It’s just before 3 p.m. when I get to Franklin Field on April 17. Most Penn students are in the midst of daytime parties and finishing up classes before heading to the concert in a few hours. For the members of the Social Planning and Events Concerts Committee, their day started at 8:30 a.m.
I walk into the stadium and, for the most part it looks just like any other day at the field. The lacrosse team is running drills on the turf, and a few runners are doing sprints along the track. The one noticeable difference is the giant stage facing the back part of the bleachers — one that will soon host Kesha and Kygo and thousands of Penn students.
Outside the stadium, dozens of students run around lifting bike racks into long lines that, as of yet, make no sense to me. Music drifts out of a small speaker one of the committee members has brought with them while they work. I stand and watch quietly as the production comes together.
My quiet musings are interrupted when one of the committee members comes up and asks abruptly “Sorry, do you mind if we borrow your notebook?”
Within a matter of seconds, they’ve sketched out long rectangles and diagonal lines of the different bleacher sections, marked EE and EC, for both public and Penn. They redo several rows of bike racks without complaint. It’s a long and tedious job, but is essential to making the concert run smoothly.
The whole operation is streamlined with walkie-talkies, clipped to the hips of many of the committee members and all three of the directors.
SPEC Concert Director and Engineering sophomore Kelsey Simet signals over the walkie-talkie that she needs someone to bring her “paper towels and some kind of cleaning product.” Within a matter of seconds, someone produces them.
Simet then sharply turns around and heads back inside to deal with another snag. Opener Kygo has, at the last minute, requested that several more names be added to his VIP guest list.
“Kygo wants to change the names on his guest list now, three and a half hours before doors open,” Simet explains quickly. “It would normally not be a big deal, but we only have a certain number of passes that we print, and it’s hard to add more now.”
She paces around the room, dubbed the “Committee Room” for the purposes of the concert, while calling the woman in charge of printing the original passes. When the woman agrees to print the extra passes right away, Simet lets out a sigh of relief. “You are my guardian angel,” she says gratefully.
The Committee Room is a large, open room, lined with wood paneling and portraits of Penn Athletics alumni. A big table off to the side holds bottles of water, sandwiches and snacks for committee members to eat as they work. Every outlet in the room is stuffed with a phone charger; just like their owners, committee members’ cell phones are dying quickly from the constant messaging and phone calls.
Right across from the Committee Room is another room. The doors have glass panes in them, but my view inside is blocked by a large, black curtain. “That’s Kygo’s dressing room,” one of the committee members in the room informs me. “We wanted to give him some privacy.”
In a clearly well-practiced routine, Simet opens the weather app on her phone, again checking to see when the looming rain will arrive. “Now it’s saying it’s not supposed to rain until six,” she says a bit worriedly. The weather has a lot to do with how they can prepare for the concert, she explains. If it rains, a lot of things will have to be moved indoors.
After taking care of Kygo’s guest list, we head outside, where SPEC Concerts Directors and College seniors Suvadip Choudhury and Billy Ford are coordinating with Penn Athletics staff to clear the stadium before Kesha’s sound check is set to begin at 4 p.m.
With less than three hours until doors to the concert open, there is still a lot of work to be done, but even the directors take a minute to listen to the sound check.
The rest only lasts for a moment before members are back on their feet and aligning even more bike racks. Just as it seems the “bike-racking” process is complete, committee members again head to the field. I follow, only to see Kygo walking onto the field to greet us.
One of the perks of being on SPEC Concerts, Choudhury explains to me, is that you get a meet-and-greet with each of the artists. Kesha’s meet-and-greet was scheduled for 9:15 p.m. that night, just before she would take the stage.
Kygo greets the committee warmly, eagerly posing for both professional group shots and selfies. He happily answers questions about his music and graciously thanks SPEC for being so welcoming to him.
After Kygo retreats to his dressing room, it’s back to work for the committee. They grab signs denoting seating sections and informing concert goers that “NO GLITTER” will be allowed inside the stadium and start taping them to the bike racks. The process is barely complete when the first guests arrive, tickets in hand, waiting for the gates to open.
I sit in the Committee Room watching people line up outside and listening to the walkie-talkies beeping with new messages. I hear Ford ask someone to go pick up dinner for some of Kesha’s staff members. Choudhury asks if anyone has the keys to one of the golf carts. They’re frantic and hurried, but almost always end with “thank you,” again reinforcing how much of a team effort the production really is.
College junior and SPEC Concerts Hospitality sub-chair Neil Gade, who has just returned from fetching Kesha’s lawn chair and confetti poppers, now stands outside Franklin Field, letting Penn students with general admission tickets into the stadium.
“This is when it really all comes together,” he said. “I’m a musician myself, so I’m a huge fan of live music. After months of work, getting to see it all happen like this is really cool.”
Nursing freshman and SPEC Concerts Ticketing sub-chair Joyce Pan, who is also letting people into the concert, agreed. “Today was a really great day to kind of bond with everyone. We’re usually so caught up in our own tasks, that being able to be here all together is really cool,” she said.
I head to the other entrance to the field, where people with floor passes to the concert are entering. One of the committee members has confiscated a Solo cup of glitter from someone and is now sprinkling it on other concert-goers as they walk in.
Graduate advisor to SPEC and Graduate School of Education student Polet Milian watches with me as more and more students flood onto the floor. “On the day of the concert, my job is really just to fill in wherever I’m needed,” she explains. “It’s a great way for me to meet undergrads and kind of stay connected to campus.”
Kygo won’t come on stage for another hour and a half, but dozens of students are already sprinting onto the floor, ready for the show to begin.
As all of the final pieces come together, the committee begins to relax. Kygo walks out to huge applause from the audience and begins his set. With their own badges, some committee members wander around behind or on the side of the stage during his performance. Others choose to enter the floor with their friends.
The show goes off largely without a hitch. Every once in a while, I see someone speaking into a walkie-talkie. MERT comes to assist a girl on the floor at one point. But for the most part, SPEC members get to relax with their peers.
Just before 9:15, Kesha’s dancers descend the staircase, followed by Kesha herself. She greets us warmly, telling us to enjoy the show and takes pictures with everyone. She is especially appreciative of the glitter some committee members have donned in her honor.
Within a matter of minutes, she’s gone, taking the stage to wild cheers.
I stand just in front of the barrier to the floor section. The security guards willingly take students’ phones to take pictures of them. One even lets a little girl, accompanied on the floor with her mother, sit down in front of the barrier to watch.
The concert is over sooner than I expect. Kesha leaves the stage to wild roars from the audience after her encore performance of “Die Young,” and drives her own golf cart back to her dressing room.
At this point, most concert-goers are making their way out of the stadium and on to more parties for the night — but not SPEC. Committee members retreat to the Committee Room, where they divide up into teams to disassemble bike racks, take down signs and clean up the Committee Room and the artists’ dressing rooms.
It’s past 1 a.m. by the time I climb into a golf cart with Choudhury and ride back to Houston Hall, where they drop off any leftover snacks and supplies from the concert.
“This is actually early for us,” Choudhury explains. “I’ve done SPEC Concerts all four years, and the earliest I can remember getting out of here is 2 a.m.”
It wasn’t a conventional way to experience the Fling concert so many of my friends will talk about in the morning. It was exhausting and, at many points, stressful. But if nothing else, it gave me an appreciation for the fact that this concert that thousands of my peers experienced was organized by this small, tight-knit group of the 30 or so SPEC Concerts members.Comments powered by Disqus
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.