STAFF Q&A/Penn network security guru Dave Millar fiddles around with friends and colleagues
If it’s noon Thursday, it must be string-along time.
That’s the time when Dave Millar and a bunch of his friends and colleagues on and off campus gather in Steinhardt Plaza behind Steinberg-Dietrich Hall for a folksy jam session.
The informal band is known as the Nooney Tunes, and over the past several years, they have become a fixture on the Penn summer scene. When the weather’s good, the ensemble swells to as many as eight members, and anyone is welcome to join in the fun.
For Millar, the noontime pickup performances are a chance to unwind during the workday. We asked him recently about the group and his own interest in music.
Q. Why did you decide to start the Nooney Tunes?
A. I used to play music in high school with friends, just informally, and I did it in college. I wanted to have the opportunity, especially in the summer months when it’s warm, to get out and jam with people. It seemed like a good way to get out and play some music.
About six or seven years ago, we started doing it informally behind Steinberg-Dietrich with a couple of guys from Wharton. Then they left Penn, and it kind of fell apart, and after a year or two I tried to revive it again.
Q. About how many people show up on any given Thursday?
A. We have a core group of about six to eight people who show up throughout the summer. Sometimes we just get passersby who join us. We’ve got a lawyer from Center City who comes over and joins us, we’ve had students just walk by, and one time we had a guy just randomly walk by with a double bass, which is sort of unusual to see. The kid was coming back from a graduation ceremony at the Convention Center, where he happened to be playing, and he joined us.
Q. Do you have a regular audience as well?
A. We do. I notice some regular people on Thursdays coming and having their lunch and listening.
Q. What types of music do you play? Is it all bluegrass?
A. There’s not too much bluegrass. My favorite would be old-time, which is similar to bluegrass, but there just aren’t that many old-time players around, so it tends to be mostly general folk from the ’60s and ’70s. We’ll do Crosby, Stills and Nash, [Neil] Young, or James Taylor or Bob Dylan. Every so often, Chip [Gerber, senior network engineer, Information Systems and Computing] will get us on a weird jag where he’ll do a reggae version of Frank Sinatra or something.
Q. Have you always played traditional music?
A. I started violin as a child. Until about eighth grade I was trained to play classical violin. Then I moved with my family to Texas, and they didn’t have any school orchestra program. If you couldn’t march on the field, they didn’t support it in Texas.
So my violin playing kind of went into hiatus for a few years. Then I met a kid whose dad was really interested in bluegrass, and he started taking us to festivals.
Q. Do you play any classical music now?
A. My classical violin instructor is probably spinning in her grave. My style has gotten a lot more sloppy and fiddle-like. It’s the same instrument, but it’s how you play it.
For years I said I would love to get hooked up again with a string quartet and play some baroque music, but once you’re so far away from the technique, it just would take a lot of time and effort to get it back.
Q. Have any of you played in clubs or at festivals?
A. I think some of us do. The guy from the law firm in Center City, I play with him and one of the guys as the Reckless Onslaught. It’s pretty much pure old-time. Charlie’s [Charlie Cooper, local area network specialist, School of Arts and Sciences Computing] got his own band. Dan [Dougherty, consultant, ISC Support-on-Site] plays classical bass with, I think it’s the University Orchestra. Chip, I believe, has his own band. This is just a pickup thing on Thursdays.
Q. What’s the attraction of a pickup band?
A. It’s relaxing. What I like is when somebody will come along—there are a few people who know some great songs from the ’60s and ’70s, things that I haven’t heard in years, and it’s fun just to play some of those old tunes and to see that people are having their lunch and enjoying it.
Q. What do you think of the movie “A Mighty Wind”?
A. I haven’t seen it. I’ve got to see it. I heard on the radio the Folksmen doing a bluegrass version of “Start Me Up.” [laughter] I’m going to try and—with my kids, it’s whether we see this first or “The Matrix: Reloaded.” We’re debating that.
The Nooney Tunes’ pickup jam sessions take place every Thursday at noon, weather permitting, in Steinhardt Plaza, behind Steinberg-Dietrich Hall on Woodland Walk. Interested in playing? Just show up with your instrument. Want to be kept abreast of what’s happening? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to subscribe to the nooney-tunes list.
Originally published on June 12, 2003