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From Kanye to...Dillon Francis?

The Last Day of Classes concert has evolved since its inception in 1997, but some of the event's changes have left students clamoring for more.
The Last Day of Classes concert has evolved since its inception in 1997, but some of the event's changes have left students clamoring for more.

It’s the most anticipated day of the year from the moment students set foot on campus and thus has become the most scrutinized event at Duke.

Throughout the course of the year, at least five hours a week are dedicated to organizing the day-long event. All together, approximately 150 hours are spent planning the four-letter celebration that signifies the end of another year and the start of summer: LDOC.

LDOC, or the last day of classes, as an event has only existed since 1997. At its inception, LDOC existed under the purview of Campus Council, the equivalent of house council, in which a member from each quad on Campus Council was allowed to join the committee to plan the event. In 2011, Duke University Union absorbed LDOC—now one of DUU's 13 programming committees is responsible for the event.

The LDOC committee, unlike the rest of the DUU committees, requires an application for prospective members due in September followed by interviews with the committee chairs. This year, 12 LDOC committee members were selected through a competitive process that rejected nearly 90 percent of applicants.

“Having a smaller, selected committee helps with efficiency and creates more passion and accountability within the members,” current LDOC co-chair David Soled, a sophomore, said.

Sophomore Anton Saleh, also current LDOC co-chair, added that the current committee has been efficient and reflects the diversity of student music tastes.

One of the biggest selling points on the LDOC application is the allure of leaving behind a legacy by bringing the next big artist to campus. The list of past performers that later became award-winning artists speaks for itself—Steve Aoki, Kendrick Lamar, Macklemore and, most notably, Kanye West.

Yeezus walks...past the Chapel

Seeing these well-recognized names as former LDOC headliners may be a bit misleading. When LDOC booked Kanye West in late 2003, the then-up-and-coming rapper and producer had only released a few singles and would not drop his debut album, The College Dropout, until the lineup was announced in February 2004.

“Luckily, Kanye West was way undervalued.”—Mark Pike

“We wanted to try to find an artist that would resonate with the student body,” Mark Pike, Trinity '04 and then-LDOC co-chair. “[West] started getting a little bit of radio play in the fall and people were pretty excited for his album to drop. We knew we might be able to get him within our budget.”

When the chairs first proposed bringing the rapper to campus, West could be booked for approximately $15,000, Pike said. Advisors were hesitant to book the then-relatively unknown rapper and delayed approval. After learning that West’s booking price had gone up, Pike and his co-chair convinced their advisors to sign him.

The final price tag for West’s LDOC performance was $31,500. According to Variety, a Kanye West gig now costs upwards of $400,000. West would go on to win 21 Grammys and become an undeniable, self-proclaimed pop culture icon, making him the most globally successful artist to perform at Duke.

“[West was] a complete professional and played a great show,” Pike said. “Luckily, Kanye West was way undervalued.”

Pike recalls 2004 LDOC and his interactions with West as some of his fondest memories at Duke.

"We ended up hanging out in the hallowed halls of Page Auditorium after the show," Pike wrote in an email March 27. "He asked me about my classes and if I was graduating, which was kind of ironic given his hit album titled 'The College Dropout.' I can't quite remember, but I think I invited him and his crew to Armadillo Grill or Cosmic Cantina after the show, but they politely declined."

"My friends still talk about seeing Kanye perform in front of Duke’s chapel.”—Mark Pike

Dilated Peoples was scheduled as West’s opening act, but the rap trio had to withdraw a few days before the show. Offered in their place as an opening act was one of Kanye’s touring artists who had yet to release an album but would later win nine Grammys—John Legend.

The committee scored Legend for $3,000, but a Legend show now costs more than $150,000, according to Variety.

Even the most legendary of LDOC performances faced some student backlash.

In a 2005 Chronicle article, then-LDOC chair Matt Greenfield, Trinity '05, said of the next year’s selection process, “Snoop Dogg was not considered because of the flop that Kanye West was last year.”

Pike said West played a relatively short set due to his lack of released material at the time.

“I’m sure not everyone was happy with the show," he said. "[But] my friends still talk about seeing Kanye perform in front of Duke’s chapel.”

'LDOC tells the story of Duke'

From artist cancellations to budget issues, planning and executing LDOC is rarely smooth sailing. Still, tracing LDOCs of years past reveals the highs and lows of Duke's lineup history.

“LDOC tells the story of Duke,” Soled asserted.

LDOC acts in previous years were prone to cancellations. In 2008 The Roots replaced Lupe Fiasco, and LDOC 2011 lost the Cataracs to an award show appearance and booked Ludacris instead. B.o.B. substituted Redfoo as the headliner in 2012 because Redfoo hurt his back and could only perform at a limited number of shows.

“I don’t think that’s an LDOC thing—it’s an overall music culture thing,” Soled said.

Since 2004, the total budget (then just shy of $70,000) has steadily risen.

