On Saturday night, I somehow found myself in the largest room of a Korean karaoke bar in Wilmette. I was singing “A Thousand Miles” by Vanessa Carlton with a host of other dudes, probably because we fall into that stereotype, and it struck me as weird that this performance was the one I remembered most from the weekend, not the one that happened the night before.
For a weekend that featured Fall Blowout, Northwestern’s second-biggest musical event of the entire year, it felt really slow. There was no buzz or excitement around much of anything, and it felt strange enough where I think we have to rework this week’s Hangover a little bit. Instead of our usual round-up format, let’s talk about Big Sean and Blowout on Friday night, and let’s talk about the Fallacy of Quantity sweeping NU’s celebrity scene.
First off, I want to say that I completely respect the amount of work that student groups like A&O Productions and Mayfest put into their shows. They have one of the hardest jobs on campus. Every year they work their tails off to bring popular names to Northwestern, and every time they do this they have to carry the knowledge that every decision they make will be met with a campus-wide reaction, whether that is positive or negative. If they pull off something great like the old Snoop Dogg/Kid Cudi combination of 2010 or the Walk the Moon Dillo Day opener of 2013, then the praise will be substantial, but if they flop and lay a goose egg, the entire campus tears them apart. Is it entirely fair? No, but it still does not leave them blameless.
When A&O and Mayfest take heat, it is because they both fall victim to the inherent structure and strategy of their annual programming. Both systems need an overhaul, and both groups can certainly do their jobs better. But how? Well, that takes some tinkering.
Let’s start with A&O. Earlier we talked about the Fallacy of Quantity, and I think that this phenomenon is really evident in all entertainment at Northwestern. The idea is, if we have more artists, people will be happier, and with A&O, we see it in their vast number of events. Fall Blowout has an opener and a headliner, two speakers usually come to campus each year, A&O Ball adds another act, and the end of the year always brings the DM Benefit Concert. That is a lot – maybe too much. Sure, things like the Benefit and Blowout are important, but why can’t we trim the fat?
Perhaps cut the budget down to Blowout, the Benefit, and a single speaker in the winter. Instead of money thinning out to several just-okay acts, A&O would be able to consolidate funds and focus on bringing three or four crowd-pleasers. Sure, I understand that there are plenty of nuances in contract negotiations and the like that this approach fails to address, but this is one of those “but still” kinds of thing. This year, Blowout attracted freshmen and NU’s small contingent of Big Sean/MS MR fans. Arguably the act that saw the most loyalty was Streetbeat DJ Anleu, because his peers at WNUR show up to everything they do (and hey, can we have Streetbeat DJs at more stuff, please?). If A&O was able to cut down on their number of events and bring some bigger names in, they might see more positive reception.
We are now in this weird rut of Northwestern musical guests being the people who are featured on other artists’ hit songs. Obviously, the biggest example of this was 2014’s Dillo Day headliner 2 “2 Chainz!!” Chainz, and we all know how his set was received. Again, this seems to result from Mayfest having a similar Fallacy of Quantity. Right now, Dillo is really saturated with acts, and I think it is time that we take a leaf out of the dreaded “Here’s What Other Schools Do” Handbook. We have to start Dillo Day later in the day.
Instead of the first act being right around lunch, we should bunch the concerts toward the end of the day – maybe start them around 5:00. People can wake up late and start the festivities around noon, then they can party-hop for a while, and then they can make their way down to the Lakefill to rock out by sunset. One opener. One headliner. Student DJs before that to pump everyone up. It makes so much more sense. Consider that with this formula, Brown University was able to draw a 2013 Spring Weekend lineup of Deerhunter, Dirty Projectors, and the in-his-prime version of Kendrick Lamar (on 4/20, by the way). That’s the dream. That is what we need to work toward. No one would miss the professional DJ, and no one would miss the second opener disguised as a daytime headliner.
Whether we adhere to A&O and Mayfest or not, Northwestern as a whole has to stop paying attention to its need to cram the year with artists. Bring a solid one-two punch for Fall Blowout, inject the winter with a big-time comedian or speaker (We had Aziz Ansari and Bo Burnham! It can happen!), and punctuate the spring with a Dillo Day lineup that, above all, pleases the masses.
The Fallacy of Quantity is wrecking our entertainment groups, but there is hope. Yes, the environment of Northwestern makes us want to do more, more, more, but we have to change our attitudes. It takes a lot of work to put this stuff together, but ultimately, we have to understand that we should not settle just for the sake of having something to do. We can take a qualitative approach instead, and both our student body and our entertainment groups will be happier for it.