Grace Schafer Perry (first year) had a hard time believing Tierra Whack, her favorite rapper, was playing FallFest until Whack was center stage at the Greek Bowl Oct. 19. The shock Schafer Perry entered when Programming Board (PB) announced Whack as the headliner for their annual fall semester concert would not begin to subside until after the show when Whack hugged Schafer Perry, gifted her a Bop It and started an Instagram group message with her to plan a trip to a haunted house.
Whack’s personality both on and offstage reflected her humility and personable approach to her fanbase. Despite Occidental’s crowd of 1,050, notably large for a typical FallFest, the venue and audience was atypical for Whack. Whack made a lasting impression on Occidental attendees through crowd-surfing (multiple times), chip throwing, singing “Happy Birthday,” climbing stage equipment, bringing a student on stage and staying after the show to greet fans.
Olivia Sweeney Vesty (junior), a PB staff member, said Whack’s energy throughout the set surprised her.
“She seemed really into it,” Sweeney Vesty said. “I know that for artists, this is obviously a very small college. And this is a free concert for the students. And I know that a lot of artists aren’t really as excited about these kinds of shows, so I was really happy with the way she interacted with everyone and made it super entertaining.”
Isabel Geddes (senior), PB manager, echoed the same sentiment in her excitement about Whack’s performance.
“She was super engaging and really enthusiastic about being here,” Geddes said. “It was if she was playing to a huge crowd of thousands of people, even if it was just 1000 of us there cheering her on.”
PB staff member Teagan Jarvis (sophomore) first discovered Whack’s music when it popped up on a Spotify Discover playlist. A self-proclaimed EDM-only music fan, he was surprised by the R&B rapper’s algorithmic entrance into his life and ended up loving her music. Her performance at FallFest also exceeded his expectations.
“She’s legendary,” Jarvis said. “She lives her life. That’s all that matters.”
As a member of PB, Jarvis was also inspired by his observation of a central crowd of about 50 students who knew all the lyrics to Whack’s songs.
“At least 50 people were singing when there was no music,” Jarvis said. “To be able to have that fan base at Oxy and get an artist that many people were interested in without even a general poll, and it worked really well — I was super happy with that.”
Schafer Perry was among those students, only pausing to catch her breath when Whack played her favorite track “Wasteland.”
“I was just screaming the lyrics as loud as I could, losing my voice trying to get her to understand that I knew those damn lyrics,” Schafer Perry said. “Once she played [Wasteland], I think that’s one of the ones where I wasn’t screaming. I was just literally watching in awe.”
Like Schafer Perry, many students were surprised when PB announced Whack would be headlining FallFest. Typically, PB has opted for a smaller venue, production level and artist or DJ at FallFest. This has allowed their annual spring event, SpringFest, to operate at a larger level, pulling headliners such as Joey Bada$$ (2019), Goldlink (2018, although he dropped out and was replaced by Ravyn Lenae), T-Pain (2017), Dom Kennedy (2016) and Snoop Dogg (2015). This year, Geddes shared surprise with the student body when Tierra Whack, a Grammy-nominated artist, was chosen to play at the Greek Bowl.
“THIS SURPRISED US TOO”
The ability to produce a larger concert this fall, according to Geddes, was contingent on additional funding provided by the Institutional Advancement Office (IA) and Associated Students of Occidental College (ASOC), with gifts provided by the Dean’s Office and President’s Office.
“Our approach in the fall has been different [compared to past years],” Geddes said. “We haven’t really asked for a lot of outside funding previously, and this year, we kind of went out on a limb and asked for more funding from different groups around campus, and to my knowledge that hasn’t been done before.”
In addition to seeking out supplementary funds to support a larger concert, Shaneice Warfield, PB adviser and assistant director of student involvement, said PB was approached by IA to increase student focus and participation during Homecoming and Family Weekend. One approach to this was to include FallFest in Homecoming Weekend, which is not normally the case. The funding, according to Geddes, was not secured until 18-20 days prior to the concert, making the planning process shorter than in a typical year.
“I’m excited that we got more creative this year with our funding, I think that was really cool,” Geddes said. “I didn’t think that was possible before. Given our pretty substantial budget already. I kind of felt weird asking for even more money. But I think that the different groups on campus recognize how much the students love these kinds of events.”
According to Monika Moore, director of Alumni and Parent Engagement at Occidental, the decision to parcel FallFest with Homecoming Weekend was made in order to make the event more accessible to alumni.
“It’s an event that draws student and young alumni interest,” Moore said via email. “Our idea was that hosting it as part of Homecoming Weekend would help students feel more connected to the event and perhaps become a tradition — a large scale concert is part of the normal Homecoming program at many institutions. We also hoped, and had success with, the concert drawing in some younger alumni to Homecoming Weekend.”
