The Tale of Two Colleges: UB's fest culture holds no comparison to recently canceled Fred Fest
Steve Merry has attended Fred Fest – SUNY Fredonia’s annual end of the year concert festival – for the past two years despite not being a student at the university.
Merry, who graduated from UB in 2014 and would stay with friends who attended SUNY Fredonia, said the experience at Fred Fest was something he could not get at UB’s annual concert festivals, Spring and Fall Fest.
“It’s a different culture between Spring Fest and Fall Fest and Fredonia,” Merry said. “I haven’t been to party at Spring or Fall Fest anywhere near what Fred Fest has.”
But SUNY Fredonia is now hoping to deter non-students and non-community members from visiting Fredonia village during what is traditionally the weekend of Fred Fest by canceling the event all together.
UB students have made the trip to Fred Fest, and feel UB’s festivals, funded by the Student Association through the mandatory student activity fee, are not comparable to the atmosphere of the now canceled Fred Fest. UB’s concert festivals do not seem to bring as much trouble for the University Police Department as Fred Fest does for the Fredonia Police Department. While UB fielded just 17 arrests between the weekends of both fests in 2014, Fredonia’s officers have dealt with nearly 90 during the weekend of its last fest, according to the school’s SA president.
David Herman, SUNY Fredonia Vice President for Student Affairs, announced the cancelation of Fred Fest in a letter to students on Feb. 9, citing safety concerns with binge drinking at off-campus parties and arrests and incidents he said involved mostly non-Fredonia students and non-community members. Guests will not be permitted in residence halls from May 1-3 – the weekend Fred Fest would normally be held.
Many schools across the country hold end of the year campus-sponsored concert festivals for students, but SUNY Fredonia often got an influx of students from different universities for its weekend festival.
“It kind of draws people to Fredonia,” said Joe Cardina, a senior video production and audio major at SUNY Fredonia. “It kind of separates it from the other little liberal arts schools spread across New York State. It’s kind of our thing.”
In his letter to students, Herman said there had been more than 100 citations in the village of Fredonia, numerous campus conduct incidents, injuries and reported sexual assaults over the last three Fred Fest weekends.
Fredonia SA president Jefferson Dedrick said there were nearly 90 arrests during last year’s Fred Fest weekend, and on WGRZ, Fredonia’s village police chief estimated there are at least 50 to 70 arrests during Fred Fest weekend.
Village of Fredonia Police didn’t respond to The Spectrum’s inquiries by the time of press.
The weekends of last year’s UB Spring and Fall Fests saw 17 total arrests (none of which occurred at the concerts), five students served Student-Wide Judiciary (SWJ) paperwork for marijuana complaints, seven alcohol overdose first aid responses and two incidents of graffiti vandalism inside North Campus buildings. There were also seven total noise complaints about the concerts from Amherst residents.
“We don’t make many arrests or have a lot of crime associated with the concerts,” said Chris Bartolomei, UPD assistant chief of police, in an email. “It wouldn’t be unusual to have an arrest due to a fight or criminal mischief, but mostly, we have a high number of alcohol and drug related first aid calls … After the concert, we may need to manage unruly crowds at the shuttle bus stops, and we usually continue to get the alcohol and drug related first aid calls throughout the evening.”
Merry said for students who attend, Fred Fest is more about all-day drinking and off-campus day parties than the actual school-sponsored events.
He said UB’s festivals are more focused on the actual concert because UB gets better known acts. UB’s concerts festivals have featured artists like Kendrick Lamar, Wiz Khalifa and Childish Gambino in recent years.
The past two years, Fredonia’s SA has had local bands play the fest and overall student attendance is low, according to Cardina.
So if it’s not the acts, what makes Fredonia’s party scene so much wilder than UB’s?
Jacob Gullo, a junior communication major at UB, said “everything is within walking distance in Fredonia.” Gullo attended Fred Fest in 2013, and said there were day parties in backyards, barhopping and bands playing on street corners. He said UB could not have a similar festival to that because UB’s “geography doesn’t allow it.”
“[UB] North campus, it’s all spread out. You have the Villas on Rensch, [Villas at] Chestnut, the dorms,” Merry said.
The village of Fredonia has a population of fewer than 11,000 people. UB has a little fewer than 20,000 undergraduates. Merry said he could attend five different house parties that are all just a five-minute walk away from each other in Fredonia.
He said UB has some element of parties and bars in walking distance of each other in the University Heights located off South Campus, but “even that is not the same atmosphere.”
UB spokesperson John Della Contrada said the university supports students’ rights to plan events and concerts on campus as long as they meet campus requirements, adding, “student planned events are an important part of the campus community.”
After every Spring and Fall Fest, a special events committee reviews the event and pays special attention to any concerns that need to be addressed at the next concert, according to Della Contrada.
Spectrum Entertainment Board, a constituted group of Fredonia SA, annually planned campus Fred Fest activities. Like Fall and Spring Fest, Fred Fest was funded by a mandatory student activity fee.
Fredonia SA president Dedrick said Herman approached Fredonia SA last year in effort to “tone down the off-campus Fred Fest activities.” He said some minor changes were made, but “the on-campus events hosted by Spectrum don’t really have any effect on the off-campus partying.”
Dedrick said it was Spectrum Entertainment Board’s decision to cancel Fred Fest this year. He said Fredonia Student Affairs may have put some pressure on them to do so, but there was not much resistance after last year’s efforts to tone down off-campus activities did not work.
“The thinking, as I understand it, is that if the college does not sanction events associated with Fred Fest weekend, there may be less of a draw of non-Fredonians over time, lessening some of the problems the college and community have experienced,” Dedrick said in an email.
Dedrick said fewer than a handful of the arrests from last year’s Fred Fest weekend were SUNY Fredonia students. Herman said in his letter that most of the citations and issues involved friends and guests of students. Merry said he does not think it is mostly non-students causing the issues during Fred Fest.
“It’s everybody,” Merry said. “We’re all the same age. You don’t think [Fredonia] students are getting in trouble? … They are.”
But Cardina said a lot of Fredonia community members are happy about the cancelation because “it does draw a lot of people that kind of don’t treat the Fredonia community as they should as guests.”
Cardina said students were not too down trodden about the cancelation because they will still hold parties and friends will still visit the weekend Fred Fest was supposed to be.
Gullo said he will most likely make the trip to Fredonia this May.
“You can't stop the parties, and the bars just can’t close, so therefore I’d assume it’s going to be very similar,” Gullo said.
Gullo said SUNY Fredonia “eliminated healthy activities,” by canceling the school-sponsored concerts and activities. Merry said he thinks off-campus festivities will be the same if not worse because students may want to rebel against the cancelation.
“I hope we find a happy medium between partying, rage and destruction and no fun at all. I hope there’s a happy medium everyone can be OK with,” Cardina said.
Dedrick said there will still be a string of end-of-the-year events, which will be revealed in March, but there won't be any on-campus activities during the historical Fred Fest weekend.