Nestled within the historic streets of Williamsburg, Va., right by the College of William and Mary, a vibrant music scene is on the rise, with student musicians assuming the spotlight. The Meridian coffeehouse, located at 206 South Boundary St, plays a pivotal role in nurturing this musical resurgence. Students, faced with the challenge of limited performance venues in the town, find this journey to be a defining aspect of their musical pursuits.
General manager for the Meridian coffeehouse and bassist in the student band Dietz and Dilemmas Abby Mendez ’24 says that the Meridian has been the gateway to the Williamsburg music scene for them and their fellow band members, especially because there are very few music venues in Williamsburg. Led by John Dietz ’24, Dietz and the Dilemmas is a pop-punk musical ensemble featuring Mendez on bass, Logan Wolf ’23 on guitar and Soph Aseno ’24 on drums, with frontman Dietz on lead vocals and rhythm guitar.
“I mean, this band would not exist without the Meridian just because it’s just such a great little spot,” Dietz said. “I think a lot of bands here rely on the Meridian for practice space and a performance space, and it really kind of fosters the music scene here.”
Dietz is also the station manager for the College’s student-run radio station, WCWM 90.9. He says that his involvement in radio allowed him to meet Mendez and form their band. Dietz and Mendez are both involved in WCWM and regularly perform at the Meridian, and they also assist with in planning semesterly music festivals, or Fests as they’re colloquially known.
“There’s a strong connection between Radio and Meridian for sure. There’s a lot of overlap,” Dietz said. “But being involved with Fest and helping to plan Fest has been one of the best experiences I’ve had at William and Mary, and it’s another great place to kind of showcase the music scene here.”
Student organizations like WCWM and venues like the Meridian have also allowed for fellow artists on campus to connect with each other.
Skyler Foley ’24, an independent student musician at the College, credits Dietz with organizing several of the gigs they have been part of, including a summer tour with Dietz and the Dilemmas. Foley also says that their involvement in Meridian and radio allowed them to find a bassist, Mendez, for their performances and helped them to form meaningful relationships. Foley, whose priority it was to get involved with the local music scene, has worked to get involved despite limitations.
“It took me a little while to figure out where music was on campus because we’re not in a city. That was one thing I was worried about coming in here,” Foley said. “And the music program is pretty small, so I wasn’t sure that there would be a ton to do. But once I learned that it was mostly in radio and also in Meridian, that was where I wanted to get involved.”
Foley says that getting involved in the music scene at the Meridian should be a priority for any aspiring performer at the College. Serving on the executive board for the Meridian and running WCWM’s social media accounts, Foley currently works to ensure that the venue is accessible and open as possible by organizing events like open mic nights where any student artist can sign up to perform a cover of a song.
The Meridian’s outreach and the exposure it can provide is much needed for student artists at the College, according to the members of student band Mugshot.
“I’d say there’s a lot of people that are looking to play but don’t know where to go,” Mugshot’s drummer Dylan Serlin ’26 said.
A physics and math major, Serlin says that sometimes music and academics can feel like two separate worlds for him on campus. However, he and fellow bandmates Alec Conley ’25 and JJ Aldridge ’25 feel as though performing at the Meridian has allowed them to bridge the gap between the two.
“A lot of people that are involved in music on campus aren’t actually completely music-oriented, right. They have a main thing going on,” Serlin said. “But when we play the shows … it brings everyone together. It’s like a culmination. It’s pretty nice.”
Aldridge, Mugshot’s bassist, says that performing with the band has allowed for a lot of personal growth and been a massive boost in self-esteem.
“I think, at least for me, the reason I do shows, like the reason I find it so fun and captivating and everything, it’s like personal growth. It builds your confidence, you feel good, you get to share art with people,” Aldridge said. “It really just, it elevates things. I don’t know, it makes you more confident in everything else you do on campus, whether it’s work or presentations or whatever.”
One challenge Conley says the band does face is the storage and organization of their instruments, an issue which can be compounded by where you live.
“Thankfully, me and JJ live on campus now, so we have cars, and we can just drive our stuff to wherever it needs to be. But before, when you’re in the dorm, you’re moving an entire drum set from your dorm to Sadler, and then the amps, and then the guitars, and everything,” Conley said.
While the Meridian provides practice space for bands with a full drum set, Conley observes that an increase in the number of student bands over the past semester has led to a crowded practice schedule at the coffeehouse. Serlin expresses hope that the construction of the College’s new Music Building will provide additional space for bands to practice with their equipment.
Mugshot has ambitious prospects for their musical future, including branching out to perform off-campus in Williamsburg and hopefully playing a show with friends at the University of Virginia.
For their next major event, Mugshot, Skyler Foley and Dietz and the Dilemmas will all be performing next November 30th at an event celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Muscarelle Museum of Art. Additionally, they all hope to have performances scheduled for next semester at the Meridian. For those looking to explore the College’s music scene, the coffeehouse hosts substance-free live music performances nearly every Friday at 206 South Boundary St. More information can be found on the Meridian’s website as well.
“Come to the Meridian and just keep coming to Meridian, and radio also, but especially the Meridian,” Foley said. “If you’re interested in performing specifically, you just talk to people, and you can get a gig there. It’s really easy to get a gig there, and you can get involved through that. Even though it seems kind of tight-knit at first, you can break in and it’s a really great place to meet people.”
CORRECTION (11/15/23): Article was updated by Sarah Devendorf, the Standards and Practices Editor to change The Meridian coffeehouse’s address in the article to 206 South Boundary St. as opposed to 406 South Boundary St.