By Tyler Tupper
Once a year, the ASWU activities coordinator is supposed to attend a convention put on by the National Association of Campus Activities. When in that role, Thomas Ruble refused. He didn't sign any of the recommended acts given to him by ASWU members that did attend.
Ruble was out to make a change. And that's exactly what he did. As a result, Whitworth students and the Spokane community shared many special moments during the 2006-2007 school year due to an unprecedented diversity of music, comedy and film.
Musical gems were hidden throughout last year's calendar, waiting to be discovered: David Bazan, The Blow, Johanna Kunin, Ramona Cordova, Point Juncture, Wa., Horse Feathers, Loch Lomond, Blue Scholars, Common Market, Karl Blau, Velella Velella and U.S.E. While they didn't please everybody all the time, they did have one thing in common – they were good. The majority of the credit, if not all, should be given to Thomas Ruble, '07.
As ASWU activities coordinator, Ruble organized Spring Fest, set up movie screenings and booked bands and comedians.
But at the beginning of 2006, just a year earlier, Whitworth's campus entertainment was in danger of repeating itself – more Switchfoot rip-offs, more family-safe comedians, more Nicolas Cage movies.
"I had to believe I knew what was best. If I'd signed those bands [from the convention], the year would have been like any other year," Ruble said. Despite reprimands from ASWU, Ruble didn't back down on trying something new.
"I took this job in a direction that was myself. I want people to hate what I did or love it," Ruble said, "but I [didn't] want the campus to be stagnant."
Ruble first decided to take action near the end of his sophomore year after hearing a terrible acoustic singer/songwriter during Half-Past Nine, a regular live-music event on campus. Immediately he walked upstairs and filled out an application for activities coordinator, even though the deadline had passed. Ruble said at first he turned the application as a joke, not expecting to be considered for the job. However, ASWU liked his résumé and he quickly had an interview.
What started as a laughing matter soon turned into a passion. Ironically, Ruble and a friend had spent the prior few weeks talking about the position. In their discussions, they soon concluded that the job played a vital role in creating the campus atmosphere.
"The Activities Coordinator [has] the single most influence on the campus' vibe. It could put Whitworth on the map – and it did," Ruble said.
In fact, Whitworth and Ruble were written up several times in the local press and credited for re-invigorating the indie-music scene in Spokane.
"In the span of a school year, Whitworth College's Hixson Union Building became a hub of regional indie-rock, thanks to the work of one student, Thomas Ruble," The Spokesman-Review said.
Ruble said at first, the idea of doing something radically new seemed daunting. However, that was not the case.
"It takes so much more work to play 'National Treasure' than the movies I did," Ruble said, citing copyright and licensing concerns. "It took way less to do something new. But it [did] more for campus."
Ruble took his knowledge and expertise of the music industry with him to Seattle after he graduated. Currently he works with Invisible City Booking as an agent assistant.
Ruble handles most of the logistics for Invisible City. Once a band wants to set up tour, he takes care of all of the details: promotion, payment, location, load-in, sound check and start times, opening bands, ticket prices, contracts and what the band can expect – basically everything besides actually writing and performing the music. Once the details are compiled, Ruble pulls them together into a concise and understandable tour book. His goal is to give the band a literal and figurative road map.
"[We] make sure they have the smoothest, most planned out tour," Ruble said.
But it isn't the most lucrative or prestigious career, especially for Ruble, who is still working on the ground floor. He said it is the type of job where you work yourself to death and then go look for employment that actually pays the bills. However, Ruble said the reward of seeing bands grow and get recognition on Web sites such as Pitchfork is well worth the long hours.
"It's not an ego thing, but like a parent is happy watching their kids graduate thing," Ruble said.
Ruble's strange journey of philosophy major-turned-booking agent started as a freshman, when he entered Whitworth as a music composition major.
"[It] turned out to be not as exciting and was more constricting, considering the time commitment," Ruble said. "I just lost interest in the classroom side of it."
After his freshman year, he switched his major to philosophy, finding it more satisfying.
"Philosophy is about the only thing that's interesting in a vacuum to me. Every other sort of subject needs a vocational context to make it interesting," Ruble said.
Ruble said that while his philosophy major doesn't directly apply to his career, he did learn to think on his feet. In his view, it gave him a foundation to build on.
"Philosophy taught me to analyze a problem and find a solution. It's like 'The Karate Kid': if you can catch flies with a chopstick, you can do anything."
On the surface, philosophy and music don't have much in common, but when asked if he felt his time at Whitworth was wasted, his answer is a definite "no."
"Whitworth – it was just an environment to grow in. [Since I graduated,] I've built houses, I've made espresso. I worked at a restaurant. Now I book bands. I could have majored in anything and still be doing what I'm doing. I learned how to learn," Ruble said.