Emily Mester ’14 talks about her experiences with the Student Government Association’s Concerts Committee.
Last July, I paid eight hours worth of wages for a ticket to Chicago’s Pitchfork Music Festival, where I stood 100 feet from the stage in a huge, sweaty crowd of hundreds to see one of my favorite rap acts, Das Racist.
This spring, I met the band, watched them perform five feet away from me in Gardner Lounge, and got paid to work hospitality. It was pretty incredible, and made possible by the Grinnell Concerts Committee.
Take a look at acts they have hosted in the past few years and more recently. This impressive roster was a major factor in my decision to come to Grinnell. In two years, I’ve seen more than 60 artists play on campus, including Best Coast, Deer Tick, and Dan Deacon. Each show was free and organized at every stage, from booking to load out, by Grinnell students.
This degree of autonomy for a college concerts committee “is very rare,” says Pooj Padmaraj ’13, the 2011–12 Concerts Committee chair. At other schools, “most of it is done by an administrator who books massive shows … whereas [at Grinnell] you’re basically running a small venue.”
The committee organizes shows at its weekly meetings, open to all students. There, the committee assigns jobs for upcoming shows, gives feedback on recent ones, and talks about acts the members want to book for the next semester. The chair then contacts agents and books bands whose cost and schedules work with Grinnell’s. On the day of a show, students load the equipment in and out of Gardner, set it all up, provide hospitality for the band, and work sound and lights.
What makes big acts like Das Racist want to come to a small college in the middle of Iowa? The Grinnell Concerts name. According to Padmaraj, "Every show that [the committee] has presents what Grinnell is, and you’re the point of contact this band has with the school … You booked people, you brought them, you dealt with their contacts.” When committee members do a good job — whether booking acts, promoting them, or taking their meal orders — the bands notice, and the Concerts Committee establishes a reputation among agents and bands alike.
The hard work of the committee members has definitely paid off; they bring almost a show a week, and many bands who once played Gardner's small stage now fill stadiums and headline festivals. Students get a chance to see acts like Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes, and Anaïs Mitchell, all of whom have come in the past four years.
The Concerts Committee also collaborates on events with other student groups and with academic departments. For example, this past year:
- The committee helped bring the Kominas, a Taqwacore punk band, to campus as part of programming about Islam in America.
- With the films committee, it brought innovative works — like Animal Collective’s experimental visual album, Oddsac — to the broader campus community.
- For the Das Racist show, it coordinated with the All-Campus Events Committee, which sponsored a performance by comedian Hari Kondabolu, brother of Das Racist band member Ashok Kondabolu, as well as a performance of the brothers’ comedy/talk show duo, The Untitled Kondabolu Brothers Project.
Padmaraj wants to organize more events like these as coordinated events “get people engaged” with the music and “contextualize the show” in a manner that extends beyond a single performance.
For more information, see Grinnell Concerts Committee.