A setlist of memories

A student reflects on a concert tradition she shares with her best friend.

Earlier this month, my friend Rachel and I saw alternative artist Rostam Batmanglij perform his first solo album, “Half-Light.” As we watched the crew set up an electric drum set and music stands for a string quartet, Rachel said, “This is going to be unlike anything we’ve experienced.”

Rachel and I have been going to concerts together for the past three years, and Rostam was our seventh. She was right: the show certainly was a special experience. We hadn’t seen Rostam play before, nor had we been to a concert with violins, a cello and a harmonica.

The only thing about the concert that was familiar to us was the venue: Union Transfer on Spring Garden Street near 10th.

We saw our first concert there in June 2015, the summer after our first year of college. I hadn’t seen Rachel much back then. We both started our freshman year at Chestnut Hill College, but Rachel had transferred to Temple one semester before I did. We saw Alvvays together, a new Canadian indie pop band, and it felt like our little summer reunion.

I remember us arriving incredibly early, catching up on conversation, and waiting outside in the balmy air to have our tickets scanned.

We bolted into the venue and scrambled to the front in an attempt to get as close to the stage as possible. Our excitement made us a little impatient, but we endured the opening act. And when Alvvays arrived on stage, we bounced around to catchy songs about failed romance, sunshine and university students like us.

Since that was our first concert, we both found it necessary to commemorate the moment with pictures and band T-shirts. And when Rachel bought her shirt, one of the guitarists from Alvvays actually rung her up. She was starstruck.

“I didn’t even know what to say!” she told me.

I chose the white Alvvays shirt with a photo of a generic school lunch in a styrofoam tray. Below the tray was written, “Everybody wins!” Rachel and I mulled over whether this quirky design meant something to the bandmates.


Two months later, we found ourselves at Union Transfer again, celebrating Rachel’s 19th birthday. Amonnie, our good friend from New York, joined us to see a British band called Glass Animals. Their debut album was alternative with an energetic, exotic twist. A lot of their songs reminded me of the jungle.

We tried our best to put together perfect outfits for the show and painted our nails on my living room floor. We didn’t even notice each other’s nail art in the shadows at the concert, but we marveled at the metallic eyeshadow we wore under the blue and green lights.

And when the concert ended, we hurried to the car to avoid messing up our hair in the pouring rain.

A month before my 20th birthday in 2016, Rachel and I went to Union Transfer again to see the dream pop band, Beach House, which is one of my favorites. We feared we wouldn’t be able to go at first because tickets sold out before we bought ours. But thankfully, Rachel knew someone who used to work at Union Transfer, so we still got our tickets. We didn’t feel like amateur concertgoers anymore.

Beach House’s first album came out 10 years ago, and many of the fans in attendance were older adults. But we blended in comfortably.

The energy was serene. It was like we entered an orb of color and sound. The lead singer appeared to be glowing as light radiated behind her.

“She looks like a spirit,” Rachel whispered to me.

Beach House sang about love, growth and forgiveness. After the show, Rachel and I confessed that we were near tears during some songs. We felt something different than our girly excitement at previous concerts.

And by the time we saw Alvvays again at Union Transfer in 2017, we were actually old enough to access the 21+ section.

We spent a few minutes up there before we decided we liked it better downstairs. We ended up hanging out in one of our usual areas.

It was the same spot where, more than two years ago, Rachel told me about getting her wisdom teeth taken out as we waited for our first Alvvays concert to start.

I began to realize Union Transfer housed so many of our memories. Over the years, we have passed many landmarks in our lives, both big and small. But I’m grateful that we always choose to take a break at Union Transfer along the way.

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