On Monday, May 14, a letter sent to A.S. Program Board, Chancellor Henry T. Yang, the Daily Nexus and The Bottom Line brought an air of discontent to ASPB. The letter relayed a series of miscommunications between Program Board and The Fire Department, a local band that recently performed at Extravaganza as ASPB’s Battle of the Bands champions and drafted and sent the letter.
Among the issues relayed were late sound checks (or no sound checks due to bad timing), lost paperwork, failures to return phone calls, a cancellation 48 hours before a Storke Plaza show and misinformation about performance times. The circumstance that put things over the edge for the band members was ASPB’s stance on not allowing their family members to come see them play at Extravaganza, their largest and most professional show to date.
Additionally, the band was upset by the last-minute shortening of their Extravaganza set from 60 minutes to 30. In the letter and in subsequent interviews, band members explained the frustration of practicing and accumulating enough material for that long of a set, only to have it shortened a week before the event.
“We’d been told for a month up until Monday [May 14] that we would have [between] an hour [and] an hour and 15 minute set — and then we got told 30 minutes,” Zeal Levin, the band’s lead singer, said. “For the past two months we’ve been rearranging school schedules and busy work schedules to get in these practice hours [for an hour set] and a lot of it was a waste. We prepared a lot … and it’s a bummer that we won’t be able to present this material.”
According to Levin, a third-year ethnomusicology major, nearly every single member of the 11-person band had a relative or two who were coming to see the show. Many had even booked hotel rooms.
“One of the first things we brought up to Program Board [once we won Battle of the Bands] was whether or not we could receive complimentary tickets for our families to come see us perform,” Levin explained. “We’d been asking about this for months and never got a clear answer.”
The situation of complimentary tickets for The Fire Department’s family members prompted a Program Board meeting that occurred last Monday to discuss whether or not an exception could be made. The resulting answer was no.
The core members of the band have been playing together in Oakland since the seventh grade, and their parents have supported them the whole time so they were quite distraught.
“It just doesn’t make any sense that we should be thrown in the same pool as other students who were requesting compensation tickets,” Levin said.
“I thought it was unfair treatment because the other bands [performing] got three guest tickets per member,” Evan Monroe, the band’s drummer, said. “Program Board said that they couldn’t give out compensation tickets because other students were asking for tickets as well, even those who were putting on the event, and they couldn’t give them to everyone.” Monroe’s parents cancelled their hotel reservation the day before they had planned to drive down from Oakland.
But for The Fire Department, the misfortune didn’t stop in the Extravaganza planning stages. On Sunday, May 20, around 11 a.m., the band arrived at the event grounds. They went to the tent they had been assigned — a white tent near the entrance that was separated from all the other artists’ tents. There was a fence put in place as a dividing line between them and the other artists.
“[In the artists’ tent,] all the other bands had nice catered food, but on the sign it specifically said that The Fire Department was not allowed to eat any of the food,” Monroe, a third-year geology major, said. “All the A.S. people who worked there had their own food, too. And we weren’t allowed to eat any of that, either.”
After some probing, The Fire Department was given leftover food from the A.S. workers. But they still felt as if they were being treated completely different from the other bands.
“We felt that we weren’t being treated as musicians, as artists,” Levin explained. “Because we were students, we were simply being treated like second-rate artists.
Concerning the actual performance, the band played eight of the 15 songs they had practiced. Seven were original. After the sixth song, Program Board tried to cut the set short of the 30 minutes they were allotted.
“When we had two songs left in our set, they were telling us to stop playing,” Monroe said. “But we just continued anyway. During the last song they cut off the keyboard halfway through the song to try and get us to stop.
After the set, the band invited Snoop Dogg’s band to come to their tent. The musicians got together and jammed in an afro-funk percussion set. The bands exchanged contact information and seemed to hit it off.
“It was great to make those contacts because really the measures that A.S. put in place were to kind of prevent us from doing that,” Levin said. “They should … promote contacts between the local band and these artists who have made it. Especially artists like Iration, who made it out of Isla Vista. They … advertise Extravaganza as for the students, by the students, about the students.”
Members of The Fire Department felt that this was a false representation of the event, based on their experiences with ASPB.
“[ASPB] should reflect that [“for the students, by the students, about the students”] notion of the band in their treatment of the band,” Thomas Semow, the band’s bass player, said.
Despite these less-than-professional occurrences, The Fire Department had a good time performing at Extravaganza. Friends filming the spectacle noted that the band was playing faster than usual because they were so amped up.
“It was great to perform a real concert versus a party in Isla Vista,” Thomas Semow, a third-year philosophy and religious studies major, said. “At parties, everyone is trying to rage anyway, but at a concert you really gotta bring it up to that level. And it was cool to have the crowd feeling it. Plus we were really excited to be part of the lineage of local bands that gets to play at Extravaganza.”
The Fire Department still had a couple supportive parents show up from Oakland. The parents of Joe Farey, the saxophone player, came and sat on lawn chairs outside of Harder Stadium with binoculars to listen to their son play.
“Ultimately, we’re not trying to shed a negative image of A.S.,” Farey, a third-year philosophy major, said. “We’re a positive, positive group and want to send a positive message, but we did want to point out some of their flaws in the way that they treated us. We are very grateful for the opportunity that they gave us.”
A couple of the band members gave suggestions for changes in ASPB’s treatment of bands in the future.
“My friend played in Soul Minded [another local band that got to play at Extravaganza] a few years back, and he [experienced the same] disrespect during the show,” Semow said. “If, because of Extravaganza, a local band gains notoriety or progresses in some way, that reflects right back on the university and Program Board and makes them look good. So I think that A.S. Program Board should make an effort to treat the local band like a professional band.”
ASPB was contacted for a response to The Fire Department’s grievances but were unable to respond in time for publication. Artsweek will be following up with an article detailing their response next week.
For more information on The Fire Department, visit their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/thefiredepartment. They are releasing their first record next week.