“Ever wished we had a campus wide concert series? Perhaps a ‘Coachella’ or ‘Sun God’?” read the Facebook event description for BearFest, a festival organized by ASUC executives and SUPERB that was to be the Thursday before spring break. Although BearFest had plenty of enjoyable moments, its logistics definitely need some tweaking in the future for it to fall into the same category as the music festivals mentioned.
BearFest started off pleasantly. There was a modest but steady stream of students milling about on Lower Sproul in the pleasant late afternoon air. They hopped on the Dance Dance Revolution machine and snacked on burgers and lemonade. There was minigolf and a long inflatable where you tethered yourself to one side and ran as far as you could to the other. The DJs played an assortment of insipid EDM at the outset but thankfully transitioned to deep house and rap songs such as “Jumpman.”
Toward 6:30 p.m., someone announced over the loudspeaker that performances would start in Pauley Ballroom. Inside the vast ballroom, a small crowd was gathered for the opener, San Jose rapper/producer Rey Resureccion. His rhymes had flair and substance, and he brought solid production, flow and energy. It was a reminder of how many talented rappers and musicians are out there who have yet to find a big break. Next, Sleepy Tom, a Vancouver producer signed to Fool’s Gold Records, stationed himself behind a turntable setup. He started off with some hip hop and then began playing his own brand of upbeat dance music, and the crowd slowly grew.
After a long wait, headliner Isaiah Rashad — clad in sweats, socks and Birkenstocks — thundered onto the stage and straight into the aggressive boom bap of “Soliloquy,” a song off of his 2014 TDE debut Cilvia Demo. After a couple more songs off that mixtape, the Chattanooga rapper started freestyling without a backing beat, the first of three times he’d do so over the course of the concert. These freestyles, like his recorded music, zigzagged through addiction, masculinity and depression. Given the self-doubt that bleeds from his music through lines like “And I been asking questions, where the love? / And they don’t give me answers, just a check,” Rashad seemed completely at ease on stage, joking and exchanging high-fives with the crowd.
The spacey thump of “Banana” was a hit with the crowd, and Rashad sang its chorus a cappella twice after the song, affirming his musicality despite a croaky singing voice (which could have to do with his well-documented blunt consumption). After this, his DJ spun Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” and a couple of other songs that set off the crowd and left Rashad dancing on stage. Toward the end of his set, he tore through some popular cuts such as “Heavenly Father” and “Modest.” But “Shot U Down,” the last song of his set and the one that brought him fame, had the crowd undulating and chanting the lyrics by heart more than any previous song.
After Rashad’s DJ played some crowd-pleasing tunes, an announcement was made that there would be DJ sets until midnight in the Tilden Room on the Student Union’s fifth floor. But a fundamental flaw was revealed in BearFest when the organizers opted to cancel the sets after only a few students showed up. They could possibly have avoided this if they put a headliner in Tilden or if students were somehow more strongly persuaded to move from one space to another. But most music festivals take place on one massive field; this lends them a cohesion that BearFest did not have. Even though all of BearFest happened in and around the Student Union, having to take elevators and flights of stairs and move from outside to inside created inertia and disrupted the event. BearFest definitely has a lot of potential that could be realized in future iterations of the event but only if organizers relocated it to a different space on campus.