Large streams of people moving out of the Pause after Bon Iver's first couple songs were rushing to tell all of their friends about the can't-miss musical mega-event taking place. About halfway through the set I knew St. Olaf had accepted the desolate falsetto singer when someone started chanting his name. The genuine enthusiasm behind the screaming was made all the more obvious in the affectionate mispronunciation of Bon Iver.
In all seriousness though, Bon Iver was not a great choice. He was a bad choice. I'm not arguing against his overall musical skill. He's received much critical acclaim as well as sold out large venues. I've been told that he makes really good music for an iTunes sleeping or studying mix. Whatever talents Iver has, unfortunately, did not transfer well to Lutefest. The mellow grooves and low energy show were inappropriate for a day when students want to let loose and ignore (possibly with the help of too much alcohol) the schoolwork looming between now and the end of finals. Instead of unleashing this communal liveliness, Bon Iver brought with him the isolated remoteness of the rural Wisconsin cabin where he recorded his album. While he may prove to be a big name in the future, his general inexperience and bland stage presence provides a reason for why he isn't yet.
Lutefest should be a day of carefree relaxation. Oles seemed to enjoy themselves independent of the headlining music (major respect for the people who organized the successful multi-house beer pong tournament off-campus). Perhaps the most telling sign of the music's failings was the state of the cafeteria during Bon Iver's set. Not only was dinner's attendance higher than at the show, but so was the energy. I took more pleasure in seeing several rambunctious drunks tuck their tails between their legs and get led out of the Caf by Public Safety than I did listening to Iver. I also greatly enjoyed fighting the temptation to jump into the conversation of the table next to me that was legitimately wondering if there was "some sort of concert" going on in the Pause.
General hopes for the day at one point were high however. A few weeks ago I ecstatically imagined Brother Ali booming his bombastic rhymes from atop a sunny outdoor stage. Anyone lucky enough to have seen the Minneapolis rapper live knows what a fantastic show he would have put on. After rumors of the truth-spitting rhymesayer's booking had spread all across campus, Bon Iver was announced. I had little success in discovering why Ali was not the headliner, as the not-so-tight-lipped concert committee had leaked his name to seemingly everyone that they knew weeks earlier. Unfortunately, people associated with concert selection largely ignored my requests for information. Siddiq Sayers, the CEO of Brother Ali's record label, did reply and informed me that Ali was never booked nor confirmed and should never have been mentioned to the student body. Even without knowing any of the specifics that resulted in the miscommunication with students, it's safe to say that the downgrade from raw rapper to depressed songwriter contributed to the day's disappointment.
St. Olaf couldn't control the weather that forced the show inside, but it surely could have done better with choosing who was performing. Funds are limited, time is constrained, music tastes vary, and demands are high, but c'mon, Bon Iver? If they were looking to provide sub-par entertainment to an underwhelming crowd, they could have saved some money and booked the Plagiarists. I hope that next year SGA's newly-created Music Entertainment Committee realizes that students want an energetic, charismatic performance and gets the necessary budget and resources to provide it. Otherwise, we might have another year where, as I overheard from one concert attendant, the Lutefest headliner just "sounds bad."
Paul Christiansen '08 is from Cedarburg, Wis. He majors in English.