This spring, the college will host its first ever Swatapalooza: a weekend of festivities beginning with the Large Scale Event (LSE) on the night of Friday, May 2 and ending with Worthstock on Sunday, May 4. The LSE, which will take place outdoors in the Science Center Quad, will feature a performance by the DJ duo The White Panda, while Worthstock will occur as an all-day event in Worth Courtyard.
“We wanted to provide a better experience for the student body,” said Aziz Anderson ‘17, a member of the LSE committee, which plans both Worthstock and LSE. “When Worthstock and LSE are on separate weekends, the campus just gets this burst of energy that doesn’t last very long. When the whole weekend is dedicated to big events, though, it amplifies the worth of both events.”
Combining the events into one weekend was also somewhat necessitated by the college’s busy spring calendar, which is dominated by the Swarthmore College Spring Arts Celebration (SCSAC). As a part of the college’s sesquicentennial festivities, SCSAC was extended from its normal length of a weekend to last throughout the month of April. This year, it involves a number of Saturday events, including a Rhythm n’ Motion performance, the Spring Dance Concert, and various recitals in the Lang Performing Arts Center. The LSE committee worried that scheduling the LSE on any of these nights would significantly reduce student attendance.
“By the time the LSE committee came together once the semester started, it seemed like March and May were the only times that worked,” said Mike Elias, student activities coordinator for the college. “When we tried to secure a date, however, March didn’t work with White Panda’s schedule.”
Worthstock, which historically takes place the weekend before reading week, was already scheduled for the weekend of Saturday May 3. Combining both events into this weekend seemed to be the best option across the board for the LSE committee.
“It’s also more efficient to make both events part of one whole weekend in terms of resources,” said Anderson. “There are a lot of things for both events that overlap. If you’re going to buy port-a-potties, stages, sound systems, and food and water for Worthstock and LSE, why not buy them once to use for both events?”
The resource demands for both events are so similar because, for the first time in four years, both Worthstock and LSE will take place outside. After receiving repeated criticism from the student body about the poor sound quality of last year’s LSE in the Lamb-Miller Field House, the LSE committee started exploring new venues, particularly the possibility of having the event outdoors.
“We weren’t sure whether or not the community would want that,” said Elias. “Initially, we talked about having LSE in the amphitheater, but that would ruin the grass for graduation. Finally it came down to Parrish Beach or the Science Center Quad, and we chose the quad because there are a lot more natural boundaries that make facilitating the event easier.”
This was a top priority for the LSE committee, which spends a majority of their time planning the provision of food, water, bathrooms, security, and medical personnel around the quad. According to Elias and members of the committee, this is where a majority of the event’s expenses come from.
“The overall budget for LSE is $60,000, but we’re only paying White Panda $15,000,” said Elias. “The rest of our budget goes to other costs to facilitate the event.”
“People don’t take into consideration the extra money for security, transportation, hotel fees, and backstage hospitality stuff,” said Ryan Greenlaw, who chaired the LSE committee last semester. “The small costs start to really add up and don’t allow you to pay talent.”
Despite budgetary constraints, however, the LSE committee was able to narrow their search down to three performances that they felt the student body would enjoy. When these options were presented in an online Moodle poll, they appeared so compelling that voter turnout within the first four hours of the poll’s operation exceeded that of StuCo’s most recent election.
Between the choices of Breathe Carolina, Joey Bada$$, and The White Panda, The White Panda was the clear winner, with Joey Bada$$ in second and Breathe Carolina in third. Greenlaw explained that instituting the entire voting procedure was an effort by the committee to better reflect the desires of the students.
“Whether or not they voted for White Panda, people can look at the performance and say, ‘This is who the students chose,’” Anderson agreed. “There is definitely a sense of empowerment in that.”
Still, some students were upset with The White Panda’s win.
“I would rather have a kid from Brooklyn come play at Swarthmore College than two engineering majors who don’t know anything about music,” said Louis Lainé ‘16, alluding to the different backgrounds of both artists. “I think Swarthmore is afraid of a different sound. The Moodle vote just gave Swatties the opportunity to choose a musical genre they are already familiar with.”
Lainé’s concerns were echoed by Anderson, who expressed concern that the voting system may not be the best way of choosing performers. While using a Moodle poll increases student involvement in the decision making process, Anderson explained that in his experience, the committee and the student body do not necessarily have the same intentions while choosing a performer.
“As a committee we are thinking about so many other factors than the average voter,” he said. “The average voter might make their decision for any reason — who their friends are voting for or what genre they want — without the interests of the whole campus in mind. The committee is thinking about things like ‘are they worth their cost? Are they a good sound for the community? How will they engage with the community?’”
Lainé also emphasized the importance of the artist truly being a sound for the entire community. He explained that he felt the performance should expose the audience to new ideas, sounds, and experiences to have a more meaningful impact on the community.
“I think its important for Swat to get some sort of new perspective in terms of the music played on campus,” he said. “That’s one of the main reasons Joey Bada$$ should have come. He’s refreshing. His lyrics actually mean something. People are just not familiar with that type of music.”
While the performance by The White Panda may feel like a return to the familiar for some, Swatapalooza represents a significant change to the operations of the college’s spring social calendar. As more details about the festivities of Swatapalooza come to the fore, Anderson urges students above all else to embrace the modifications being made.
“Swatapalooza will be a great event as long as students make it great,” said Anderson. “We’re still at Swat. We’re going to have a really good time.”
I think there’s something incredibly presumptuous in saying that those of us who just want to have a performer that we enjoy need to get a new perspective in terms of the music on campus. Are my musical preferences inadequate for Swarthmore, now? I’m sorry that I don’t live that diversity life! And as for how refreshing he is, well, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.