On Saturday, we were asked to make a difficult choice: We could stay in the pillowy embraces of our beds—nestled in the world of "Downtown Abbey" and the usual weekend procrastination—or we could defy the odds, motivating ourselves to rise for 7:30 a.m. Bacchanal pre-gaming.
But however much we regretted the early start time, and however much we had whined about the predictable line-up, by the time Morningsiders took the stage at 11 a.m., it was clear that the student body had made its choice. Even in the thick of sleep-in prime time, Low Steps were awash with revelers armed with neon shades, flip-flops, and "Pom juice."
Despite the Ultra aesthetic, Morningsiders' folk-pop proved to be a real hit. Thanks to some immaculate mixing, the Bacchanal sound crew accomplished the Herculean task of making a handful of bluegrass musicians sound as loud as and as good as—better than, even—the world-famous rapper who was to follow them.
Lead vocalists Reid Jenkins and Magnus Ferguson, both CC '14, led the five-person band, which also includes bassist Vladimir Bernstein, pianist Robert Frech, and Spectator's chief development officer, and trumpeter/drummer Ben Kreitman, all CC '14, with their characteristically hearty harmonies, delivered with just enough yelps to stir up the crowd. The group's cover of Lyle Lovett's "Long Tall Texan," which closed the set, was every bit as gritty and bluesy as the original, and provided a nice bit of spice in a set rife with honeyed melodies and "aw, shucks" earnestness.
Macklemore's set had to be crammed into a noon timeslot, several hours earlier than Bacchanals past, so that he could rehearse later Saturday for the MTV Movie Awards. Not wanting us to feel overlooked, the Seattle rapper went to considerable lengths to stroke our collective ego.
"I've been dreaming of this show," he mused at one point during his set, also expressing his excitement to be performing in front of "a big-ass library." ("It's not a library!" sighed more than a few spectators, continuing a recurring Bacchanal joke that began when Snoop Dogg referred to Low as "the White House.")
But despite his affable stage presence, Macklemore had difficulty making this set feel special—from the carefully constructed talking points, tailor-made for collegiate audiences (Adderall, marriage equality), to the fill-in-the-blank geographical references (the A train, Central Park), to the Killers shout-out-cum-sing-a-longs of “Life is Cinema,” the performance felt thoroughly rehearsed, extensively road-tested, and entirely predictable.
Macklemore has been on an exhaustive collegiate tour in the wake of his recent success, working hard to meet demand. But this blitzkrieg has its drawbacks. Macklemore's performance, despite its energy, felt stilted. The volume of his vocals couldn't mask traces of fatigue, and his on-stage banter lacked the spontaneity we've seen in the past (see: Mickey Avalon's infamous performance at the Bacchanal winter show two years ago).
As the Man with the Largest Single in the World, Macklemore had every right to have a bit of fun before "Thrift Shop." Having (presumably) given his raccoon coat to student revelers beforehand, he instructed the crowd to pass the garment up to the stage for him to rock during the song, which had all the brassy ebullience that was to be expected. After the song ended, he tossed it back into the mob, and led the audience, twice, in a failed chant: "Crowd surf the raccoon!" Apparently, some interpreted the rapper's instructions as "hold on to the coat." When it lingered in its time getting back to the stage, he made a stab at some awkward humor. "Let go of the raccoon's penis!" he yelled sheepishly.
A few songs from the end of the set, the audience was distracted by a young woman who had somehow clambered on to one of the Low Plaza fountains. From her perch, she giddily cajoled around, sweeping her leg into the waters to splash all who came near. Macklemore appeared not to notice and proceeded to finish his set strongly with the oddball absurdity "And We Danced." After leading another round of chants—successful, this time—of "1, 2, 3, PEACE," he strolled offstage, sparking a mini-migration back to the dorms. The headliner had left the building. It was time for a nap.
Those who stuck around were rewarded by the best set of the afternoon. Flosstradamus, the Chicago-based electronic dance music veterans widely celebrated for putting "trap" back on the map, entranced the crowd for the ensuing hour-and-a-half with an intoxicating mix of radio staples new and old, served up as grimy as possible.
From "Harlem Shake" to the Ludacris classic "Area Codes," from New Orleans Bounce to New York City house, the duo left no genre behind in its mission of appeasing the masses. Needless to say, when Flosstradamus dropped the familiar, galvanizing hook of Benny Benassi's "Satisfaction," it had the entire undergraduate population by the ears.
By this point, the crowd was re-energized, thrashing about in the smoky air with reckless abandon. A Charmander doll crowd-surfed, the bright-red plush surfacing now and then from the thick of the crowd. Behind me, new friends made plans to hit up JJ's Place after swinging by the Red Bull Truck.
That's what I love about Bacchanal, and this Bacchanal in particular. No matter how much we whine, we still end up showing up en masse, having a great time, and coming out of the musical melee with a new burst of school spirit. Although of course, inevitably, our cynicism comes creeping back with the first peals of that hangover headache.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Macklemore left for an MTVU event, when, in fact, he left to rehearse for the MTV Movie Awards. Spectator regrets the error.
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