Throughout Friday night’s concert, rapper Common reminded students the importance of diversity and inclusion.
“Music matters. We matter. All lives matter,” he told the crowd.
The performance came at the end of SpringFest activities — put on for the fourth year by MUSIC Matters. The themes Common preached were constant during the day’s SpringFest events, which included a fashion show “One,” student organizations’ largely interactive booths and live music performances.
Business senior Darren Appel, president of MUSIC Matters, said campus-wide collaboration was an essential facet of the event.
“I thought that this year, one of the cool things was the student orgs seemed to really get the idea a lot more of actually creating an engaging event,” Appel said.
LSA senior Marli Siegel, MUSIC Matters communications manager, added that the “perfect” weather, which was sunny and in the 70s, was conducive to student participation.
“I think the level of student engagement was the highest it has ever been, and I think that made SpringFest the best it has ever been,” she said. “There were people that set up shop to play guitar just because they wanted to. Something like that is so awesome.”
One of these impromptu performances was the group Stankface, composed of LSA junior Cody Fayolle, Music, Theatre & Dance junior Alex Greenzeig and Engineering junior Brent Ritter. Greenzeig and Ritter played electric guitar harmonies, while Fayolle provided percussion.
Organizers have already approached the group, which was not affiliated with SpringFest, about performing at next year’s event during the day. The members of Stankface said their goal, like the other elements of SpringFest, was to engage students through their music improvisation.
While musical acts were performed periodically on the event’s main stage on North University Avenue on Friday, other collaborative activities were also held in the area, including a fashion show and MTank.
The fashion show incorporated numerous fashion groups on campus: NOiR, SHEI Magazine, EnspiRED and Bronze Elegance. Students lined the sidewalks on either side of North University to watch the show, which used the street as a runway.
LSA senior Karen Doh, president of NOiR, said NOiR was responsible for recruiting models and selecting the music and visuals to accompany their runway walks.
“We felt like one together,” Doh said. “It wasn’t just the motto … It was the students and the attendees, really cheering each other on and supporting fashion for a cause. It was very successful.”
Doh also noted that the models’ runway walks were organized to represent the five groups of student organizations represented at MUSIC Matters: arts, innovation, sustainability, social identity and philanthropy.
For example, she said, one of the walks involved numerous models to represent the construct of social identity — four models surrounded one central model for the first portion of the walk, and ultimately the central person walked to the front of the pack as an expression of individual identity.
MTank, the other major event on the SpringFest main stage, showcased numerous student startups and made its debut at the event this year. Modeled after the television show “Shark Tank,” University-based judges, or “sharks,” fielded startup pitches, provided critiques and offered monetary prizes to help further the startups’ mission.
LSA junior Saad Jangda, co-founder of MTank, said the group’s second iteration was a fun way to increase visibility for entrepreneurial efforts on campus.
He said MTank featured companies that had already gone through more formal pitch processes, including optiMize’s Social Innovation Challenge and MPowered’s 1000 Pitches event.
“An event like MTank shows that part of entrepreneurship that is exciting, that is creativity, that is innovation — all in one event where every student is walking on campus,” Jangda said.
Tom Frank, director of the University’s Center for Entrepreneurship, was one of the MTank “sharks,” and echoed Jangda’s feeling that it is important to acknowledge and encourage student entrepreneurship.
“I think one of the most important things we can keep doing as a community is that, when we identify would-be entrepreneurs, we continue to nurture them and provide help and support through every milestone, so that they stick with their ventures for as long as they have opportunities for it.”
Frank said his favorite of the pitches came from a company called Get Up and Go, which makes and sells caffeinated food products. The startup was one of the MTank competition’s collective judge favorites, subsequently winning a $1,000 prize.
The day’s events were not exclusive to members of the University community — for the second year, MUSIC Matters also organized a program for 150 Detroit-area students to come and participate in workshops, talk to University students and walk around SpringFest.
SpringFest culminated with the Common concert, throughout which the theme of people working to make collaborative change was apparent.
Video 7, a Detroit-based jazz collaborative that involves University alum Brendan Asante among others, opened for Common.
As the group was launching into song, one of its lead singers, Antwaun Stanley, told students, “I want you to know tonight that you have the ability … to change the world.”
Common held students to a similar standard in a small preamble to his performance of “Glory” — a song from the movie “Selma” that won a Golden Globe Award and an Academy Award.
He spoke to recent waves of racism in the form of nationwide police brutality toward Black people, and urged students to take part in making a change.
“It’s going to be up to us to change the system,” he said. “It’s up to us to go out and change the situation. We can’t just tweet about it and Instagram about it, we gotta plan and strategize and be active out there — support groups, vote, organize groups that will get better education for our youth.
“As you all go out as college students and people in the community, the things that you want to change, change them yourself,” he said.
After the concert, Common told event organizers and reporters from The Michigan Daily that he appreciated the cause MUSIC Matters proceeds will go to: establishing a summer program at the University for Detroit youth that will launch in the summer of 2016.
“You all are students,” he said. “That is very important. I appreciate you all having me be a representative of what you all are doing because I think it’s super important that we provide opportunities … for the young people that are coming up after us.”
“I know hip hop, for me, was a way to express myself in ways I never had done ever before,” he added. “Art and music and culture and just being able to be you through the art is an important thing. So if we empower our young people to be able to do that through MUSIC Matters and other organizations that are supporting that, I’m telling you we’re going to make a better world.”