It’s sunny and beautiful when I arrive at Franklin Field on April 15. While other Penn students are finishing up class and heading to daytime parties by the time I arrive at about 4 p.m., the members of the Social Planning and Events Committee Concerts started their day at 7:30 a.m.
I walk over to the Franklin Field ticket office to pick up my yellow press pass. Other SPEC members also wear their credentials around their necks and sport a uniform of white staff shirts. As I enter the stadium, the field looks just like it would on any other day. Members of the track team are running their sprints and testing their jumps in the long jump sand pit.
But there is a large stage facing the bleachers — one that will host 3LAU and Chance the Rapper tonight. Other students are running around lifting bike racks into long lines in order to “section off areas and direct traffic” SPEC Concerts Director and Engineering junior Kelsey Simet says.
I head back inside and enter a room dubbed the “Committee Room,” a gathering area for SPEC members who are part of the planning process. As the directors pace around, bags of chips are strewn on the tables and empty boxes of Jimmy John’s. The room itself is large with wood panels, a carpeted floor and portraits of Penn Athletics alumni. Just across the hall, I can see a room blocked off by black curtains — 3LAU’s dressing room, a committee member tells me.
“Now is a good time to charge your phone,” Simet announces. Members scramble to find open outlets along the wall, while the lucky ones have portable chargers.
The front door of the Committee Room also has a schedule taped to the front of it. Tasks are divided into 30-minute segments, showing the regimented scheduling and planning that has gone into the concert.
“We’ve mostly been arranging the bike racks since morning,” SPEC member and College freshman Elizabeth Goran says. It is a long and tedious job but essential to streamlining the process.
Some members and all three directors have walkie-talkies clipped to their hips, also essential to make sure the concert runs smoothly.
Just past 4:30 p.m., I file outside with other committee members to see Chance’s sound check. The field is mostly empty now except for SPEC members, and I can hear music blaring from the speakers onstage as The Social Experiment practices. It’s been a long day for members, so some lie down on the turf under the afternoon sun and take a quick power nap. Others start a spontaneous game of football.
“Some of them have been complaining about how tired they are all day — but I guess now they have enough energy to run around catching a football,” Simet jokes, laughing.
Even the directors take a short break, enjoying the clear skies and sunny weather.
“It’s perfect weather for the concert,” SPEC Concerts Director and College senior Spencer Jaffe says. “Last year we were really worried that it was going to rain — luckily it only did for five minutes.”
As everyone enjoys the lighthearted atmosphere, I sit around and chat with a few SPEC members. They describe the artists’ dressing rooms that they helped set up in the morning, and we laugh about the variety of snacks that their hospitality riders demanded. It’s here that I can really see that the close-knit community of the approximately 30 SPEC members is essential to planning the concert.
In the brief moment of respite, the committee members tell stories and reminisce about their year, even bringing up the nicknames they have given each other. Jaffe explains that SPEC members refer to him as “Unicorn.” Simet, Jaffe continues, is known as “Mongoose.” Jaffe does not offer an explanation for the nicknames, but the affection in them is clear.
Soon after, we go back inside to take a quick Zesto dinner break. Piles of pizza boxes are set on top of each other and water bottles are scattered all over the tables.
“The artists will be coming soon so we need to clean up this room and make it look presentable,” Jaffe says, eyeing some scattered wrappers on the floor. Just as everyone gets up to throw his or her trash out, I hear someone excitedly yell, “Billy!”
I watch, confused, as people run over to greet this new person. The directors clasp his hand and give him hugs while other members gather around. My confusion must have shown on my face, since one SPEC member leans over and informs me that 2015 Collection graduate Billy Ford was one of last year’s SPEC Concerts directors.
“We love Billy,” Jaffe says candidly. Other members come up to catch up and talk about his life after college. His popularity among SPEC members is apparent, as I wait a couple of minutes to personally talk to Ford.
“It was the best time of my undergrad life,” Ford says with some nostalgia. “It’s nice to come back and see everything without [having] to worry about logistical things. I’m also excited to see Chance, of course, and it’s great having a hip-hop artist — it’s been a long time coming.”
At 5:50 p.m., as people are finishing up their dinner, SPEC Concerts Director and College junior Paul DiNapoli starts to give ticketing instructions. With just one hour before doors open, there is still more work to be done.
“We’re probably going to have MERT some kids in line,” DiNapoli jokes as he continues to give instructions.
Right after the directors run through ticketing instructions, it’s time for SPEC members to meet 3LAU in his dressing room. “One of the main perks of being in SPEC Concerts is that you get a meet-and-greet with each of the artists,” Goran says.
Press are not allowed into the artists’ dressing rooms, so I wait in the Committee Room and collect my notes. Within a few minutes, the members are back to work.
“What a nice man,” one SPEC member says, laughing. Some of the other members talk about how 3LAU was dressed in all black.
