It is the last Saturday of April and Brown’s campus is awake bright and early. Finals start in a week, but most students aren’t planning on using the extra time to study. In a few hours, the Main Green will be occupied by some of the music industry’s hottest up-and-coming talent. And no one wants to miss it.
Spring Weekend is one of the most highly anticipated events at Brown, but it does not come together overnight. Brown Concert Agency, a student-run board of 17 members, is currently responsible for curating, staffing and running the two-day music festival, which is free for all Brown students. Along with the help of the Student Activities Office, the Undergraduate Finance Board and several other organizations on campus, the club works over the course of the academic year to put on one of the biggest events at Brown.
The event has typically been held on the last Friday and Saturday of April but this year’s Spring Weekend will take place on Saturday, April 29 and Sunday, April 30.
According to Co-Chairs of BCA’s board Ellie Barksdale ’23 and Adi Thatai ’23, the call to not have a Friday concert was made primarily by SAO, but BCA members approved of the decision.
Because BCA could not close down Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center until 4 p.m. on Friday, last year’s set-up was extremely rushed, according to Thatai. The entire stage ended up being built slightly off-center — which caused more crowding on one side than the other — but there had been no time to fix it.
Barksdale also explained that having two daytime concerts will make it much easier to monitor the crowd, allow Brown Emergency Medical Services to find people quickly and get Event Operations workers out at a more reasonable hour. “Nobody’s having fun if they’re feeling unsafe,” she said.
Unlike past years, this spring students will only be allowed to purchase a ticket for one day of the festival when the first batch is released, according to Barksdale.
“Everyone will be able to know that they're going to at least one day of Spring Weekend after the first tickets drop,” she explained.
The second batch will then be released a few days later, once a rain call has been made. “We’ll drop the rest, so everyone can get their second day,” Barksdale said.
“Hopefully, it’ll make people less anxious,” Thatai said, referring to the fact that many students were not able to get tickets until the second batch was released last year. “If we do have to go to rain plan … I would like an event more where everyone can go to it, at least for one day.”
Ultimately, BCA expects that everyone who wants a ticket for both days of the festival will be able to get one. According to Barksdale, they plan to release 6,400 tickets in total, which covers almost the entire undergraduate population. Last year, the club even had a few left over.
‘A lot of different genres, a lot of different kinds of music’: the artist-selection process
According to Barksdale, the process of selecting artists for the festival begins as early as August. BCA works with booking agent Jack Reich — who also works full-time at the Met and the Strand Ballroom and Theatre — to communicate with artists and their agents.
The selection process usually starts out with choosing the festival’s headliners, according to Barksdale. Typically, the club will send Reich a few names of artists they’d like to see perform, and he will come back with a quote, or estimate of how much it’d actually cost to book the artists for Spring Weekend.
“Generally, we get all these quotes and then we say, ‘okay, what aligns most with what we’re trying to do both for this slot and also what it says about the festival as a whole,’” Barksdale said.
After receiving a quote, BCA’s co-chairs bring it to the entire board and open the conversation up for a vote. If the majority of the board is in favor of the artists and potential costs, BCA will create a bid form, which includes the artist’s name, the compensation the club is willing to provide and the date and time of the performance. With SAO’s approval, BCA then sends this form off to Reich, who passes it along to the artist’s agents. Back-and-forth negotiations can sometimes ensue.
“We just keep sending out these bid forms until we get six yeses basically,” Barksdale explained.
BCA has a total budget of $350,000 for selecting the six artists, designated by the Student Activities Fund through UFB, according to Barksdale. “We understand that the University, UFB (and) the student body is trusting us with a lot of money and a big decision,” said Thatai.
The festival overall has a budget of nearly $500,000, according to UFB.
He explained that this money is going directly into the artist’s pocket, helping to build their name and their career. According to Thatai, BCA seeks to support talent that aligns with the values of Brown’s student body.
As with any process, Thatai cited certain strengths and challenges with how BCA selects artists for Spring Weekend. “One thing we’re going to change for next year is trying to speed the process up,” he said. This year, the Spring Weekend line-up is being released a couple weeks later than usual due to the prolonged negotiations that can often occur when trying to finalize contracts with artists.
Barksdale also said that the club can sometimes get bogged down in debate. “We have to navigate wanting all the voices to be heard … with the fact that when you go around in a circle of fifteen people, it takes kind of a while,” she explained.
When it comes to actually choosing the artists who will perform, “a lot of it is (about) what kind of genres we are interested in,” Thatai said. “I think a lot about who’s culturally and musically relevant right now.”
BCA also likes to think of the line-up in the context of a festival, rather than just as a list of big names. “There’s a kind of balance that we’re trying to strike here,” Thatai said. “We’re trying to make Brown students excited about the actual artists that we’re getting. … We also want somebody who’s going to be a good performer and put on a good show for an audience.”
Both Barksdale and Thatai felt that last year’s line-up reflected this balance especially well, in addition to BCA’s general values.
“The shows spoke for themselves,” said Thatai. The artists are all “very forward-thinking in their genres.”
“A lot of us were most proud (of) the fact that five out of six artists were black, nobody was white, we had one cis man but everybody else was a woman,” Barksdale said. “It was the first time we had Afro-beats. It also was the first time we had music in Spanish on the Main Green, which was super exciting for us.”
BCA also aims to introduce Brown students to new artists, Barksdale said, explaining how music by Tems, a member of last year’s line-up, can be heard throughout campus now — in the Sharpe Refectory, at the Nelson Fitness Center and at parties off-campus.
Moving forward, both Barksdale and Thatai said that they would like to figure out how to incorporate more student input into BCA’s general selection process. Thatai suggested creating a collective Spotify Wrapped, which is something that Yale has done recently. Barksdale added that BCA is always open to receiving suggestions via email or direct message.
Both Barksdale and Thatai are extremely excited for the upcoming festival. “We don’t see this year’s Spring Weekend as an isolated event from last year's Spring Weekend,” Thatai said. “We want to make sure those are cohesive events — they make sense together.”
Thatai added that there is something particularly special about holding the festival on what is arguably Brown’s most prominent space on campus.
“Seeing the people dancing, having a good time, letting loose on the Main Green of all places … it’s a really special opportunity,” he said. “It’s a ton of work, but I wouldn't have traded it for anything in the world.”