A look into Programming Board’s Green Key planning process
Programming Board balances student preferences, artist availability and budgetary constraints to bring its annual Gold Coast Lawn concert to life.
This article is featured in the 2022 Green Key special issue.
Since 2013, Programming Board has organized a large concert for Green Key on Gold Coast Lawn. This Friday evening concert is a staple of the weekend — but not without significant planning: PB works for months to organize the event, beginning the planning process as early as the end of fall term, according to director of student involvement and PB advisor David Pack.
Choosing a Headliner
Before winter term begins, PB concerts director Emma Elsbecker ’24 said that PB typically sends a genre interest survey to the student body, asking them to indicate what types of music they most want to see at Green Key.
“[PB] really look[s] to the results from the community surveys — which hundreds and hundreds of other students filled out — to guide the decision making for final selection,” Pack said.
Once a genre has been selected, PB compiles a list of “up-and-coming artists” before consulting with a booking agency, Concert Ideas — which provides the board with information on various artists’ pricing and availability, Elsbecker said. From there, PB sends out a second survey which asks students to vote again — this time for specific artists.
When it comes time to select the official Green Key artist, PB executive director Cole Minsky ’22, along with a few other members, work with Pack to make the final call, informed by the student survey feedback. This year, Saint Motel and KYLE are co-headlining the concert, and Doechii will be the opening artist.
The timing of Green Key can be both a blessing and a curse in relation to securing artists. Many other colleges host spring concert weekends earlier in May, so there is little competition from other schools to book artists. There are, however, other music festivals that can conflict with Green Key — and artists may be more inclined to perform at higher profile events.
“Green Key weekend is almost always the exact same weekend as Hangout Fest, which is a large music festival in Gulf Shores, Alabama,” Pack said. “So many artists that we looked at, or who were recommended by folks, were not available because they had already committed to performing at this music festival, where they will perform for a larger audience than [the] 4,000 people here at Dartmouth.”
PB is spending roughly half of its annual budget — which comes from the student activities fee and is allotted by the Undergraduate Finance Committee — on the concert, Pack said.
During the 2019-2020 academic year, PB’s annual budget was $341,000. Pack said that the annual budget has not changed since then, though PB received supplementary funding from the UFC for its Green Key budget.
“Artists’ costs have been increasing, [and] security costs have been increasing,” Pack said. “…What we can say is that the cost of the talent is about half of the total cost of [PB’s] Green Key [concert].”
Pack said that despite an increased budget, many of the same artists from previous years re-appeared on the list due to inflation of prices to book artists.
“This year one of the things we are definitely seeing is inflation in artist prices, even with raising our price range to be able to open up more people, a lot of the same people ended up on the list. People who used to cost, say, $30,000 may now be charging $50,000,” Pack said.
PB must consider both student preferences and affordability when choosing the headliner. Nohi Perry ’25 expressed satisfaction with PB’s choice of Green Key artists, given the context of their budget.
“Of course, I wish we could have Harry Styles, but the PB did a great job securing artists with the resources they have,” Perry said. “I think KYLE will be so much fun.”
Pack added that PB has incurred more expenses related to security for the event this year as well and wristbanding is one contributor.
“The concert was sort of open for the first few years,” Pack said. “We had to implement the wristbanding policy to meet town concerns for controlling access to the concert. Over the years there have been new additional costs.”
In addition to wristbanding, additional costs have been incurred because of the addition of water barricades “a few years back,” according to Pack.
Beyond simply selecting the performers, PB must also handle the logistics of organizing a concert for thousands of students. In order to facilitate the concert, Green Key generally relies on recruiting student volunteers to handle tasks such as distributing wristbands or monitoring the concert entrance, according to Pack.
Pack also said that before the COVID-19 pandemic, Programming Board had around 30 to 40 active members. However, this year, the club only has about 10 to 15 active members –– making the organization of Green Key an even larger commitment for those few students, he said.
Sanjana Goli ’22 said she believes that student absence due to COVID-19 may be responsible for these difficulties in recruiting students.
“Maybe it’s because the only class that has experienced [Green Key] thus far is seniors, but it is also senior spring,” Goli noted. “I think there is greatest attachment from the seniors, but trying to make the most of senior spring makes it hard to fit [volunteering] in.”
Pack similarly said he believes that the decrease in Programming Board membership is due to a lack of student awareness regarding how many student volunteers are needed to plan events such as Green Key. In addition to determining the featured acts, students are responsible for logistics such as reserving Safety and Security and green rooms for the artists.
“It’s an enormous amount of work and responsibility to even just coordinate the concert, figure out all the moving pieces of it,” Pack said. “... And obviously, coordinating all of the wrist-banding and ticket process is a big responsibility.”
PB will offer various “incentives” to volunteers based on the number of hours of work they can provide, Pack said, including a meet and greet with the artists performing at the concert.
After so long without a Green Key concert, many students are excited to experience PB’s concert — most either for the first or last time.
“I’m a current junior right now, and I’ve never been to Green Key,” Quinten Arello ’23 said. “This is all new for me, for the sophomores, for the freshmen, which is crazy to think about, but I couldn’t be happier.”