Open a new tab, type “Spring Fling” into the search bar, and press return. What you’re likely to see isn’t Penn Park or Franklin Field; instead, there are panoramic photos of students jumping into crowds of bodies and what can be considered a mosh pit occupying the now serene Quad green. If you’re a current student at the University, this experience may have enticed you, but it was never offered.
Spring Fling uprooted itself and settled down on the edge of campus, Penn Park. If you tried to stroll in during the first few hours last year, you were probably first met by the intimidating line, and if you managed to wait that part out, you would reach the jackpot: a muddy meadow dotted with a few vendors and an alarming amount of Monster Energy being handed out. Siphon through the obvious questions if you would like: (1) Were there chairs — no; (2) Was there shade — excluding the street overpass, no; (3) Was the setup helpful for performing artists — no. Spring Fling had a logistical, obvious issue, and it's time to fix it.
To understand what went wrong, we first need to address how the largest student-run festival on the East Coast lost its way. In 2018, the Quad was abandoned by the Social Planning and Events Committee in an attempt to reinvigorate the festival following issues with attendance. Fearing security concerns and general issues with the Quad venue space, SPEC made the rash decision to start from scratch somewhere else, but the change of locale stripped Fling of its playfulness and appeal.
No one wants to stand in a flat, fairly sparse field while watching musical entertainment because half of the entertainment is the crowd itself. Without the close quarters of the Quad’s antiquated aesthetic, Fling downgraded from Woodstock ‘69 to Woodstock ‘99 — or some sort of Fyre Festival. The one event that enticed people from every corner of Penn into the Quad was effectively nerfed, but was it for good reason?
The green space lying directly in front of McClelland is much smaller than Penn Park, and its borders are much more rigid. Furthermore, the issues of line queues and bathrooms stick out as crucial Quad counterpoints. The University’s frequent property damage bills from Fling weekend also pressed SPEC to find a new solution. To end festival mishaps and troubles in the Quad, the event relocated. COVID-19 and space constraints were not at fault.
I would not call the Quad a perfect location by any means, but it is a historic stomping ground that used to undergo a drastic, almost freeing transformation each April. Also, the issues attributed to the Quad could be solved by simply shifting a few policies. Queue lines could zig zag throughout the upper Quad and south gate entrance green. Maybe vendors could sell snacks to those waiting in line. Bathrooms could be made more accessible to upper-level students, and security could always be ramped up to prevent property damage or theft. A change of location was not a fix but a dampener on Penn’s one chance to act up amid each year of academia.
The only benefit I can spot in Penn Park is the lack of property to be damaged. 2022’s Spring Fling tried to distract its overworked socialites and exploratory partygoers with free, mass-produced food, but all the crowd could see was a school-sanctioned event with too much money invested in the wrong places. Stripped of the messy culture traditionally surrounding the event, Fling tried to distract its attendees with boba, popsicles, and even a bounce house. I say that we should want more than handouts; we need an experience.
Even if you would rather stand in a field adjacent to the expressway, at least sympathize with the student performers who want to play in a smaller space with a more condensed audience. The noise pollution and lack of a fan base can dampen any performance. It’s time we get that back.
Current Penn students have been stripped of a core memory: watching their friends, classmates, and semi-famous musicians perform in the right venue. It is time for this year’s Spring Fling to return to its rightful niche on Penn’s campus, and I hope those organizing the event can see the same.
C.H. Henry is a College sophomore studying communications and theater arts from Nashville, Tenn. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.