Manhattan’s ’90s music scene lives again through VHS archive

A screenshot from a VHS recording of a show by Doug Minner. (Cheyenne Greathouse | Collegian Media Group)

“Welcome to the second ‘Don’t get any on you’ extravaganza. We have three bands playing tonight. Are your nipples hard? Mine are!”

Twenty-year-old Deborah Burtnett Minner captured that introduction to a backyard house show with a 10-pound VHS camcorder on her shoulder. Everyone was unaware that this video shot in 1991 would not be rewatched until January 2020.

“My dad had an old video tape camera, one of those that took the full size VHS tapes, so I started filming these parties and my friends,” Minner, a former Manhattan resident, said. “But what had happened is I never learned how to connect the camera to another VCR to make copies, so I never sent it to my friends — I just stuck it in this box for 30 years.”

This was the case until earlier this month, when Minner and her husband decided to buy equipment to transfer these VHS recordings of shows in Manhattan to a digital format and then share them on YouTube.

In a Facebook post, she stated “The [YouTube] channel is not and will not ever be monetized. We just want to share the memories.”

Minner lived in Manhattan for ten years, using her art degree to work with and promote local and regional artists. Her husband is an artist himself.

She explained to her 17-year-old son, “Imagine if someone had taken a Snapchat of you, and in 30 years said, ‘Oh hey, I have this Snapchat of you that I never posted until now, here let me show it to you.’”

The small but thriving life of local shows happening in Manhattan today don’t happen without someone having their phone out.

“I think it’s really cool to know they did shows like this in the ’90s, but it makes me feel like I need to live up to the shows they did then, especially now that we can see them,” said Zach Perez, sophomore in journalism and music director for Wildcat 91.9. “It makes me feel really cool that I get to be a part of this history of local music in Manhattan now though; I don’t want to let them and the history down.”

Minner and her husband didn’t have many opportunities to play the tapes before they began falling apart.

“As we were transferring the videos, flakes of the ribbon were falling off, so chunks of the video would be missing, and sometimes the sound and the picture would be off,” Minner said. “We had to rewind it and do it again which is the tedious part. I wish we had done it earlier; we didn’t realize they would degrade so quickly.”

Since releasing the tapes, other local bands from the ’90s have contacted Minner asking if she could convert their tapes as well.

“We’ve had a really great response,” Minner said. “People either never saw these videos when I first made them or don’t really remember even being there back then, so it’s been great to share now.”