As everyone gets ready for ticketing, Jaffe and some other members talk to me about the different lines — one entrance will specifically be for those who have floor passes and the other will be for general admissions.
“General admissions is honestly hilarious sometimes,” Jaffe says. He pauses for a second, contemplating how to aptly describe the process. Suddenly, the correct analogy comes to mind. “It’s like herding cats made of Jell-O,” he says.
Just past 6:40 p.m., I go to the entrance of the stadium to watch SPEC members get ready for general admissions. They grab signs with seating instructions written on them and line up some bike racks between the set of stairs. The process is barely finished when people start lining up with their tickets in hand, waiting for the doors to open. Although 3LAU won’t come on stage for another hour, dozens of students are ready to sprint into the stadium and claim their seats.
SPEC members continue calling out instructions to entering Penn students about ticketing. “This is for anyone with GA tickets — anyone with floor passes should go to 33rd and Spruce,” one member announces periodically.
Despite the instruction, many students confusedly approach the general admissions line with floor tickets. A group of students attempt to enter the stadium through the left side of the stairs until Jaffe directs them towards the correct line.
“Can we jump this fence,” one person asks jokingly. “It’s a ledge,” Jaffe answers. As I watch their exchange, it is clear that they already know each other.
“It’s already bad enough seeing people confused about the lines,” Jaffe says. “It’s even worse when it’s someone you know.”
Soon after, I head to the other entrance of the field, where people with floor passes to the concert are entering. As I chat with some SPEC members, one couple approaches the entrance. “PennCards and floor passes,” a member says automatically.
The couple admits that only one of them has a PennCard. “But I’m an admitted student,” the girl says. “I can even pull up my acceptance letter.”
The SPEC members look at each other nervously as they discuss the situation. “Do you want to break up true love?” one member asks, jokingly. But in the end, the SPEC members direct the couple to the ticket office, since they are not allowed on the floor without PennCards.
Over at general admissions, Jaffe turns away a student and his younger brother because he was not 18. A few minutes later, the student returns, having left his brother at home.
After that, ticketing goes relatively smoothly as a rush of Penn students arrive just before the concert begins at 8:00 p.m. The committee finally begins to relax as the pieces start to come together, and soon, 3LAU walks on stage to applause from the audience. Some SPEC committee members wander around behind or on the side of the stage during his performance, while others choose to enter the floor with their friends.
The show goes smoothly, with SPEC members occasionally communicating through their walkie-talkies. For committee members, this is their opportunity to finally relax with their friends during the concert.
Just before 9:10 p.m., 3LAU finishes up his show and exits the stage to cheers. As the weather starts to get chilly, the audience starts to leave to take their bathroom breaks and warm up in between sets.
As I walk around, I see MERT escorting a student out of the concert. Another student is sprawled out over a stretcher as MERT members assist him. Otherwise, though, things look calm in between the two sets.
However, at 9:45 p.m., the audience starts to get impatient. It has been more than 30 minutes since 3LAU’s set, and the temperature has sharply dropped. I look up to see most students seated on the bleachers as SPEC committee members on the floor confusedly look at their phones.
“Chance was supposed to be on stage by now,” one member says. Finally, Chance comes on stage at around 10:20 p.m. to ecstatic cheers from the excited audience. For those on the floor, it seemed that Chance had just arrived a little late.
However, for the SPEC directors, the gap between the two artists’ sets posed potentially the biggest challenge in their concert planning process. As Chance announced about an hour later during his set, he had almost cancelled his performance.
During the break, as SPEC members headed towards the Committee Room, they found the doors locked. Through the glass pane, committee members saw a group of administrators and the three SPEC directors.
As the committee members lined up along the hallway, SPEC Vice President and liaison to SPEC Concerts and College junior Spencer Winson came out of the room to direct committee members into 3LAU’s vacated dressing room.
Ten minutes later, members described Simet coming out of the committee room to address the confusion among the members.
“Obviously there are some delays,” Simet said. “Chance is not currently on site — we’re working our asses off.”
After her announcement, Simet sharply turned and headed back into the Committee Room, leaving the rest of the members confused.
For another ten minutes, members speculated on the reasons for Chance’s delay. Some members worried that he cancelled his show, while others hopefully suggested that he could just be stuck in traffic.
Meanwhile, SPEC members received messages from students in the audience questioning the delay. The committee anxiously sat outside the room, waiting for more news from the directors.
At 10:20 p.m., Simet brought good news about the delay. “The eagle has landed,” she said. “Please, everyone go enjoy the f**k out of this show. A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into this.”
As Chance takes the stage to wild cheers, I glance over to the side of the stage and see the three SPEC Concerts directors embrace, relief and pride obvious in their expressions. They had pulled it off.
Enterprise Editor Jessica McDowell contributed reporting.