By Michael Sugerman, Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 10, 2014
In the third installment of its annual SpringFest celebration, MUSIC Matters pulled out all the stops Thursday.
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Rain served as an enforced recess between the afternoon’s activities and the night’s capstone concert — which climaxed as rapper 2 Chainz strolled onto the Hill Auditorium stage, bellowing his moniker to the heavens.
During the day, food trucks and live entertainment stretched along North University Avenue from Hatcher Graduate Library to North University Avenue, while 40 student organizations, organized by themed tents, presented their year’s work. Lasting from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., the festivities built up to 2 Chainz: the day’s headlining act.
After his performance, 2 Chainz explained in an interview how he connects to a diverse set of audiences.
“I just think I’m very transparent,” he said. “What you see is what you get. I’m like this on and off camera — at home, chillin’ out. I’ve got a good spirit. I’m very blessed and I think that kind of projects to the crowd. It’s organic. People like it and I appreciate it.”
LSA senior Phil Schermer, MUSIC Matters president, said SpringFest as a whole – which was revamped to resemble Austin music and technology festival South By Southwest – exceeded his expectations.
“My phone was dead for 45 minutes,” he said. “I turned it back on – had 46 texts from people who were excited about SpringFest. It’s unbelievable.”
Schermer said the festival’s new layout, which aimed to both inspire and showcase student accomplishment, set a strong precedent for future improvement. He said he hopes that MUSIC Matters will recruit more student organizations to present next year, in addition to bringing in more food options and more live outdoor concerts.
One of Thursday’s live performers was LSA sophomore Sylvia Yacoub, who was formerly a top 10 contestant on the third season of NBC’s “The Voice.” She said the venue gave her a chance to cater to a local audience, which she appreciated.
“I thought it was a lot of fun,” she said. “The crowd was awesome. I loved the energy … It was really cool to just perform with students. It’s the demographic, essentially, that I want to jump to when I release my album sometime this year.”
Yacoub performed a roughly 10-song set that included covers of Jessie J., Christina Aguilera and Rihanna. She also sang a slow, acoustic version of Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble.”
Musical acts like Yacoub’s were intertwined with entrepreneurial-themed talks throughout the day. University alum Mike Muse, one of the nation’s top political fundraisers and the co-founder of record label Muse Recordings, delivered one of these presentations.
In his speech to students, Muse emphasized the close ties between music and politics – both mechanisms of enacting change.
“We’re here about SpringFest and we’re here about 2 Chainz are we’re here for MUSIC Matters, but really, what is the purpose for us being here?” he asked during his talk. “The purpose is engagement. The purpose is activism. The purpose is to build community. The purpose is to bust down the segregated walls that we have here on this campus.”
Muse has also been named the first director of MUSIC Matters’ future board, which he said will ultimately consist of professionals who “have ties to both the intersection of pop culture and change agents.” This group will work with outside sources to help fund and build MUSIC Matters in the coming years.
Muse said he became involved with MUSIC Matters after Schermer reached out to him earlier in the year, as he was impressed with the similarities between his work and that of the student organization.
“I was using music to make fundraising fun, and to make it cool, and to make it inviting, and to break the ice and say, ‘This is what politics looks like now,’” he said, adding that his career and MUSIC Matters “share a very unique symbiotic relationship that runs parallel.”
On a similar tangent of development, MPowered hosted an event called MTank – modeled after ABC’s “Shark Tank,” where start-up entrepreneurs pitch their potential products to world-renowned business moguls.
Five groups pitched their products to a board of local venture capitalists, and ultimately a product called “S-Pack” won the contest.
According to a handout distributed by MPowered prior to the MTank, S-Pack works to “solve the problem every woman faces by combining several essential toiletries into one product small enough to fit in any woman’s purse.”
Business sophomore Mariel Reiss presented the product, which she said targeted college-aged women who might need to freshen up following a night on the town or even a drunken hookup.
Engineering junior Chris O’Neil, MPowered president, credited SpringFest for providing entrepreneurship with a wider audience.
“I’m kind of stuck in the entrepreneurship end of this university, and I think that SpringFest was a really unique opportunity to have an event that had a little higher entertainment value – so you have these people who maybe aren’t as familiar with entrepreneurship get to see what is going on and see all the cool startups and ideas that are actually happening on campus,” he said.
Tom Frank, executive director of the University’s Center for Entrepreneurship, said there is no longer a “normal” entrepreneurship crowd.
“I think that it’s more about people who have innovative ideas; that they’re becoming less and less shy about sharing with an audience, as opposed to something thinking of an entrepreneur as somebody locked in a room who’s going to build and invent something that suddenly gets released on the world,” he said. “They make it more collaborative, more open and a safer environment to let those ideas cross-pollinate.”
This “cross-pollination” of thought Thursday was not restricted to entrepreneurship. Schermer said the Identity tent, located directly outside of Hatcher Graduate Library, was also a large factor in the trading new ideas.
The Black Student Union presented a photography exhibit in the tent as a culmination of the #BBUM movement. LSA senior Tyrell Collier, outgoing BSU speaker, said the pictures were meant to explore the experience of Black students at the University in a new medium. The photo-shoot largely took place primarily in an alleyway off of E. Liberty Street.
“We just wanted to show – because the environment that we shot in was a rough environment; there was trash, dumpsters, some bricks – we really just wanted to get across the beauty in blackness, even in the roughest environments,” Collier said.
Despite 20 mph winds, Collier said the extreme weather did not impede the project’s success.
“We were placed right on the Diag proper,” he said. “So there was a lot of traffic. Even just students going to class – there was a lot of traffic flowing through our tent. I don’t think it’s every day that you see a tent with about 24 different pictures of Black people.”
University alum Jeff Sorensen, a co-founder of social innovation group optiMize, also commented on the event’s success in showcasing student accomplishment.
Though optiMize had been planning to host a dunk tank featuring “well-known” students on campus – including CSG representatives and student athletes – these efforts were halted early in the day by the University’s Risk Management Services, Sorensen said.
However, he added, optiMize was most successful with its whiteboards, on which buzz words like “diversity,” “health” and “education” were written and students were asked to write down what those terms meant to them. Sorensen said optiMize received several hundred responses, all of which are now displayed in the Center for Entrepreneurship.
Sorensen also lauded the work of optiMize finalists, who presented their innovative projects throughout the day.
As for the future of SpringFest, Schermer said the best is yet to come.
“I think it’s going to be so much bigger and better than it was this year,” he said.