Legends of the Fall
A historical account of SA’s Fall Fest
Published: Saturday, June 23, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11
At first glance, it doesn’t look like Student Association President Travis Nemmer has too much to worry about when planning this year’s Fall Fest.
Last year’s Executive Board began its scandalous run with a subpar Fall Fest. The postponed concert featured bands that would seem to be an afterthought on such a stage. The Fray, a band well past its 2007 prime; mashup duo White Panda; and 2AM Club played for an audience that was much smaller than it has been in previous years.
The poor response to last year’s Fall Fest even became a running joke amongst the current E-Board members. But Nemmer is making sure that the debacle doesn’t happen again.
“Last year's Fall Fest set the bar so high we could trip over it, or at least that was the joke early on,” Nemmer said. “In all reality, the Executive Board and the Entertainment Department have been taking every due diligence to make sure that the failures of last year don't happen again.”
But this year’s Fall Fest has more to live up to than just the previous one. The concert has remained SA’s biggest event for decades along with Spring Fest and has had numerous musical icons – ranging from Nas to Chuck Berry – grace the stage. The concert also has the responsibility of welcoming new freshmen and returning students in addition to upholding such history.
So for Nemmer and company, the pressure is on.
“Quite simply, if Fest isn't a concern for you and you're a member of the Executive Board, you're doing something very, very wrong,” Nemmer said.
Early Beginnings in the Late ’70s
Students typically expect some of the biggest mainstream talent to perform at the annual event. William Hooley, executive director of Sub-Board I, Inc., recalled that the anticipation was much less grandiose when he went to his first event in 1979.
“It was kind of a nice diversion at the beginning of the year to welcome students back, and to give students a nice little diversion for exams in the spring,” Hooley said. “The talent was cheaper and probably the goals of the Fests weren’t as epic as they are now.”
Fall Fest pictures of earlier years show a more festive, picnic-like atmosphere than today’s big-time concerts. The event featured smaller, but well-known acts when it began in 1978. The first Fall Fest, a collaboration between SA and the University Union Activities Board – the Sub-Board former entertainment division – was a success. It was a two-day celebration that featured hours of partying and lines of beer, a tradition that would die out a few years after the drinking age increased to 21 in 1984.
Traces of Fall Fest’s current state date back to 1982. That year the concert moved from the South Campus to Baird Point in order to accommodate the growing audience. Southside Johnny, a well-recognized rock band who also played at the 1979 event, headlined the highly anticipated show.
According to Hooley, the event was the largest-attended Fall Fest at the time and had remained on North Campus ever since.
The fests only continued to grow. After singer Cyndi Lauper drew in 15,000 attendees in 1984’s Fall Fest, UB brought reggae band Black Uhuru in 1984, Chuck Berry and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts in 1987, and singer Pat Benatar in 1988. The talent cost rose from $40,000 the previous year to $50,000 in order to bring in the popular ’80s singer.
“Each year more money was being put towards fests, because it kind of became a signature event,” Hooley said. “I think both organizations, Sub-Board and SA, wanted to make sure that we put out best towards students coming in as freshmen who are starting off the fall semester.”
The decade ended with a postponed Fall Fest. After having problems with band availability, SA held the event until November – the latest for a Fall Fest – and hosted the B-52s. The indoor Alumni Arena performance was marred with riots by students who were locked out of the venue and unable to see the band perform its ’80s hit, “Rock Lobster.”
The tumultuous event was a sign of things to come for the following decades.
The rise of hip-hop, protests, and scandal
The anticipation that came with the beginning of the year announcement of the Fall Fest lineups was replaced by a cry for protest. The students weren’t caught up with the hype, but were swept in the picket signs and the footsteps of students who marched from South to North Campus because of the proposed bus fees in 1990.