Arts & Entertainment Editor
Walking into the Welcome Back Concert was something I had not anticipated doing this year. After reviewing last year’s concert featuring A Boogie Wit da Hoodie, I was reluctant to take my chances on Jay Sean and Jay Critch. Comments from last year describing “the entire room [as] a gross mosh pit” are, for obvious reasons, effectively repelling, and adamantly turned me against the mere concept of a Welcome Back Concert. However, given some reconsideration, a complimentary Press Pass from Student Activities, and the company of a friend or two, at 7:30 p.m. I found myself standing in the middle of the field house – slightly skeptical, but admittedly excited.In terms of entry security, this year it was much tighter than it was reported to be last year – security guards separated guests by perceived gender, then looked through coats, bags, and pockets for Juuls, cigarettes, and other disallowed objects and substances. When found, these things were labeled with the owner’s name and student ID number and confiscated until the end of the show. Any type of smoking or vaping was prohibited at the concert, with emphasis on strict enforcement. In addition to hired security, who conducted the initial searches, EMS and Campus Safety had a presence at the show, in order to maximize the safety of the event and address potential emergencies.
Before any music started, many students expressed a sincere excitement for the concert – particularly for the appearance of student performer Izzy and his entourage. These students arrived early in order to catch the entirety of his set, and when asked for their motivation to attend, mentioned Izzy (and various members of his hype team) as their main reasoning. Other students attended in support of their friends involved in CAB, for the vibe and atmosphere of live music, out of pure boredom, and to simply have a good time, courtesy of music and entertainment at an affordable price. There were also plenty of fans of both Jay Critch and Jay Sean in the audience, who buzzed with excitement in anticipation of the show. Meanwhile, my curiosity – and appreciation – grew in regard to the concert as I learned more and more about everything that goes into preparing and executing the event: it was certainly impressive standing in the midst of this operation in motion. The Office of Student Activities, particularly Chad Freeman and the Concert Advisory Committee, all collaborate with people like Brett Pasternak, who assists in booking artists for gigs here at the Colleges, in order to find the right person to put on the show each year.
As Freeman informed me, an entire system of variables goes into selecting an artist, including surveys, availability, show quality, price range, name recognition, dates, and reliability, among other factors. Out of this year’s contenders, Jay Sean and Jay Critch best fit the criteria, with fantastic reviews to back them up. In terms of actually putting on the show, there are venues to reserve, staff and volunteers to hire and coordinate, production companies to work with, contracts to write, and sets to build, all of which are handled by either Freeman or the Concert Advisory Committee.Keeping all the inner workings of this show in mind, it was easy to dismiss a few minutes of wait time before any inkling of live music began. But patience was dropping steadily as one to two extra songs streamed from online turned into a 30-, then 40-, then 50-minute wait. After standing for nearly an hour, many students expressed a growing disinterest towards the concert, but remained in order to see Izzy perform. There was a visible indifference, even towards the student performers, in the first few minutes of their set, but the enthusiasm picked back up as Izzy’s set progressed. At 9:20 p.m., after performing twice as long as originally intended, Izzy left the stage as audience members left the building. On their way out, numerous students mentioned that they had only attended the concert to see Izzy, while others left for other social events they had planned for the evening – after all, it was nearly 9:30 p.m., and the concert’s estimated end time was originally 9:40 or 9:50 p.m..
By 9:37 p.m., a portion of the audience had sat down in front of the stage, after having stood around for at least an hour waiting. Rumors circulated that the meet and greet with Jay Sean was moved from the beginning of the show until the end, and as more people left the building, the remaining population wondered what the fate of the rest of the show would be. Staff standing at the door estimated that around 10 to 15 percent of the crowd had left so far, frustrated, hungry, impatient, and rife with growing disinterest. Perhaps even more upset was the crew of people who had planned the concert, now faced with a complicated dilemma.According to Chad Freeman, Jay Sean arrived at the Colleges on time, and ready to go – his DJ did a sound check with the stage management team, and he was excited to perform for an audience of more than 500 students. However, Jay Critch had not yet arrived, and was hired as the opener for the event. While he and his crew were contracted to arrive at 6 p.m., an unclear delay kept pushing his estimated time of arrival later and later. While Jay Critch and his team were busy driving to HWS from Brooklyn, Jay Sean was asked to go on earlier in order to resolve the time-related conflict, as the audience was visibly aggravated. But Jay Sean was contracted as the headliner for the show, not the opener, and expressed his desire to close the show to an understanding concert crew. As Freeman told the Herald, the artist eventually settled on a compromise, agreeing to go onstage at 9:30 p.m. should Jay Critch not arrive by then … but by 9:45 p.m., no live music had come on, and the concert should have already ended. The audience kept getting smaller as students trickled out of the building, and Jay Critch eventually trickled in – at 9:54 p.m. It wasn’t until 9:50 p.m. that Jay Sean emerged from backstage, and was greeted with a newly excited audience, who quickly became more fun and energetic as the one-hour set progressed. Students thoroughly enjoyed the performance, singing along to his hit single “Down” both times it was played, cheering when he and his DJ swapped roles, and generally having a good time. Of those who stayed for his set, the majority of students and staff agreed that the fun and the enjoyment were worth the wait. As HWS Sustainability Manager Michael Amadori put it, “the concert is what you make it – if you’re here to have fun, you can have fun.”
Jay Sean wrapped up his set by 10:44 p.m. and proceeded to conduct his meet and greet, while some students left, and other students came back, or were just arriving, after hearing rumors that Jay Critch had arrived. However, at this point, most people not involved behind the scenes weren’t really sure what was going to happen. Three to four rows of dedicated audience members persisted, eager to see Jay Critch – and at 11:07 p.m., nearly an hour and a half after the concert was scheduled to end, Critch emerged from backstage and proceeded to perform.
With only a small crowd in front of me and a press pass in my hand, I was able to get pretty close to both Jay Sean and Jay Critch while they were singing and/or rapping. While I was annoyed, and moderately angry, that their lateness had impeded on time I hadn’t planned on spending at the concert, my proximity to them had a humanizing effect that I didn’t expect. Up close, where you can hear their voices before they are amplified by a microphone, where you can see the fine details of their costumes and the wires of their ear pieces, where you can see beads of sweat condensing on their brows, it’s difficult to not perceive them as mutually human. As Chad Freeman noted, when scheduling and planning events like this, despite their caliber, it boils down to collaborating with other people, to whom unplanned things inevitably happen. Planes get delayed, natural disasters happen; bad weather, bad traffic, and the simple circumstance known as running late are all realities faced by everyone, regardless of status or profession. Yes, I was irritated by having to spend two additional hours waiting for the music to play. Yes, a lot of people left for that same reason – but a lot of people stayed. The concert ended at 11:45 p.m., and there was an audience until the final beat. Why? I’ll be the first to admit that despite the annoyance and the inconvenience, ultimately the Welcome Back Concert was actually fun.