What can be said with full certainty is that Vanderbilt University’s Rites of Spring Festival has transcended the “college music weekend” and has successfully entered the realm of big-boy festivals.
Which is to be expected in Music City itself. Nashville, Tenn. won’t stand for wimpy attempts that draw mediocre crowds. Plus, Vanderbilt’s been working on it for a while, as Rites of Spring has been attracting college students, both near and far, for over 30 years.
Sure, the lineup has changed a bit. The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ played in 1989, Third Eye Blind played, in true ‘90s fashion, along with Run DMC in 1998 and Nelly graced Vandy with his presence in 2001.
As it would become evident, Rites of Spring has the dedicated fans of Bonnaroo, the forward-thinking music tastes of SXSW and the smack-dab-in-the-middle-of-the-city feel reminiscent of Lollapalooza. What Rites of Spring has that that these now household…er, dormhold…festival names don’t have is that southern University feel of the weeks leading up to finals.
After searching for a good 20 minutes for parking festival-goers began complaining about the overcast, lower 60 degree weather as they made their way to the Alumni Lawn off of West End Avenue.
Once there, Nashville’s Beaker Street Blues Band was warming up the crowd with some funkier tunes than what the mostly twenty-something crowd was probably used to. By the time the next band Gloriana played, many more people were crowding the entrance to the site, which was comparable to the length of a football field.
But many of these people weren’t interested in seeing Gloriana either, they were just securing their places close to the front for the bigger names that would play next – Fitz and The Tantrums, then Mutemath.
Gloriana left the stage, and the crowd was more than ready to hear Fitz and his Tantrums play.
By the time Michael Fitzpatrick, Noelle Scaggs and their uber-talented band played the first soul-wrenching bars of “Don’t Gotta Work It Out,” the crowd was properly buzzed. Drunken fraternity boys were humming along to the choruses; the die-hard fans of “Pickin’ up the Pieces” were experiencing the bliss that is the very front row of a music festival. After a few more songs from their debut album, the familiar intro to “Sweet Dreams” by the Eurythmics convinced anyone in the audience on the fence about Fitz and The Tantrums that it could “rage.” When Fitzpatrick asked everyone to put their hands up and dance their asses off to the next song, and announced that if he saw anyone NOT gettin’ down he would call them out – it was collectively decided that these guys would totally fit in at the next big frat party.
Rain started to slowly fall and was received by loud cheers during the next song. It got steadily heavier until the band was obviously concerned with the now-dwindling crowd and played their biggest hit, “Moneygrabber,” then left the stage as the crowd scattered to the nearest form of cover.
After 15 minutes or so, the rain let up enough for Fitz and The Tantrums to come back and play through the rest of its set. The amount of people present was diminished by the rain, but there was enough of an audience to prove to Fitz – and soon after Mutemath – that there were some serious fans in attendance. Or at least folks just stoned enough to enjoy the rain.
The second day of the festival started a little earlier in the afternoon and featured – obvious by the crowd’s size – a slightly better lineup. Rain also wasn’t part of the forecast on Saturday, dragging those from their 4/20 hibernation out into this overcast, chilly Saturday
Local electro-rap artist Chancellor Warhol is starting to be acknowledged by Music City as a “local boy done good,” and he did not disappoint. The first artist to jump into the pit and stand on the rail basically in the audience, his bars allowed for a better day show than many in the crowd had ever seen. His versions of already-popular songs like Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” turned a number of festival-goers into Chancellor fans.
Hailing from Athens, Ga. Reptar seemed accustomed to the predominantly student audience, asking the crowd whether or not they “enjoyed smoking a little weed” so they “could just find a bit of common ground” with them. Lead singer Graham Ulicny’s voice matched the darkening atmosphere, and the perfect mix of mellow songs and energetic tunes had both fans and those unexposed to Reptar’s quirky sound appropriately warmed up for the night.
Nashville’s own Wick-It The Instigator was Vandy’s answer to the college student’s Adderall-induced interest (however brief it is) in dubstep. Mixing Nashville favorites like The Black Keys with Big Boi’s most recent effort, the crowd was more animated than ever. While it was a bit early for dubstep, it was a nice, brief burst of energy to wake the audience from the contact high received during Reptar’s set.
After a good half hour of unveiling stacks of Marshall amps and getting the railing and subs properly taped off for Sleigh Bells’ liberal use of the stage space, the crowd was restless.
Guitarists Derek Miller and Jason Boyer took the stage and coaxed Alexis Krauss out of the fog with deafening, fully awesome riffs. Krauss was all over the place from the first song off of their most recent attempt, “Reign of Terror,” to favorites like “Crown on the Ground” from their debut Treats. The sound guys need more than a few nods of appreciation for making such a loud show with so much potential to sound messy actually sound crisp and clean. The ending riffs of “Comeback Kid” featured more fist pumping than it appeared Krauss was expecting from a southern University show.
By the time Sleigh Bells finished with “Rill Rill,” the crowd was lighting up again in solemn preparation for the college stoner-rap king, Wiz Khalifa. Wiz Khalifa’s set began with so much fog on stage, and so much weed smoke in the audience, that it was hard to distinguish the two from one another. Although he’s known to go shirtless, it was cold enough that even he was sporting a sweatshirt and beanie. Rolling through favorites like “No Sleep,” “Young, Wild, & Free,” and even his verse in “5 O’ Clock,” Wiz was definitely playing to the crowd. Khalifa played Vandy his new single, “Work Hard, Play Hard,” and by “Black and Yellow,” multiple members of Taylor Gang were onstage with him.
Wiz Khalifa wrapped it all up a few minutes past midnight, and festival-goers stumbled away to the bars or to pass out in their dorms without much desire for an encore. The apathy that comes along with enough weed to impress the king himself doesn’t allow for much exertion, and it left those wandering away from Vanderbilt University’s Rites of Spring 2012 with a slightly stupid grin on their faces.
Get an idea for how Olivia experienced the festival by browsing all of her tweets from Rites of Spring.