Costly Rhythms Music Festival attracts low student turnout

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With a headliner as prominent as Big Boi, of the Grammy award-winning hip-hop duo OutKast, and a price tag of $30,000, one might expect Thursday night’s Rhythms Music Festival to be a jam-packed affair.

That just wasn’t the case.

The Atlanta-based rapper played the jams, but to a noticeably dismal student turnout.

The concert, hosted by the Associated Students, Inc. of SF State, was part of a five-day music festival that’s now in its third year.

It was held in the Annex — a space with a capacity of 1,100. However, it was evident by the approximated 15 students in line when the doors opened at 7 p.m. that perhaps the event would unfortunately become the school’s best-kept secret of the night.

Students eventually trickled in, dressed in their neon best and by the time Big Boi hit the stage, the Annex was at least at a one-third capacity although organizers pegged the final tally somewhere between 600 and 800.

That is still a remarkably low figure considering the venue’s capacity and the overall student population of nearly 30,000.

Horace Montgomery, director of programs and services at ASI, views the turnout as a success and welcomes the possible criticism of overspending on such a distinguished artist.

“In my opinion there is no tab on quality from our students,” Montgomery said, who confirmed Big Boi’s rate for the hour-long set. “We have the money and we’re spending it. I couldn’t think of anything better to give these students to do during finals week or at the end of their college careers,” he said.

Montgomery described the show as a celebration and it truly was for those lucky few in attendance. Students crowd-surfed and twirled in their tutus while Big Boi performed his solo material as well as iconic OutKast hits like “Rosa Parks,” “Ms. Jackson” and “B.O.B.”

The festival also served as a showcase for SF State’s own resident rockers, Girls in Suede, who claimed top prize at Battle of the Bands the night before and served as the opening act for Thursday’s show.

By 10:30 p.m., the elated crowd including communications major Marci Dumeng, 18, and broadcast and electronic communication arts major Austin Velez, 20, left the venue ecstatic after Big Boi’s finale.

“That was my first time seeing him and actually hearing his music like that. It was super sick,” Dumeng said.

However, both friends admit that they had only found out about the show through rumor.

“Honestly, I didn’t know anything about this concert until my roommate just randomly told me,” Velez said.

Velez wasn’t the only one. Apparently other students also felt that the show was poorly advertised including one who expressed his disappointment on ASI’s Rhythms Music Festival’s Facebook page for having missed Big Boi’s show.

“You guys suck at advertising. How did I not hear about this?” wrote Dane Reynolds. The administrator for the festival’s Facebook page responded with, “The real question is how did 800 of your peers hear about it and you didn’t? Might be smart to like our Facebook page.”

In fact, there was nothing visible on the ASI website regarding the festival and there appeared to be confusion surrounding multiple Facebook pages, one of which only hinted at Big Boi headlining and the other mentioned him in a brief status update days before his show.

Muata Kenyatta, Associate Director of ASI, said that their publicity tactics were strictly meant to appeal exclusively to the campus community because SF State students were the only ones allowed to attend.

“It’s considered a closed show,” Kenyatta said.

Kenyatta said that ASI anticipated a low turnout, but doesn’t view their publicity as minimal. Instead he attributes the show’s attendance and student’s general unawareness to a poor publicity system on behalf of the school.

“Publicity is a real sour spot for our campus,” Kenyatta said. “It’s something that the whole campus can improve on.”

He suggests investing in an electronic billboard, but even if the show were better publicized, students are unsure whether the headliner’s steep fee is worth it.

In addition to Big Boi’s performace fee, Kenyatta confirmed additional expenses of an unspecified amount that included specific lighting, sound and building an appropriate stage from scratch to meet the recording artist’s standards and contract.

“I don’t know if it’d be worth it knowing that’s the money ‘cause the turnouts usually aren’t that great,” Dumeng said of the rapper’s fee.

Horace acknowledges that ASI took a risk in paying for such a renowned musician and the possibility of a small turnout; however, he said that this just raises the bar for future events.

“We can’t go lower,” he said. “We’ve got to go bigger now.”

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  • In my opinion, there are a lot of things we could have done for our students with that money. How about healthier food on campus? A bike fix-it shop for bicycles? Or a even a bike rental spot? It would also be great to have solar panels or to have all our buildings use energy efficient lighting!

    I have met a group of students who have been working really hard to establish a fund for sustainability projects and they have been shot down with that idea over and over. Students on our campus want real change, things that directly benefit them, the campus community, and the planet. This show was a complete waste of money and I am incredibly upset as a SF State student.