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Forty-four years after Penn's first Spring Fling, Quakers will once again gather in the Quad to bond with their classmates over carnival activities and musical acts.

Photo: File Photo / The Daily Pennsylvanian

When this year’s Spring Fling performers — Zedd and Tinashe — arrive at Penn, they’ll be carrying on a tradition that started 44 years ago, when Penn saw its very first Fling.

Spring Fling has its roots in Skimmer Day, previously known as Callow Day — a festival to celebrate Penn’s rowing team. After Skimmer Day was suspended in 1963 due to alcohol policy violations, Spring Fling was first held 10 years later as a spiritual successor to the carnival.

Spring of 1973 saw not only the first Spring Fling, but the first handheld cellular call, the opening of the World Trade Center and the rise of the Watergate scandal. Songs like “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree” by Tony Orlando and Dawn dominated the Billboard charts, along with “Time” by Pink Floyd, who had just released their award-winning album, “The Dark Side of the Moon.” The year would also see the release of songs like Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind,” Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” and Aerosmith’s “Dream On.”

“The Grateful Dead was very big then ... it was just blasted all the time around campus,” 1977 College graduate Cynthia Orr said. “Everyone was so into music at that point ... back then bands were really, really important, so I think people very much enjoyed having music there.”

Orr ended up having a surprisingly large role in Fling as a College freshman in 1974. Knowing that she drove a Volkswagen van, a friend who had helped book the year’s band, Aztec Two-Step, asked her to pick them up from the airport. That wasn’t Orr’s only contribution — as a classically trained flutist, she was invited to help open for the band.

“Another friend was an incredibly talented bass guitar player, and he was asked to play as the opener,” Orr said. “And he asked me to improvise jazz, which ... I had no idea how to do it, but he was desperate and wanted someone.”

Orr said the performance was the “most embarrassed [she] had ever been in [her] whole life, because [she] did a horrible job.”

She added with a laugh that the members of Aztec Two-Step told her “something along the lines of, ‘Don’t quit your day job.’”

The first official large concert was held in 1976, starring blues artist Taj Mahal. Not everyone was thrilled; in a letter to the editor published in The Daily Pennsylvanian, three Wharton students complained that the performance was “lackluster,” saying that they would “like to see a band of better quality regardless of national experience.”

The same editorial reveals that there is another Fling tradition with deep roots: drinking. The authors praised the event as the “Penultimate experience,” spent “in a state of euphoric drunken stupor.” Another DP article from 1979 notes that one band’s choice of the Byrds song “Eight Miles High” was “particularly appropriate for the Fling crowd, who employed mass quantities of alcohol, whippets, and weed to augment their enjoyment of the proceedings.”

In 1988, a new policy was enacted banning the consumption of drugs and alcohol on school grounds. From 1990, the University began checking students who entered the Quadrangle, warning that no students — regardless of age — would be permitted to bring alcohol into the Quad. While a task force appointed by the provost considered lifting the ban on alcohol in 1999, the committee eventually decided against modifying or lifting the ban.

This stricter policy may have been motivated in part by the events of the 1988 Spring Fling, which led to nearly $7,000 of damage in the Quad. After a last-minute concert cancellation due to rain, students rushed into Irvine Auditorium to watch an “air band” competition, causing a stampede which led to the hospitalization of a security guard.

The air band competition was first spearheaded in 1984 — another year where Fling was marked with trouble. Just before the event, the headliner act English band Madness dropped out, sending the Social Planning Events Committee scrambling.

“There wasn’t anything we could do and we had to quickly try to come up with alternative headline entertainment, which was really crazy,” 1984 College graduate and co-chair of the 1984 Spring Fling Committee Lori Landew said.

“[But] it ended up being a blessing in surprise because we moved the show that year out of the Palestra,” she said. “[We] got a great more local act to perform, we did it outside in the Quad — and it actually ended up being a lot better than it would have been in the Palestra.”

Landew went on to co-chair the Spring Fling Committee after attending Fling her freshman year, when she enjoyed the experience so much that she became involved in the planning committee the following years. It quickly became a huge part of her life at Penn.

“People ... would decorate the tops of their graduation caps so their parents or friends could locate them and figure out who they were,” Landew said. “Because I was so connected to Spring Fling ... I decided that I would identify myself through that as Ms. Fling.”

Landew and her co-organizers worked throughout the year to get together volunteers and plan logistics. Spreading information was very different back in the 1980s, she said.

“There was no social media, there was no Internet, no email — so it was not easy to get people on the same page,” she explained. Landew said that they relied on placing flyers into mailboxes and marketing the concert on Locust Walk as a “more grassroots outreach” strategy.

Despite these challenges, Landew remembers Fling fondly.

“It was definitely something people looked forward too, and it was a great break from everything else that was going on and before you had to get into a mindset for finishing out the school year,” she explained.

It’s been over 30 years since Landew graduated, and Spring Fling has seen many changes: the show this year will take place at Penn Park, a change from previous years where students packed into Franklin Field, Wynn Commons or Hill Field. Yet, much like in 1984, SPEC hopes that the change in venue will help the atmosphere of the concert by making it easier for concertgoers to move around freely.

“Penn park and the open area of venue is definitely more festival-[like],” College senior and Social Planning and Events Committee Concerts Co-Chair Andrew Klimaszewski said. “It’s a more enjoyable experience than being squished in the stands.”

Despite the many changes, Klimaszewski says he thinks Spring Fling plays the same kind of role today as it did so many decades ago.

“Spring Fling as a weekend is a celebration of the year at Penn,” he said. “You can really enjoy yourself before the end of the semester and the end of the school year happens ... It’s a really great way just to kind of not think about everything else at Penn during that weekend.”

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