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Demystifying Yardfest

By Pilar I Fitzgerald, Andrew W. Schutts, and Jeremy M. Tchack

After months of questions, guesses, and rumors, the Yardfest Committee was excited and proud to finally announce our selection of Janelle Monáe as the Yardfest 2014 headliner. This recent announcement was the result of considerable planning as part of a process about which much is speculated but little is known. It is our hope that this will provide a behind-the-scenes look into our process.

In the middle of October, six students gather in the Basement Conference Room of University Hall. Three represent the College Events Board, the student group responsible for planning many campus-wide events, from free movie screenings to the Welcome Back Event and the Harvard-Yale Pep Rally. Three others represent the Harvard College Concert Commission, a group formed specifically to plan and execute Yardfest. Joining them are two advisors who are staff members in the Office of Student Life.

After setting preliminary goals, the committee examines its projected timeline, which suggests that the headlining artist be selected by the Friday of Harvard-Yale weekend, and no later than the end of the fall semester’s reading week. With only a month or so to select the artist, the committee immediately gets to work through a conference call with the artist-booking agency that represents the university. The agency, a Boston-based firm that works with several colleges nationwide, serves as the intermediary for the committee, placing calls to artists’ agents.

In the week that follows, the committee, together with our representative from the agency, assembles an initial list of about 40 artists, divided by genre and evaluated based on criteria, including but not limited to popularity, rising star potential, and, importantly, price. In order to narrow this list down to our final list of 10, the committee then designs and distributes a campus-wide survey, which asks not only about the preferred genre of the artist but also about the number of artists, the atmosphere, and vibe that students are seeking at Yardfest.

The survey is live for a week, generally garnering close to 2,000 responses. With data and voices from the community in hand, the committee narrows the set of 40 artists to a ranked list of seven to 10 options. Starting with our top choice and working down, our representative from the agency begins calling artists’ agents to discuss pricing and availability. After weeks of discussions, false alarms, and price changes, the committee ultimately agrees in principle with the headlining artist.

This year, it didn’t take many calls to discover strong mutual interest between the committee and Janelle. We reached an agreement with her in the middle of December, within our projected timeline, but were unable to announce the exciting news until her contract was finalized just prior to spring break. A lengthy development time for the contract is often necessary, as details as significant as event security and as minor as the type of soda in the green room are all discussed. Eventually, though, the dotted line is signed, allowing us to bring to you the winner of Billboard’s 2013 Rising Star Award, Janelle Monáe.

An artist in the true sense of the word, Janelle Monáe immediately captivates her audience with her energy, powerful vocals, and robust backing band that all mix pop, funk, electronic, and R&B sounds into a uniquely feel-good vibe. Drawing on a wide range of influences, from sci-fi novels to afrofuturism to Stevie Wonder, Janelle is “carving her own path in the industry,” according to Billboard Editorial Director Bill Werde.

Between her major albums, “Metropolis: The Chase Suite,” “The ArchAndroid,” and 2013’s “The Electric Lady,” which opened at number five on the Billboard 500, Janelle has collaborated with Prince, Miguel, Big Boi, and others, and has garnered six Grammy nominations, an MTV Video Music Award, and this year’s Rising Star awards from Billboard and Variety.

She’s performed on Saturday Night Live, at the NBA All-Star Game, and even at the White House, all since the end of October.

A rapidly rising star on and off the stage, the Electric Lady is sure to electrify the Yardfest crowd. So wear your tanks, your sunglasses, and your dancing shoes. Or at least ones you won’t mind getting a little muddy. And don’t forget your Harvard College ID.

We’ll see you there!

Pilar I. Fitzgerald ’15 is an English concentrator in Quincy House. Andrew W. Schutts ’16 is a government concentrator in Lowell House. Jeremy M. Tchack ’15 is a human development and regenerative biology concentrator in Quincy House. They are members of the Yardfest Committee.

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