Fall Fest fires up Bigelow


Thomas J. Yang

Desiigner waited until the end of his set to perform his most popular single, “Panda.” (Photo by Thomas Yang | Staff Photographer)

By Joanna Li and Sarah Connor

Large, green and decorated with white trim and orange circular designs, a Chinese dragon sat in the middle of the William Pitt Union on Saturday.

One student held up the dragon’s head while another took the rear. The dragon danced to a quick drum beat, sidling up to the student spectators and kick-starting the day-long Fall Fest.

Pitt Program Council’s Fall Fest gave students a chance to enjoy the unusually high 90-degree weather and watch several popular musicians — including headliners Amine and Desiigner — perform on Bigelow Boulevard.

Students at the Arts Fest — a portion of the festival held on the WPU lawn and hosted by Pitt Arts — munched on free popcorn and cookies as they waited to participate in various arts activities — ranging from t-shirt screening, to button-making, to henna tattoos.

Danica Schimmel, a sophomore anthropology student, spent most of her afternoon in the festival’s arts section snacking on cookies and watching the artists perform from the Union lawn with a group of friends.

“I like that Pitt Arts is doing stuff like this. It’s a great way for people to hear about them on campus,” Schimmel said. “People love the screen-printed T-shirts they have, that’s cool stuff.”

Setup for Fall Fest began Friday afternoon, as PPC closed off Bigelow Boulevard with the help of police officers, security guards and volunteers. But planning began in the summer, according to Deandra Prevot, a sophomore human resources major and public relations director for PPC. The group began trying to book the headlines back in June.

After more than three months of planning, PPC’s work paid off. At 12:30 p.m., when the Arts Fest kicked off, a large crowd was already forming in front of the stage to see the openers — hip hop artist INFLUENTIALJ and rapper Floco Torres — perform their sets at 1 p.m.

INFLUENTIALJ — known in class as James Gandy — is a 20-year-old Pittsburgh native from the Penn Hills area studying marketing here at Pitt. The hip hop artist — whose music videos on YouTube have thousands of views — won Pitt’s Battle of the Bands competition and was invited to perform as a reward.

“I was nervous [to perform at Fall Fest] but once you get on stage the crowd was hype,” Gandy said, adding that it got easier as he progressed through his set. “This was my first real show, it was insane. The crowd was bananas.”

One of his music videos, “Crown,”  features scenes from all over campus, as well as Pittsburgh, and has racked up more than 10,000 views on YouTube since last year. The video for another of his songs, “Keeper,” has reached about half that number in just three weeks.

Dancing across the stage to his tune “Crown,” Gandy made his way to every corner of the stage and got up close with fans. He performed other fan-favorite songs such as “Level Up” and even invited a young woman on stage during the performance of “Keeper.”

The young woman was junior architecture major Ravyn Clark. INFLUENTIALJ sat her down and eventually handed her the mic so she could rap a verse of “Keeper,” which she did without making any mistakes.

“I love his music! The song ‘Keeper’ is so good!” Clark said. “I know James, and I think he’s a great performer.”

Madihah Shaik, a junior computer science major, stood in the crowd dancing along to the music.

“He’s a legend, he’s going to blow up soon!” Shaik said.

At around 4 p.m. Saturday, the Arts Fest cleared out and students began to take over the Union lawn with blankets and chairs in preparation for the headliners.

Amine performed his set first, including songs from his newly released album, “Good For You.” For his 2016 debut hit single, “Caroline,” the crowd took over the performance — singing the lyrics to the entire song in unison with only minor help from the artist.

Desiigner, like Amine, held out until the end of his set to sing his most popular single, “Panda.” He moved around to the beat throughout his performance, even climbing the support beams on the sides of the stage.

Desiigner crowd surfs during his concert at Fall Fest on Saturday. (Photo by Thomas Yang | Staff Photographer)

First-year Chris Ng described the Fall Fest performances as “super lit.”

“Desiigner was the best part of the concert by far because everybody was into it, interacting with the crowd, and just full of energy,” Ng said.

Emily Moore and Taylor Clark, two sophomore PPC members and hospitality volunteers for the Fall Fest, said their weekend was busy but fun. As hospitality volunteers, they aided the performers, getting them food and drinks when necessary. The girls were excited to help out with the festival because it allowed them to get closer to the performers.

“[The event staff and security] have an area set up for us to watch the show,” Moore said. “We’re right in front of the stage. It’s really cool.”

Although Shaik stood amidst the larger crowd, flanked on all sides by students, she said Fall Fest was an event she won’t forget.

“Influential is going to be huge!” Shaik said. “I saw him before he was huge!”