In February, Tim Ernst ’03 and about 10 other guys piled in a car and headed up to Dartmouth College’s Winter Carnival.
A few members of the fun-seeking group had Dartmouth friends. A few just came along for the ride. They thought they’d see a party like none other before, a sort of Animal House free-for-all.
There were tons of fraternity parties, Ernst said. At one, drunken partiers skidded over ice to clear rows of kegs.
This was Dartmouth’s go at a student festival. The college hosts four student festivals each year, and the Winter Carnival is one of its most prominent. Students even get a day off from classes to enjoy the party weekend.
How could this not be great? Ernst’s group had high expectations. But, in the end, they were disappointed.
“We were kind of happy to get out of there,” Ernst said. “Yale is not lacking.”
The Yale College Council’s Spring Fling, an annual, free event for students that lasts one day at the end of classes each year, is often criticized as too small. The council usually has about $45,000 to work with, but this tercentennial year the budget is about $85,000, most of which is from the President’s fund.
A quick trip around Ivy campuses each spring reveals that many schools have similarly sized events.
While Yale’s spring festival is not the biggest in the Ivy League, it is not the smallest either.
Brown and Penn hold the two largest events. Both last several days, include several events and charge for admission.
“Over the course of the weekend we’ll see about 20,000 people,” said Christina Chieu, co-director of Penn’s event. “We’ve just always had this tradition. We want it to be huge. We want this to be the best.”
The event begins at 10 a.m. Friday with venders and booths, and includes a Friday night concert. It continues Saturday with a daytime concert and ends with an evening carnival. In the course of the weekend, more than 30 bands — including ’80s star “Tiffany” — will perform.
“We get submissions from all over the East Coast,” Chieu said, adding that about 200 bands applied to play this year. “Some bands are coming in from Maryland, New York, etc.”
Students pay $15 to attend the main Friday night concert, which will feature Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals this year. Non-Penn students pay slightly higher prices to attend.
The entire event is paid for with ticket sales. Chieu said students don’t mind paying for tickets, which she said are still a bargain for the number of bands playing.
The same April weekend as Penn and Yale’s festivals — April 20-22 — Brown will hold its own bash, which Brown students say is the biggest Ivy festival.
The festival features two concerts, one Thursday night and one Saturday night. This year, They Might Be Giants, Jurassic-5, Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals will play, according to the Brown Daily Herald.
Andrew Fishkoff, the booking chair for Brown Concert Agency, said his group spends well over $100,000 to bring multiple bands to campus for this event. Most of the money is supplied by ticket sales.
Yale has traditionally not charged for its spring festival, largely because charging people to enter Old Campus would be impractical, Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg said.
YCC President Libby Smiley ’02 said not charging is also a philosophical choice.
“I love the idea [to] have something available for all,” Smiley said.
But charging admission is not out of the question. Trachtenberg said the Yale Bowl would not work as a concert venue, but that the New Haven Coliseum might be an option. A larger venue such as the Coliseum could hold more people and welcome bigger name bands, such as The Dave Matthews Band. DMB pointed out Yale’s lack of inside concert space as a primary reason for their refusal to come this year.
“If there were a widespread movement across campus where everyone wanted to give the YCC two dollars, then –” Smiley said. “But I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
Harvard recently decided to hold its spring concert months before the spring festival and to charge admission to that concert, which now features bigger name bands.
“We could never afford really top-notch professional bands for Springfest,” said Paul Gusmorino, Harvard’s Undergraduate Council’s president. “Last year it was Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, and the year before it was the Violent Femmes.”
This year, Harvard’s spring festival will include only student bands, rides and food.
But, in February, the new Harvard Concert Commission charged for tickets and brought in the Roots and the Black-Eyed Peas.
Changes like Harvard’s are common. Spring festival organizers said they are constantly discussing ways to improve their events.
Princeton and Dartmouth organizers quickly admitted that their events are not very big.
“Ours is probably on the small side,” said Joe Kochan, president of Princeton’s Undergraduate Student Government. “We have a couple of events that we’re always competing with.”
This year, Kochan said his group is trying to combine the event — which he said is really just a concert — with Communiversity day, a day of community service at many Ivy schools.
Princeton’s student government brings in a band or a comedian twice a year and usually charges for one of the events. A few weeks after the concert, a campus-wide picnic is held.
At Dartmouth, the spring festival is overshadowed by large fall and winter events, organizers said. The festival includes fraternity parties, a formal and a lawn party thrown by Alpha Delta, which usually features a band from Boston.
Columbia’s festival falls somewhere in between the bashes at Brown, Penn, Yale and the other Ivy schools’ low-key picnics. Columbia’s weeklong string of events includes eating contests, midnight dodge ball, a dance party in a pool of foam, smaller concerts and a big-name band. Students do not buy tickets to the events. Ariel Neuman, Columbia’s student council president, said selling tickets would allow them to bring in bigger bands.
But, Neuman said, Columbia students already pay for the event through a student activity fee each semester. Several schools, including Dartmouth, have these fees, which are usually around $100.
Years ago, Yale charged students explicitly for student activities. Now, a similar sort of fee is folded into the Yale tuition, Trachtenberg said. But this money from students’ tuitions goes largely to the residential colleges for social events.
The YCC’s Spring Fling does not receive a substantial amount of money from student tuitions. Without charging for admission to the event, Spring Fling can only be so big. Thus it is that Yalies head off to Brown’s and Penn’s huge festivals and then complain about Yale’s “small” festival, and Yalies visiting other Ivies come back praising Yale’s “blow-out.” The reality is that Yale’s festival falls somewhere right in the middle.