In Fling’s plans, surveys ruled

It takes a bit of planning to enjoy Spring Fling. For most Yale students, there are papers to be juggled, an athletic practice to be postponed or an exam against the potential grade on which the prospect of a fun afternoon on Old Campus must be weighed.

But for Yale Student Activities Committee Chair Tom Hsieh ’08 and YSAC’s two Spring Fling co-coordinators, Bobby Gibbs ’10 and Colin Leatherbury ’09, planning began months ago.

“Planning for Spring Fling pretty much started after the Fall Show,” Hsieh said of the marathon organizational task YSAC faces every year in throwing the annual concert.

Students first became aware that preparations were underway in early December, when YSAC distributed a survey meant to discern which genres of music students most wanted to see represented at Spring Fling. The survey presented students with a battery of questions: “Would you prefer a rock or a hip-hop headliner?” “Rank in order (from 1-3, from highest to lowest preference) which of these groups you would like to see the headliner fit into?” “Rank in order (from 1-3, from highest to lowest preference) which of these groups you would like to see an opener fit into?”

YSAC had conducted surveys for previous Flings, but this survey — which grouped artists together based on genre — was new.

“We wanted to look at mainly genres because we wanted to make it a little more general than it has been in years past,” Hsieh said. “Then, we would select different artists and have people vote on which artist they like the most.”

The survey’s results were unequivocal: 64.2 percent of Elis wanted a rock headliner. But, Hsieh said, that finding could have meant many things. Indie, alternative and mainstream ’90s rock all could have fit the bill, he said. It would take a second survey in January to determine which vein of rock students liked most, and in the meantime YSAC regrouped to begin the arduous process of picking which groups to pursue for the April festival.

YSAC initially considered nearly 400 groups, Leatherbury said, poring over their music and schedules before quickly whittling the list to 20 maybes.

“I’d say about 85 percent [of the groups] we ruled out because they were unavailable, either because they were touring or they were recording in studio,” he said. “Of what remained, half were too expensive.”

Using the names from that process, YSAC assembled a second round of polling — this time chock-full of head-to-head artist comparisons. And YSAC split rock into three categories, discovering that ’90s rock topped Indie and pop-rock varieties.

With consumer preferences in mind, YSAC could now go shopping. Backed with a $100,000 budget and production company Pretty Polly Productions to act as middleman, YSAC started going down the list of performers who did well against other bands in the second survey. But the going was tough.

Highly ranked groups like the Goo Goo Dolls and Counting Crows proved impossible to snag: Tour dates on the West Coast combined with high price tags to make booking the groups unfeasible. Other possible headliners dropped off the list for other reasons.

Word of mouth told YSAC members that Rihanna’s live performances were underwhelming, and YSAC members — searching for a performer suitable for the entire University community — expressed concern over Akon’s potentially offensive lyrics. So the Roots — not even listed on the second survey — surged into contention with the backing of a strong wave of grassroots support and a reputation for great live shows.

By mid-February, YSAC had submitted bids for rapper Sean Kingston, the Roots and alternative-rock group Jimmy Eat World. But the negotiations — an auction process in which YSAC set a minimum and maximum price for each artist — dragged on for weeks until the unveiling of Spring Fling’s lineup on April 10.

“It was frustrating in one way because it was basically done but we couldn’t announce it,” Leatherbury said. “You’re waiting, and as you wait there are other artists slipping away so that if the artists we wanted had said no, there would have been no way to select someone else.”

But YSAC waited as University general counsel sorted out the contracts and the signatures finally came through. Now, with the skeleton of the stage on Old Campus already going up, there remain only a few chores before the first chords of openers Harlem Shakes ring out over Old Campus.

One of those is the procurement of “riders,” the quirky lists of food, drink and other items that artists demand before they agree to play. While YSAC officials have said the riders are confidential this year, last year’s included 32 Dasani water bottles and Nutter Butter cookies for rapper T.I., as well as a package of double-stuf Oreos and four peanut-butter protein bars for ’90s rock group Sister Hazel.

Only one major challenge still faces the organizers this year: The National Weather Service forecasts a 50-percent chance of showers on Tuesday afternoon.

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