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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Town hall presents proposed folk festival to student body

Published: November 9, 2012
Section: Featured, News

Fifty years ago, Bob Dylan performed at Brandeis, just two weeks before his second album was released, and as Jesse Manning ’13 says, it was “when he became Bob Dylan as we know him.” A recording of the 1963 Brandeis concert was discovered and released only two years ago, which inspired Manning and Alex Pilger ’13 to try to get Dylan back to campus for a 50-year reunion.

If Brandeis administrators support it, the 50th Anniversary Brandeis Folk Festival would bring Dylan back to Brandeis on April 27, the day before Brandeis’ annual Springfest. They plan for Saturday to “be a full-fledged music festival,” said Manning, with two stages and Bob Dylan headlining and capping-off the day. On Sunday, says Manning, “Springfest is as you imagine it.”

“For the past year, we’ve been meeting with everyone, everywhere,” Pilger said. The administration has been positive about the venture and faculty have offered their own support. According to Pilger, however, “the university is cautiously pessimistic.”

After multiple drafts of a business plan, repeatedly narrowed in scope at the request of the administration, any possible stipulation has been covered, organizers say. The current draft of the plan, according to Mikey Zonenashvili, “accounts for every possible cost.” While the administration has not yet given them the go-ahead, the organizers brought the idea to the student body Wednesday in a town hall meeting, where they presented the benefits and risks and asked for student input.

Despite unfavorable weather, a relatively large number of students came to listen to Manning, Pilger and Zonenashvili, as well as Student Union President Todd Kirkland and Student Events members Rachel Nelson and SuWei Chi, who are helping to move the plan forward.

After the positive reaction of the student body, all the organizers now need is a queue from the administration. “A go-ahead wouldn’t mean we would do more thinking,” Zonenashvili said. “It would mean full-steam ahead,” Manning said.

“We want to balance the context of the event,” Zonenashvili said. “Not just cashing in on history.”

The students are working with Jay Sweet, Editor of PASTE Magazine and Producer of the Newport Folk Festival, to bring Dylan to campus. Sweet has already been hired by the university, and, Zonenashvili said, can offset the price of bands by approximately half through his connections.

Manning originally reached out to Dylan’s agents in April and then Sweet made a professional offer later.

Many students doubt whether the administration will allow the plan to proceed.

“I’d really like it to happen, but especially from the university’s perspective, the risks outweigh the benefits,” Jake Altholz ’15 said.

Manning disagrees, though he understands why administrators might be reticent to commit to such a large festival.

Senator-at-large Theodore Choi ’13 believes it is in the best interest of Brandeis to allow the Folk Festival to happen. “If they’re thinking in their right minds, they’ll bring him … The university needs to do something to get its name out there.”

“One of their main concerns is they’re going from square-two to square-10,” Manning said. He says that because Brandeis has not had an event of this size for more than a decade, some are concerned that Brandeis is not equipped for the volume of crowds.

The festival would bring a vast number of outside people onto campus, which Manning, Pilger and Zonenashvili concede could make some nervous. “There definitely will be people who will be against having outside people,” Zonenashvili said.

The organizers believe, however, that they have covered every possibility, including extra ambulances, tents, tables, chairs and handicap access. They have reached out to Waltham vendors to supply to both the Folk Festival and Springfest the following day. “There could not be anything left that could possibly go wrong,” Mikey Zonenashvili ’13 said.

Springfest, while technically an open event, typically attracts most Brandeis students. The projection for the Folk Festival, according to Manning, is a 4,300-person crowd, plus approximately 2,000 Brandeis students. The Folk Festival, organizers said, would allow Springfest to pull in larger acts, which students were asked to vote on during the town hall.

Springfest, on the second day, would not be advertised, and would have a smaller audience.

With an increased audience anticpated, student organizers have already taken precautionary plans. The costs presented to administration include metal detectors and security.

“We want to make this a family-friendly event,” he said. Zonenashvili notes that the soccer and club sports field, where they hope to hold both the Folk Festival with two stages and Springfest with one, is more than enough space for the projected audience. “We want people to have enough space to sprawl out. Bring blankets and lawn chairs.”

Manning points out that Bob Dylan is “not a dangerous demographic.”

“We’ve over-accommodated for the amount of space we have and overestimated the amount of people,” Zonenashvili said.

The administration has asked for projected costs for every aspect of the festival, which the organizers then presented. While exact numbers have not been given to the student body, according to Pilger, “all of the budget is offset by ticket sales.”

Tickets to non-Brandeis students would sell for approximately $100, which is on the low side for Dylan, who sold out a similar venue to Brandeis last year for closer to $180 a ticket. “The university is putting this money forward in hopes they make it back,” Zonenashvili said.

In the business plan, Zonenashvili assures that all of the costs were more than accounted for, and the organizers purposely underestimated the income, which still covered all the costs put forward by the University.

“This is a student-driven event,” Manning said. “It shows that students can still do something here.”