PB faces varied complications in programming big-ticket shows

by Lisa Moon | 11/20/06 6:00am

It is easy to hate the Programming Board. Really, it is not even original anymore. The ubiquitous name "Programming Board" is tacked onto everything from concerts to Bingo Night, but most people have no idea what they do or how they work. By booking diverse acts that run the gamut, from the sensitive pop crooner Vanessa Carlton to the art-hop band the Roots to the "emo" Dashboard Confessional, is everyone really having fun? Many have raised this question ever since the surprising choice of Vanessa Carlton last year. It turns out that the answer is not so simple.

The Programming Board, along with the Student Assembly and the Committee on Student Organizations, is one of several large student-run organizations that are allotted money from the Undergraduate Finance Committee every Spring term. According to the Programming Board website, their objective is "to improve the quality of non-academic life at Dartmouth for the entire undergraduate community," or, in other words, to plan strictly social events for Dartmouth.

"We present a proposal explaining where our money from the past year had gone, as well as where we plan on spending money for the upcoming year," Ashia Sheikh '08, one of the two programming directors, explains. The budget for the 2007 fiscal year is $377,500, down $3,000 from the previous year because of the turnover of Lone Pine Tavern programming to Collis Governing Board. However, there is also a sharp increase in co-sponsorship to around a quarter of the budget. Annually, $12,000 is set aside for the Winter Carnival and then a colossal $158,000 goes to student programming.

The motley board is led by a senior chair, two programming directors, two budget chairs and a membership chair. "We want to make it as open as possible," said Sebastian Restrepo '07, the senior chair of the Board. To become a voting member, a student only has to attend three consecutive meetings, held every Monday, so it is easy to become a major part of the process. This results in an oft-changing group that plans such popular events as Bingo Nights and Free Skate Nights at Thompson Arena.

Typically, an attempt at wider involvement is made by blitzing out a narrowed-down list of choices of music acts to around a third of each class, asking them to rank the list in order of preference. This year, because of complications with last minute booking, this list was not sent out over blitz. Rather, it was presented as a survey at the kick-off event of the term, the Welcome Back Party. At the event, only 300 students ended up ranking a survey that included Beck, the All-American Rejects, Secret Machines, Hot Hot Heat, 30 Seconds to Mars, the Raconteurs, Jurassic 5, the Black Crows and, of course, the Roots. By a close vote, the All-American Rejects beat the Roots, who were followed by Beck. The top three artists were presented to the Board, along with statistics of their album sales and the Programming Board's current financial status, which was then followed by a vote. To bring a variety of performances to Dartmouth, PB normally takes into account the last time a band, a hip-hop artist or a woman has performed.

To be fair, planning concerts are a little more complicated than one would think. "It really depends on how our budget's looking, the availability of acts, the availability of Leede ... basically, athletics take priority," Restrepo said. Even a girls' volleyball practice can block a date from being set for a concert. The Programming Board works around these dates, planning around three to six months ahead.

With the dates available, which usually comes down to only two a term, the Programming Board's professional agent, who works out of Boston, finds around 10 bands that are available. Availability depends mainly on location; only bands that are playing in Boston, New York and maybe Montreal would even consider playing at Dartmouth.

"The Roots concert was different from how we usually run our concerts. We usually pick the performers for the fall the spring before and sometimes during the summer. With the Roots, we got a single date at the end of September," Sheikh admitted. "The performer had to say if they'll do it in one month which is kind of difficult within itself."

The Programming Board admits that they do have to stay tapped into the music industry and that money is a factor. "For me personally, I think that a successful show is one that the campus is interested in going to. If we have a sold out show with a majority of the tickets being sold to undergraduates, then that's definitely a sign of success. It's hard to find an act that pleases everyone on campus but if PB does a good advertising job and students are interested enough to buy a ticket and check out the show then we have done our job," Sheikh said.

With only $60,000 to grab a big name act and with rising costs in the entertainment industry, Sebastian added, "We get artists who are on their way up or on their way down. It's sad to say, but it's a product of what Dartmouth is, location-wise, and the reality of our budget. We try to do the best with what we've got."

In this respect, the Programming Board is quite different from other music-based student organizations, like Friday Night Rock. "We don't make money, unlike PB, so it is for the students," explained Andrew Berry '08, president of Friday Night Rock.

FNR is allocated funding by the co-sponsorship budget, which encourages student organizations or individuals to produce events such as the Alpha Phi Alpha Step Show, the Native Americans at Dartmouth Powwow, the underground hip hop show last winter and culture nights. The cost of these events can range from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars, depending on the event.

"Booking is really difficult. It could be impossible to get a band they want, which definitely limits their choices a lot," Berry sympathized. Although he also added, "I do think that FNR could do a better job booking the show of the term. We're more experienced with booking because that's all we do. We have more contacts in the music industry through people that have worked in the booking industries and actually know the bands. And we've got good musical taste in general."

In response to the suggestion of the Roots, Restrepo originally asked, "Who's that?" before recognizing a popular song from the radio. And maybe that's the point. "These are artists who are stuck in between the front-liners, songs you might hear a lot, but they're not on VH1 every week and might not have the name recognition. In the end, they're great bands with great songs."

As for Vanessa Carlton? Berry commented, "Whether you judge success by not losing money or by pleasing the campus ... I don't think it could be considered a success exactly." But Restrepo continues to adamantly defend last year's choice, stating that its criticism was his "biggest gripe."

"Actually 400 people went to Vanessa Carlton. I don't know anyone who didn't love it. It was such an intimate performance ... She knocked everyone's socks off," he said.

Sheikh agreed, "I think Vanessa Carlton was one of the best performers I have ever seen. She sounds exactly like how she sounds on TV and on her records. It's unfortunate that biases stopped people from coming to the show."

As a final reminder, Restrepo concluded, "We're an organization that tries to make fun events for campus, and not a bureaucratic organization that makes X, Y and Z happen. We're a very user-friendly organization."

Sheikh added, "That's why we are so laidback. As much as we can do, we will. The fall is a great time to come to us and let us know any ideas you have. We'll cut down on our own shows for so many people coming to us with different ideas."

And to the campus, Sebastian promised, "We don't want to be insular; we want to be open to campus, know what they feel and what they're excited about."

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