’s sound from that point on.” For Robin, there was really only one goal from the start, musically.
“I wanted to be Peter Murphy, singing as low and as dark as I could,” she says.
The band ended up as a Gothic rock powerhouse, along the lines of Sisters of Mercy but with Wilson’s pipes setting them apart from the rest of the region’s more popular acts. She remembers how hard it was back then to even find the kind of music they were into.
“It’s so different now, when you have such easy access to discover different kinds of music,” She says. “We had to find out on our own, WUSC was the only real way to get in touch with what was considered ‘alternative’ back then, before that became just another marketing term.”
Speaking of marketing, Wilson Hall found some treasures recently from the band’s heyday in an unlikely place—her garage.
“I found a bunch of BOA bumper stickers in a box in my garage,” She says. “My mom gave me a box of my stuff she found when she moved, and there was all this band stuff in it.”
Having done the ‘band stuff’ with both BOA and her Atlanta-based band Skirt for many years, Wilson Hall is realistic about this week’s show and its place in her current life.
“It is not just physically but emotionally hard to go back and sing these songs,” She says. “Once you leave that lifestyle of being in a band, riding in a van with three or four others for long distances and not much money, you know better—but while you’re involved in it, you’re blind.” Even though she wouldn’t do it long term again, Wilson Hall says she’s looking forward to Saturday’s set at the Jam Room Music Festival with a mixture of excitement and nerves.
“I have been coming back and forth to Columbia for practice but can’t be at all of them, so I used our CD to rehearse here at home,” says the current Atlanta resident. “I started crying at one point when I was singing along to the CD and wondered ‘how am I going to get through forty-five minutes of this?’”
She’ll do it with the support and presence of another packed audience of fans, new and old.
(photos and video in this post are from the 2007 Rockafellas Reunion show at 5 Points Pub)
The Jam Room Festival is a free concert on Main Street in Columbia, SC on Saturday October 13th. BOA takes the stage at around 4:30 p.m.