The Daily Northwestern

Mayfest picks measure up to peer schools, but do they fit our taste?

Sammy Caiola, Reporter

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I set out this week to write a column about how Mayfest failed us for Dillo Day and how all our peer universities get better headliners than us. But to my journalistic chagrin, I found my assumption to be mostly untrue.

College concert commissions at our peer institutions seem to be drawing talent, for the most part, from the same pool. For their annual Summer Breeze music festival, our neighbors at the University of Chicago recruited hip-hop artist Nelly, our 2010 Dillo headliner, and Lunice, the Canadian DJ who fills the penultimate slot in this year’s line-up. Duke University snagged Steve Aoki, last year’s Dillo headliner, for its annual Last Day of Classes concert, along with rap artist Kendrick Lamar, who also played the last act at Brown University’s Spring Weekend this year. So basically, it’s just a big incestuous kiddy pool of B-status rap/hip-hop artists with rock group the Dirty Projectors sprinkled in once in a while.

In general, Dillo holds its own compared to other festivals. At least it’s free, unlike Summer Breeze, which charges a $20 cover for students and a $25 cover for staff. Our acquisition of trending indie rock band Walk The Moon was an impressive feat that has me super-jazzed for the afternoon, rain or shine. A little “Anna Sun,” some nostalgic head-banging to Smash Mouth’s “All-Star” and a pit stop at Cheesie’s Pub & Grub will make me a happy camper. But I feel like it could end there.

What confuses me about Mayfest is not its failure to acquire decent-caliber artists, but its failure to cater to campus taste. Perhaps I run in crowds that are not representative of the undergraduate student body, but no one I have talked to is excited about Danny Brown or Lunice. With the $176,300 Associated Student Government allotted Mayfest for the 2012-13 school year, I don’t expect anything more high-profile than the current selection. I do, however, expect a greater concentration of artists within the genres we actually listen to. In the fall, when A&O Productions put up the big pieces of paper for suggesting guest artists, I remember seeing names such as “Of Monsters and Men,” “Young the Giant” and “Mumford & Sons.” Most conversations I have about music tend toward the rock/pop/indie/folk genre rather than the rap/hip-hop genre. That said, there are more than 8,000 undergraduates at this school and I’ve spoken with maybe 200 of them, 90 percent of whom live on South Campus. So if Mayfest officials are having trouble pinning down our music taste, I can’t exactly blame them.

Still, I can’t help but seethe with envy when I read the artists acquired by Cornell University’s concert commission the past two years, including but not limited to: Jeff Mangum (Neutral Milk Hotel), Cat Power, Motion City Soundtrack, Janelle Monae and Andrew Bird. And Washington University in St. Louis got Macklemore. Think about that for a minute.

Point being — we shouldn’t have to Google or YouTube every Dillo band that gets announced because we’ve never heard of them. We should be doing a better job of gauging and accounting for campus taste and getting students the artists that are on their iPods, not just the random dubstep they’ve heard at The Keg.

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