At least Ben Harper’s not going to Harvard.
On the same weekend Ben Harper and The Innocent Criminals perform at Yale’s Spring Fling, he will headline similar student festivals at the University of Pennsylvania and Brown University. The Yale College Council received Harper’s signed contract March 2 as students headed off for spring break. Days later, Harper and his band posted their spring schedule online, which continues a streak of college visits.
Harper hit Dartmouth College, Wake Forest University and Northwestern University in February. He’ll play at Penn on Friday, April 20, Brown on Saturday and Yale on Sunday. A week later he’ll play at Georgetown and Fairfield universities.
Harper’s band will play at Yale on Old Campus on April 22 as the centerpiece of an annual free day of rides, food and student bands. Past Spring Flings have featured Wyclef Jean, Rusted Root and the Indigo Girls.
Spring concert organizers at Yale and other colleges were unfazed by Harper’s choice to bounce his mix of blues, folk and hip hop from school to school at a whirlwind pace.
“I’m kind of excited to see he’s playing at other schools, which means we didn’t go out on a limb here,” said Matt Dicker, a student who co-chaired Penn’s band search. “If lots of other schools picked him it means he’s popular.”
YCC Treasurer Vidhya Prabhakaran ’03 said the band’s plan makes sense.
“They want to get their names out, and this is the best way to do it,” Prabhakaran said. “They play a lot of music that college kids like. And if [students] haven’t heard of him then here he is.”
Brown student Andrew Fishkoff, the booking chair for Brown Concert Agency, said there is a market for bands on “college tours,” pointing out that Wyclef Jean, Ben Folds Five and the Violent Femmes have also pursued college-heavy tours.
But, Fishkoff said, for most national bands, college tours aren’t lucrative or practical.
“For certain artists it’s just not that attractive to play at colleges,” Fishkoff said. “It’s probably the managers and agents. … It might have to do with the image they’d like portray.”
Or, he added, money may factor in the decisions. Playing at a 10,000 seat stadium for spectators shelling out $40 a seat is simply more lucrative than playing for college festivals.
Still, students at Brown, Penn and Yale have expressed some disappointment with Harper.
In celebration of the University’s tercentennial, the Yale administration helped earlier in the band search and is providing greater funds this year.
The YCC hopes to have $85,000 to spend on Spring Fling, Prabhakaran said. In past years the festival’s budget has been about $45,000.
Yalies had high hopes for this year’s Spring Fling, but the Yale administration’s negotiations with the Dave Matthews Band, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Barenaked Ladies fell through in January.
Harper was a top student choice at Penn, Brown and Yale, Dicker, Fishkoff and Prabhakaran said — and Harper was willing to come.
“We’re lucky that Ben Harper enjoys playing colleges and looking to play colleges,” Dicker said.
Harper burst onto the national scene in 1993 with his album “Welcome to the Cruel World” and became more well-known with his 1999 hit single “Steal My Kisses.”
The musician plays a wide range of music, including political tunes such as “Like a King,” about the Rodney King beating in Los Angeles, and mellow songs like “Burn One Down.” He surprised students at Wake Forest with a cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.”
Harper is releasing a new CD, “Live From Mars,” on March 27, so Yalies will likely get to hear his latest tracks.
The YCC is spending some of this year’s extra funds to get a covered stage in case it rains.