According to a Chronicle article in 2006, the total budget for 2007 LDOC reached $145,000 by increasing student activities fees and increasing DUU allotment. This move was done to match the budgets of end-of-year concerts of peer institutions.

LDOC 2007 brought rapper Common and Jason Mraz to campus as headliners. This selection stirred some controversy after the committee discovered that Common criticized the Duke men's lacrosse team at Emory University's end-of-the-year concert in 2006—the same year as the Duke lacrosse scandal.

Common incorporated into his act the line, "I'm the boss, f--- those boys from Duke lacrosse" at the Emory concert.

Beth Higgins, LDOC chair at the time and Trinity '07, said she had not been aware of the incident when the committee booked Common.

"I am very shocked that that happened," Higgins said in a 2007 Chronicle article. "I'm surprised he accepted the offer if he felt that way."

Despite the significant budget hikes that year, the lineup “failed to elicit widespread enthusiasm.”

“There’s always a lot more there than people think that happens with programming.”—Anton Saleh

During the late 2000s, two consecutive LDOCs went over budget, necessitating loans from DUU. LDOC in 2008 cost $25,000 more than the anticipated budget when the committee brought the Roots after Lupe Fiasco cancelled. Interestingly, the Roots had performed at LDOC in 2002 when Pike was also a chair.

The committee in 2009 had a $115,000 budget—less than the previous year’s—to bring Ben Folds, Gym Class Heroes and Girl Talk. Due to some unforeseen costs such as Folds’ request for an additional grand piano and tuner, the committee exceeded their budget by $17,000, requiring the first ever use of DUU “emergency funds.”

Freshman Soren Chargois, a member of the LDOC committee, said the artist budget is $100,000. LDOC co-chairs Soled and Saleh outright denied that number and said it was false. When asked whether the artist budget was higher or lower than $100,000, they declined to comment. Soled and Saleh also declined to comment on the budget of previous years.

Besides budget changes, LDOC has transformed the most in regards to daytime programming.

Previously, LDOC only featured a concert with a two or three big name performing artists, according to a 2010 editorial in The Chronicle. In 2010, LDOC became more of an all-day festival and the concert was just one component of the day’s events. This was also the first year that LDOC was closed to the public and students had to wear wristbands.

“The assumption is that the LDOC committee just picks the artist,” Saleh said. “There’s always a lot more there than people think that happens with programming.”

More activities during the day mean a safer LDOC because they reduce the culture of binge drinking, Soled noted. Last year’s LDOC saw a three-year low in EMS calls with only six total calls and few alcohol-related incidents.

“It was hard to walk through West Campus without getting involved in something,” said junior Evan Reilly, 2014 LDOC co-chair, about the daytime events.

Some students are not aware of the daytime events or unable to participate because of class.

"I did not know that was offered," said junior Jordan Ly, referring to LDOCs daytime offerings.

"I'm glad we didn't have Yik Yak last year."—Evan Reilly

LDOC 2014 brought Dillon Francis as a headliner with opening acts Youngblood Hawke and Skizzy Mars. Spencer Brown, a student DJ, was unable to perform due to sets running long and additional time needed to set up the stage. Many students were not familiar with these artists and thus the concert did not generate widespread enthusiasm.

"Last year I had no clue who any of the artists were so it was hard to get as excited about the music," said junior Cori Hayes."I honestly don't have any fond memories of the actual concert other than Dillon Francis not introducing himself and then pulling the cord in the middle of a song."

Reilly admitted that Francis was not the committee's initial top pick. He also confirmed that Diplo was among the artists initially considered for LDOC and revealed that several offers to artists were rescinded.

"Students think that the artist that comes to perform is always the top choice and that’s not always the case because not all artists perform on college campuses," Reilly said. "Artists have busy schedules and often it comes down to prices and availability, and that doesn’t always work out."

Reilly noted that both scheduling and budget constraints were issues when setting up last year's lineup.

"When it came down to doing research and talking to agencies [Francis] was our top choice and was available for a reasonable price," Reilly said.

Last year's LDOC featured the tagline "Best for Last," which led some students to believe that Bruce Springsteen might be a surprise final performer because his daughter attended Duke.

"We came up with the [tagline] before we even released the lineup. That was really just us brainstorming an LDOC committee saying," said senior Kenny Johnson, also LDOC co-chair for last year.

"I'm glad we didn't have Yik Yak last year," Reilly said.

LDOC Today

“The artist will appear on your screen in 3, 2, 1.”

Cue a dark screen and scrolling message and one can get a sense of the hype behind a video released by the LDOC committee Feb. 3 that many believed would announce the LDOC lineup. The LDOC committee received a lot of backlash for teasing the student body with promise of the lineup.

The anonymous social media app Yik Yak exploded with hate messages and direct insults hurled at Saleh and Soled. In addition, the LDOC email account was flooded with hate mail, even from graduate students. Nonetheless, Saleh and Soled stand by their decision to release the video.

