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Sunday, December 10, 2023
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Legends of the Fall

A historical account of SA's Fall Fest

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.

The UB administrators were forced to listen to the students' pleas, and at the same time, SA and UUAB had to keep their ears open to mainstream musical genre that was becoming increasingly diverse. Hip-hop was entering its peak, grunge was on the move, and there were numerous bands with the potential to break it big. It's apparent from the lineups that the organizations attempted to keep all musical tastes in mind during the decade.

Some of the decade's major successes relied partially on luck and good timing. The Goo Goo Dolls, a Buffalo native band that sold more than 10 million albums worldwide, played at Fall Fest in 1991 before they dominated the charts for the latter half of the decade. SA would later book Nirvana to play at UB in November 1993, months before Kurt Cobain ended his life.

While Nirvana and the Goo Goo Dolls are remembered as some of SA's biggest successes, Mark Sorel, SA's administrative director, believed that the cards happened to be in the organization's favor.

"It was multiple things - band availability, having space available at time," Sorel said. "Every concert we put on has a variety of issues that affect when it can happen. You can look at it from the band side of things, the university side, and the student's side. All those factors have to come together."

SA was also resilient in key moments. In 1994, SA President Karen Hillary resigned after being accused of embezzling SA funds and forgery, prompting Vice President Herman Matfes to take position.

Matfes and his organization still remained focused on hosting an enjoyable Fall Fest, despite the changes.

"From the Fall Fest perspective and the university perspective, the student government is structured in a way that allotted departure," Matfes said. "It was a way to keep serving students, and really that was the main focus...The focus was always students, and therefore, things of that nature would never be at risk."

Public Enemy ended up performing at Fall Fest that year without Terminator X, who broke his legs in a motorcycle accident. The ineptitude of the replacement DJ drew a mixed reaction from the crowd.

Although Public Enemy may have been the most prolific, SA also brought many other East Coast Hip-Hop acts to the stage: Brand Nubian in 1992, Mobb Deep in 1995, De La Soul in 1997, and Busta Rhymes in 1998. All of the acts received a positive response, but the final Fall Fest of the millennium fell short.

The concert, which featured legendary hip-hop duo Gangstarr and ska band Reel Big Fish, was marked by low attendance. There was tension in the air as well - a member of Gangstarr's entourage threatened a member of the crowd after being hit with a paper airplane.

Change in the millenniums

The new decade started well with a solid performance from The Roots, but a national tragedy would end up rocking the entire UB population in 2001: Sept. 11.

Fall Fest was scheduled for the Friday of that week, but a decision was made to postpone it in light of the events. The semester's most-anticipated event took a backseat to healing the wounds opened by the disaster. SA and Sub-Board sponsored buses to New York City because of the number of students who came from the city. The artists - 3 Doors Down, Mexican Cession, and Everclear - agreed to accommodate and postpone to concert until October

"I think every year the big talk is always Fall Fest, but in the grand scheme with 9/11, people were disappointed that it wasn't happening, but people understood," said Dela Yador, the 2005-06 SA president. "Not having a concert wasn't the worst thing in the world compared to what had just happened."

America was forever changed, and soon after, Fall Fest followed suit. In 2003, SA President George Pape's administration made the decision to form SA Entertainment.

For years, SA had to discuss with UB's other student governments about what direction they'd be taking with each additional Fall Fest because of how Sub-Board is universally associated with each one. SA would fund a larger sum of money in comparison to the other governments to produce the event. They'd all get an equal say in the acts, despite the monetary difference.

SA Entertainment was founded to give the undergraduate government more control of its events. The organization has organized the Fall Fest every year since, while the UUAB - the division that helped produce the fest for 25 years - became defunct.

The switch proved to be successful soon afterwards. The 2004 Fall Fest featured alternative rock band Incubus; their performance was buoyed by a lively audience. The organization's momentum only grew when it achieved its biggest accomplishment the next year.

Fall Fest 2005 had one of the most prolific artists of the millennium: Kanye West.

It was near-perfect timing. SA had booked him when he just broke into the national spotlight.

"It was at a weird point in his career where younger people knew him, but adults had no clue who he was," said Marc Rosenblitt, SA Entertainment Director. "All of a sudden he got on T.V. and called George W. Bush a racist... That just launched Kanye into way outside of the demographic where he was well-known. His price sky-rocketed after that."

It was still in SA's budget, however. According to Yador, SA was able to book West for $100,000 - the most it has paid for an artist. Now, West performs for approximately $500,000.

West left a lasting impression with his performance. The artist played for about two hours, but Yador said the set remained entertaining throughout.

"It was such a big deal for Kanye to come, especially since it was an amazing show and since we booked an artist," Yador said. "'Now, let's [see] it lives up to the hype.' The light show and set changes - he really told a story when he performed, and I think students really appreciated it. I think that they got their money's worth at that show."

Fall Fest continued with the notable headliners for the latter half of the decade. It included reggae artists Sean Paul in 2006, All-American Rejects in 2007, Ludacris in 2008, and Lupe Fiasco, Busta Rhymes, and Common to close out the decade.

Nas performed for the fests three times in the decade - in 2003 and 2008 for the Fall Fest, and 2011 for the Spring Fest.

"If you look up how many of these students come from New York City and how many of these students look at Nas as one of the greatest alive, you can never lose by booking Nas. Whether it's a thousand person venue or in a soccer arena," Yador said. "He cuts at so many different people regardless of color."

The fall of Fall Fest

The growth of Fall Fest from a student gathering to a big stage concert is a storied one, but it's hard to gauge just how big the event will get given the limited resources.

Rosenblitt would like to see a return of the carnival-like atmosphere that was prevalent in the early '90s.

He realizes that just isn't realistic.

"That's something we've talked about and played with for years, but the cost of these sorts of things is incredibly high," Rosenblitt said.

North Campus doesn't offer many places to hold the concert, either. Alumni Arena is often in use by UB Athletics, and the traitorous Buffalo weather can easily cut hopes of having Baird Point or UB Stadium as a venue. The circumstances almost led to disaster in Spring Fest 2011, which was held at UB Stadium.

"The stadium show two years ago was the first time we've ever gone into the stadium with the Fests, so that was a gamble," Rosenblitt said. "If the weather had been bad - and the weather before had been terrible, miserable days - if we had those weather problems the day of the show, we'd probably have to cancel the show."

But Rosenblitt, who's been helping out with Fall Fest since 1996, believes that having a bigger Fall Fest isn't necessarily the most important thing.

"For me, it's never been about the musicians or anything like that," Rosenblitt said. "The biggest thing is for me is seeing people enjoy themselves at the show. There's nothing more important to me than looking at a crowd of people smiling, pumping their fists, and having a good time. That for me is a lot more interesting to watch than the people on stage."

Nemmer said his organization has been planning this year's Fall Fest since the end of the 2012 spring semester.




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