A look into the past, present and future of DePaul’s FEST
CHICAGO — It’s 5 p.m. on a Friday night and a line of students is wrapped around the corner of McGrath Arena. This isn’t a regular scene for DePaul, but it’s May 27, which means FEST, DePaul’s annual concert, is finally here.
The arena isn’t the usual venue for the concert. Traditionally it is held on DePaul’s Quad, but reports of potential rain and thunderstorms led FEST coordinator, Betsy Lugo, and her committee to make a switch in venues two days before the event.
This year’s lineup included Karmin and T-Pain as openers and The Neighbourhood as the headliner. As students slowly made their way through security, they then headed towards the stage waiting for the show to start.
Karmin took the stage to a small crowd at 6 p.m. By the time T-Pain took the stage an hour later, the crowd doubled. Screaming and shouting ensued as “Booty Wurk (One Cheek At a Time)”, one of T-Pain’s well known songs, began to play. Throughout his hour-long set, energy levels were high from beginning to end. People were dancing by themselves, with friends and even with those who they had only met a few hours before.
In the short 30 minute stage change from T-Pain to The Neighbourhood, the crowd size decreased. Despite that, lead singer, Jesse Rutherford, came out with his stage persona fully turned on. For the next hour, The Neighbourhood put on a show for a modest but enthusiastic crowd. However, it never seemed to match the energy of T-Pain’s earlier set.
Amy Morton, senior at DePaul, noticed an overall lack of liveliness from the crowd in comparison to last year. “It was kind of a bummer that FEST was held inside this year. I think it really detracted from the whole experience. The music was good, but McGrath is not the best concert venue for sound quality,” she said.
A history of FEST
FEST has been a part of the DePaul community for the past 31 years. It is known for bringing music artists from multiple genres to DePaul’s campus. In past years, artists such as Childish Gambino, Diplo and Big Sean have made their way to the FEST stage. The planning and production put into this concert is anything but small scale.
“We have a team of assistants chosen around the end of fall quarter that are all students, each with specialized jobs,” said Laurel Pierce, the newly elected 2016–17 FEST Coordinator. “For example, one person works on facility operations, getting fencing, port-o-potties, etc. While another person books the security team, another works on our social media, and so on.”
The production hasn’t always been this substantial though. When FEST was introduced in 1985, it was a blues concert that took place on DePaul’s soccer field otherwise known as Wish Field. Even though, the production value was smaller than what it is now, it has remained a part of the DePaul culture.
“There’s way more community events here at DePaul than my university,” said Steph Stone, a study abroad student from Australian Catholic University who has been at DePaul for the past year. She shares that events like FEST don’t exist at her school back home. “It’s a great event to bring the community together. It rewards students for working hard during the year and is a great way to have fun at the end of a year,” she said.
During his set, T-Pain seemed to pick up on this theme of community. In a transition from the end of one song to the start of another, he expresses “Erase the hate and replace it with love.” He continued to repeat this phrase several times causing cheers to erupt from the crowd.
Looking at the crowd, people are singing the lyrics back to the artist on stage and their friends. They’re dancing and swaying to the music. It seemed to momentarily create a sense of community, even if it was only for those three and a half hours.
What does the future hold for FEST?
With another year of FEST in the books, Pierce already has ideas for next year. “A goal of mine next year is to spread awareness of the way FEST works,” she said.
Being a program assistant this year was a learning experience for her. In the fall, the FEST committee releases a survey with a variety of artists. The results are then used to gauge what type of artists students are interested in. Pierce said students aren’t aware that the survey isn’t the deciding factor in selecting the artists, it is just one of many components.
In terms of what the next few years have in store for FEST, Pierce said there’s no way to exactly predict the future for this event. One thing she does know is the dedication of the students involved in the production of the event won’t change.
“The assistant team is the heart of FEST’s production, and is something that is continuously evolving and improving,” she said. “This is a huge event and I am always blown away by the incredible work of the team.”