The Campus’ Worst-Kept Music Secret

The Scarier Dome delivers local and touring bands, homemade snacks, and an “all welcome” vibe that attracts a loyal and large crowd. This house full of music-loving dudes delivers student-music shows that range from garage rock to hip hop. But its homemade tacos and the "all welcome" vibe that keeps the crowds coming.

Words by Lydia Chan and Images by Gabby Jones

The prototypical, university-neighborhood rental house sits at a location most guests secure through a Facebook message sent to the guys who call it home. The sounds of a thumping bass and a crowd of people greet those who earn the address for the Scarier Dome, the name of the house that changed the university’s party scene by offering live music, upgraded snack food, and a friendly welcoming vibe. Unlike most large house parties that feature sounds and beer suds, the Greek-life crowd is absent. Instead, the campus’ artsy crowd — moppy haired dudes in vintage bomber jackets and those cool girls from the Warehouse, smoking cigarettes — replace frat stars and sorority sisters.

At the side entrance to the house, the Scarier Dome guys nurse a Bud Light or two and accept the donation-based cover fee, which ranges from $3 to $5 and lands into a makeshift, plastic piggy bank. A Christmas lights-lit stairwell dubbed “The Scare Well” greets guests, and the music thumping from below gets just a little bit louder. The distinct smell of melting cheese floats down from upstairs, where nachos are being freshly prepared in the kitchen, under a ceiling of more dangling Christmas lights. In the crowded space, people eat, drink and then some Kanye plays and an impromptu karaoke/jam session breaks out.

In the next room, a makeshift lounge of sorts, guests crowd on a ratty couch and a chair or two, and laughter punctuates conversations about lo-fi versus hi-fi and the redesign of Playboy. There’s no bumping and grinding or cliques assembled in a corner. Instead, everyone seems to talk to everyone. Somebody mentions that the next act is about to perform. The crowd moves, and the scene shifts to the main attraction of the Scarier Dome: the music. Guests file down the only route to the basement — rickety steps that lead to a slightly sticky floor littered with crushed beer cans and strings lights that seem to flicker in sync with the music. Hundreds of people fill the space as bodies mosh and vibe off the band playing on the makeshift stage. In a corner, a static-filled television screen features the words “Scarier Dome.”

Started in September 2014, the Scarier Dome is home to eight Syracuse University upperclassmen, who, on the weekends, transform their house into a do-it-yourself concert venue for local and touring bands to perform. It started as just a low-key outreach via Facebook that offered friends a space to perform. But several semesters in, the Scarier Dome has hosted acts ranging from indie rock to garage music, hip hop and even noise rock that attracts hundreds of students each week.

Just like the relaxed venue and vibe, the guys simply bring in bands that they themselves listen to. Super Defense, a band that describes their sound as “bedroom pop or slacker rock” have performed twice at the Scarier Dome and don’t see themselves stopping anytime soon.

“I think the Scarier Dome is integral to the Syracuse music scene. You’ve got tons of touring bands that come through here, bands have stayed the night here,” says Andy Horvath, the band’s lead vocalist. “It’s definitely an institution now in our local music scene.” Acts earn $300 or however much the guys get at the door to perform and a free music video created by Adam Greenberg, 22, a television, radio, and film major who oversees the Scarier Dome’s in-house production team VHS Sessions.

A search for inclusivity prompted the creation of this operation. As underclassmen, the Scarier Dome guys ventured out to the Westcott area to watch shows thrown by the then-upperclassmen. But what they found underwhelmed them. They didn’t like how these operations oozed a sense of exclusivity and how the events catered to those in the know. The guys wanted to open the experience up to a more diverse crowd while maintaining the same good music scene. “For us, it’s important to have a younger audience come here and see that Syracuse isn’t just about like huge ragers where girls pay $3 and guys pay $5 or frat parties,” says Lorenzo Gillis Cook, 21, a student in the Bandier program. “It’s inclusive — something anyone can come to.”

Creating the venue also made their lives a little easier. “Honestly, we love to party and not to have to leave our own house, so this pretty much worked out on its own,” Cook says.

Beyond the music, the Scarier Dome offers concertgoers homemade food, and the guys sell their own merchandise. Forrest Florsheim, 22, an English and textual studies major, serves as the house’s resident cook. He’s also the founder of Full Tang Food, his catering business, and whips up dishes that range from baked macaroni and cheese to homemade gnocchi.  The food arm of dome operations started with a suggestion from a fellow Scarier Dome resident to offer grilled cheese sandwiches. Since then, Florsheim’s creations have become just as synonymous with the house as the bands that come to perform. Served on paper plates, a single heaping serving of food is usually $4 and worth every single penny. “They even did barbecue one night,” says Nate Currie, a frequent Scarier Dome attendee and Super Defense’s bass player. “I’m from the South, and it was good.”

Attendees that want to take home a part of the Scarier Dome that last a little bit longer than homemade macaroni and cheese can buy the T-shirts for sale. Printed in-house, the silk-screened t-shirts boast an illustration of the house and sell for $8.

Despite all the sweaty, beer-soaked dollar bills exchanging hands, the guys label the Scarier Dome as a nonprofit. “All the money we make goes to the bands except for a small amount that we keep for ourselves for security. Even with the money we keep for ourselves, we buy T-shirts to sell to people and then that money goes back to paying for bands,” Cook says.

Fans praise more than the tunes, the tees, and the eats. “People come here and you start talking, you can start a conversation about the music or the food but like, it’s just very inclusive. Anyone can come, it can be your first time or a regular here and you’re always gonna meet someone or run into people you know; it’s just become a very cool place,” says Conor Emerson, 22, a communication and rhetorical studies major.

Josh Bazan, 21, a dual broadcast and digital journalism and political science major as attended almost every show at the Scarier Dome. “My favorite party is here because everyone is genuine and nice and friendly, and we’re all happy to meet new people,” Bazan says. “This really is the place to be.”  

As the lights begin to dim, the crowd moves outside. Through the haze of cigarette smoke, laughter, and chatter, groups of people begin to plan the rest of their evening, and another night ends at Dome. The guys behind the operation hope the mission and music will extend beyond this semester. But at the time of this writing, the guys’ lease is scheduled to end in May, and the house is set to return to its existence as three separate apartments. They have heard from other students who are interested in creating their own version of the Dome, but most of those individuals lack the right living situation to replicate Scarier Dome. “It’s important because we want freshmen to see that you can do this, and when they become seniors or juniors and have their own house, they’ll make Syracuse the art school it really is,” Cook says. “We have a lot of facilities and the student body for it, and it just hasn’t really existed here as much as it should compared to other schools. That’s an important part of Scarier Dome, or at least to me, to make Syracuse the school that it actually is, in terms of arts.”