“I personally think it was a success,” Soled said. “It was the biggest thing talked about on campus, and that’s what we wanted.”

He also said that he received some positive feedback about the video and believes that the majority of students were more excited about LDOC after its release.

A similar hype video was released in 2012 but without the same theatrics of Saleh and Soled’s video, which included dramatic music and used Cameron Indoor Stadium as a backdrop.

“Because of the video, we amplified that we were chairs and emphasized that we were the face of LDOC,” Soled said. “I think for my personality and Anton’s personality it works out well.”

Saleh and Soled said the committee was successful in booking their first choice artists.

“We were pretty realistic,” Saleh said. Soled chimed in, “no concessions were made.”

Of all the acts performing at LDOC, MisterWives is the artist that Saleh and Soled noted will likely blow up in the recent future.

Artist selection is generally finalized during the Fall with brainstorming sessions during meetings. LDOC advisors Jerrica Washington and Jessie Stellini are responsible for reaching out to the artists’ managers about costs and handling contracts.

The LDOC committee uses the Spring to plan events for during the day. Popular daytime activities, such as the Chapel Climb, the Silent Disco, Massages on the Quad and the K-Ville Barbeque, are set to return April 22, but Saleh and Soled revealed that new events will also be on the docket.

“Every year’s [daytime programming] is changing based on the year before where kids are getting injured,” Saleh said. “We bring daytime programming to the quad, so we get kids out of their rooms, drinking.”

The difference in the lineups of peer institutions is rooted in the fact that most require students to pay for admission and some events are open to the public. LDOC is a free event, covered by student fees, open only to Duke students.

“It’s funny, I looked at Rites of Spring at Vanderbilt and their headliner is T-Pain,” Soled said. “They’re charging students for T-Pain who we’re bringing for free.”

Rites of Spring actually lists T-Pain as its third headliner. Vanderbilt University's two-day end-of-year concert features Young the Giant, Chance the Rapper, T-Pain, Portugal the Man, RAC, The Lone Bellow, Matoma, Daniel Ellsworth and The Great Lakes and Louisa Wendorff.

Funding for Rites of Spring comes from student activities fees as well as ticket sales. Unlike at Duke, Vanderbilt students have to pay $30 for entry and faculty and staff must pay $35. Additionally, the concert is not just reserved for students and faculty. The general public can buy a pass for $50 or a single, day ticket for $30.

"From a pricing standpoint it definitely helps cover the costs which means we can up our budget a little bit," said junior Kern Vohra, chair of Vanderbilt's Music Group, which plans Rites of Spring. "It also makes it less exclusive but we get more people. It's a whole vibe thing."

Selling tickets adds to the general pot of money the Music Group can use for Rites of Spring or its fall concert, Commodore Quake.

Quake usually features fewer, bigger headliners. Pasts artists since 2007 have included Kanye West, Lil Wayne, Lupe Fiasco, Snoop Dog, Passion Pit, Childish Gambino, Kendrick Lamar and Ludacris.

The general public can buy Quake tickets in advance for $40 or the week of for $50.

Vohra declined to comment on the budget for Rites of Spring or Quake, but said that because Quake usually features fewer artists in exchange for one major headliner, the budget allocation process is completely different than Rites of Spring.

"Because we are building it up from top down all the prices are completely different," he said. "So don't have to blow $150,000 to 175,000 on one artist, but with Quake you’re willing to do that."

Rites of Spring as a tradition has been around since 1971, but the first year on record that Rites of Spring hosted artists is 1986. Vohra compared it to a "mini Bonnaroo."

"When it was first getting built out in the day it was really a two-day artist show," Vohra said. "Over the years it has built out to an eight-to-12-, 14-or-15-artist show and expanded to a two-day festival."

The Music Group tries to cater both to Nashville and the general student body when selecting artists. It can be difficult to book artists at Vanderbilt because every major artist usually passes through Nashville once and may not feel incentivized to return again for Rites of Spring.

"Steve [Aoki] played October 2013 and then came back to play Rites of Spring—thats a decent amount of space where it works," Vohra said. "But if you have people coming in February, would people really buy tickets to come see them again? Theres a lot of saturation."

Vohra said there has been a "pretty solid reaction" to this year's Rites of Spring artist lineup.

"Obviously the internet is a mean place—Yik Yak notwithstanding," he said. "So you have the vocal minority on there thats always displeased with something but I think, in general, students are happy with it."

At Cornell University, undergraduate students can attend the end-of-year concert Slope Day for free, however graduate students must pay a fee. Alumni and guests can also purchase tickets to attend Slope Day.

Like Vanderbilt, Cornell also uses student activities fees to fund the concert in addition to ticket sales.

Junior Garrison Lovely, executive chair of the Slope Day Programming Board, declined to comment on how much is spent on talent, but noted that $18 dollars is taken out of each students activities fee. With roughly 14,000 students, it means at least $250,000 is spent on the entire event, which does not include ticket sales or money left over from previous end-of-year concerts.


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