Moore also said the pairing allowed PB to draw from funds set aside for Homecoming Weekend in order to organize the event.
Like Whack, Warfield is a Philadelphia local. She is also childhood friends with Whack’s longtime manager. Warfield said she was aware Whack would appeal to Occidental’s student body and happily reached out to her personal connections to secure the concert in October.
“Tierra is a very fresh and new artist that caters to the population here and makes sense,” Warfield said. “I literally told him, if I get this job, I need a concert.”
According to Geddes, Whack has been on the ballot before as a potential headliner for the spring concert series. This year, it was important to PB to have a female artist headlining their shows, as this has not occurred often in the past.
“We haven’t done that in as long as I can remember, I think back to Kehlani,” Geddes said. “It’s mostly been men for a long time. So that was definitely a priority.”
FallFest opened with student DJs Henry Thomas (junior) and Henry Shaughnessy (junior) amping up the quickly filling Greek Bowl. It was their first time playing a set for an audience this large, although the two have been DJing together since their first year in Braun Hall. Shaughnessy and Thomas both said the crowd was larger and more engaged than they expected.
“Both of us have been waiting and hoping for an experience like this and we’ve been so happy we got to do something we’ve been fantasizing about for a long time,” Thomas said.
Whack’s set began with her devil-horned DJ blasting anthems from “Hannah Montana,” before Whack took the stage dressed in an all-white sweatsuit with large angel wings, her sweatshirt displaying a picture of her face and the spray-painted words “Rest in Peace Whack.”
Whack entertained the crowd with fan-favorites “Only Child” and “Hungry Hippo,” climbing on stage equipment and jumping off the stage to sing and interact with fans. Behind her, TV screens displayed cartoon Tierra Whack heads morphing to different colored backgrounds. On multiple occasions, Whack and her DJ threw or handed chips and snacks to audience members.
In the beginning of her set, Whack attempted to crowd surf and was sorely disappointed when the crowd failed to hold her up successfully. Later, Ian Van Dusen (senior) made his way onto the hands of crowd members, to which Whack cut off her song and called him out.
“Who is this kid,” Whack said. “Why you drop me but not him? Why is he so special?”
Whack invited Van Dusen on stage, prompting him to remove his socks and shoes, throwing his socks off stage, and requesting him to put his shoes back on. She remarked that she hoped he would get calluses.
Jokes aside, Whack embraced Van Dusen and finished her song while dancing with him on stage. Van Dusen said he did get his socks back and has nothing but love for Whack. Later on, Whack returned to the crowd for a successful crowd surfing moment. Schafer Perry was amongst those holding her up.
“We were like ‘We got you, we’re not going to drop you,'” Schafer Perry said. “And then she crowd surfed on us. So that was one of my favorite moments.”
After the show, Geddes and other PB members witnessed a large group of students stay around the Greek Bowl in hopes of meeting Whack. For safety reasons, PB staff and security guards denied the students’ wishes, but when Whack saw the fans waiting, she told Warfield that she would not turn them away.
“It was really an amazing experience to see. And very humbling, just to see where she’s come from and the gratitude that she’s extended through that interaction with her fans,” Warfield said. “I think that it was extremely gracious of her to do that.”
Schafer Perry, who was among the camped-out students dedicated to meeting Whack, was warmly embraced by Whack and her DJ, who engaged her in conversation and gifted her Almond Breeze, essential oils and a Bop It.
“We talked to her for a solid 15 minutes. She [asked us] how school was, told us we need to finish school, not to start things and not finish them,” Schafer Perry said. “She’s hilarious and a dope a** person. She has so much personality and her music is just unlike literally anything else out there.”
Even after FallFest, Van Dusen’s on stage dance with Whack resonated with the Occidental community.
“A day later, when I ordered at the Green Bean the barista wrote ‘Tierra Whack’s best friend.’ That was pretty cool,” Van Dusen said.
ONTO THE SPRING
PB member Mindy Hoang (sophomore) said she hopes the success in pulling off a larger FallFest will continue in future years. According to Geddes, the higher production of this year’s FallFest should not impact SpringFest’s planning or funding process.
Following goals set out by the 2018–19 PB team, Geddes, Jarvis, Sweeney Vesty and Hoang all said PB aims to include high levels of student involvement and voice in the SpringFest decision making process. Sweeney Vesty said she is interested in exploring genres of artists other than the largely rapper R&B headliners of past SpringFests, while Geddes maintained that the student bodies guess is as good as hers in terms of what to expect from SpringFest 2020.