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Students push for folk festival featuring Bob Dylan

By Andrew Wingens
On November 6, 2012

Fifty years since Bob Dylan first sang at Brandeis University in 1963, Brandeis students are once again making a push to bring Dylan to Brandeis and create a folk festival in spring 2013.

Jesse Manning '13, general manager of WBRS and Student Union chief of staff, said he, along with Alex Pilger '13 and Michael Zonenashvili '13 have been putting a proposal together for a festival at Brandeis for the past two years.

In order to lobby the University administration for support for the initiative, Manning, Zonenashvili, Pilger, Student Union President Todd Kirkland '13, Rachel Nelson '13 and SuWei Chi '13 are holding a town hall forum on Wednesday, Nov. 7, at 8 p.m. in the Shapiro Campus Center atrium.

The forum will be an opportunity for the student organizers to gage student support and explain the concept behind the folk festival to students, faculty, staff and administrators who are in attendance.

"You're not going to get a bigger student-pushed event than this," said Manning in an interview with the Justice. As of press time, the Facebook event had over 450 attendees.

Andrew Flagel, senior vice president of students and enrollment, said that the idea is exciting, but there are several significant challenges that need to be evaluated before a folk festival can be approved.

"The challenge that we face at this point is this is not a question of Bob Dylan's interest in coming to campus, but of us contracting with Bob Dylan," explained Flagel in an interview with the Justice. The last price estimate Flagel said he saw was $300,000 to bring the singer to campus.

At this point, Manning said, the decision on whether or not to move forward with the festival depends solely on the administration.

"It's totally on the school. It's not on Bob Dylan; he'll come. It's not on the students; they want it. It's totally on the administration to be willing to take the risk. So they're going to have to see that there's more reward in it than risk," said Manning. "I think the evidence of this shows that there's so much reward here that it outweighs the risk that you're taking."

Flagel, however, said he was more skeptical in evaluating the potential risk and reward of the event.

Flagel said the risks include the openness of the concert to the external community and the additional challenges that the oppenness would inevitably bring, such as increased security, traffic and portable bathrooms, among others.

"We're still vetting the business aspects," he said, including whether or not the financial plan for the event is feasible.

Regarding the student-led forum on Wednesday night, Flagel said that holding a folk festival will not be "decided by referendum" and that the University will weigh the "complex business decision."

The plan originally proposed by the group of students was to have two days of a folk festival with the first day headlined by Bob Dylan. The festival would be free for students and it would be open to 4,300 people from off-campus, said Manning. An off-campus ticket would cost $90 for the first day of Bob Dylan and $120 for a two-day pass.

Manning said that a new, one-day option is now being considered. It calls for a one-day folk festival headlined by Dylan with a "bigger" and separate SpringFest the following day. Ticket prices for the folk festival would likely exceed $90 for the one-day plan, according to Manning.

Manning said the University has signed a contract with Jay Sweet, the producer of the Newport Folk Festival, to be the liaison between Brandeis and Dylan. Sweet has also said the budget for the festival is feasible, according to Manning. "Even in investigating the possibility, that's something the University took on," Manning said of Sweet's fee.

If Bob Dylan were to come to Brandeis this spring, it would be his third time performing on campus-his last visit was in 1975 as part of the Rolling Thunder Revue.

At least one student shared Flagel's skepticism of the folk festival idea:

"I think while it may seem like a great idea, the actual work involved for students and the means to bring him here are not feasible. It's just a lot of work for something that not many people are very passionate about," said Samantha Gordon '14, Student Events social coordinator, in an interview with the Justice. 

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