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Way Back at Mac: The Best of the Fest

Uncredited Mac Weekly photo of Springfest 1977.
There are a couple of things that indicate “spring” at Mac: hammocks on Old Main lawn, chacos — a.k.a. Macalester students’ favorite warm weather footwear — a longer line at the Café Mac soft-serve machine and, of course, Springfest. April 15, 2017 marks the 45th celebration of everyone’s favorite spring festival and all of the happiness and excitement — and sadness? — that comes with it.

Students and dog share refreshments at 6th annual Springfest, 1978, photo from TMW by Betsey J. Nagle.
In the February 28, 1975 edition of The Mac Weekly, writer Charlotte Porter described Springfest as, “most students’ dream of the way to end a school year — a warm spring day, live music, and 75 kegs of beer.” Yes, that’s right — the Springfest planning committee used to raised money to provide beer for all the attendees. Before you get any ideas, note that the drinking age was 18 at the time. That year, the student coordinators also pushed for the event to be held in the athletic stadium for crowd control. The idea met opposition, including from athletic director Ralph Lundeen. In an interview with Porter, Lundeen said, “We don’t think the stadium is the place to hold a beer and pot party. We have a track meet the next day and we don’t want the place smelling of beer.” Springfest took place on Shaw Field instead, and featured 75 kegs of beer, casual frisbee games and music lasting until 1 a.m.

In 1978, The Mac Weekly held its first ever pre-Springfest beer taste-testing. 250 students filled out the survey ranking 16 beers, with Special Export receiving the most votes as the best beer. In the actual testing, 18 students ranked the 16 beers again and then were given unmarked glasses and asked to rank them. At the end of the testing, many of the students were embarrassed to have ranked their favorites low and vice versa.

Most of the earlier Springfests featured several smaller and often local bands such as Mojo Buford, Willie and the Bumblebees, The Daisy Dillman Band and Shangoya. Volunteers set up several stages and tents to accommodate for all of the performances. In 1976, the Springfest Committee attempted to get Bob Marley to perform, but they had to settle for less expensive artists when the cost was upward of $3,000. Instead of the famous reggae singer, Shortstuff (a blues band), Island (a rock and roll band from Omaha) and Crossfire (a local group) headlined the festival. In 1988, there were even two nights of Springfest, Friday and Saturday, with the idea that people would let off steam on Friday and then be more relaxed Saturday night. The most widely-known Springfest performance was from the Black-Eyed Peas in 2000. Granted, this was before they hit it big in 2003.

Uncredited Mac Weekly photo of Springfest 1977
A blurb in the April 24, 1984 Mac Weekly reminded students: “On Saturday a room check will take place from noon to 6 p.m. in all dorms. All those hiding from Springfest will be forced to eat the tarp.” As no further explanation was given, it’s unclear whether this reminder was in jest (or what the expression “eat the tarp” refers to) or whether Springfest was truly a mandatory event. Nevertheless, it’s evident that not everyone was or is a fan of Springfest. In the February 28, 1975 edition of The Mac Weekly, President Charles McLarnen said that “the idea of a spring party is a great one” but didn’t like the possibility of “a drunken brawl.” In 1978, one student reported to The Mac Weekly, “I do not like beer. I do not drink beer.” Another student asked, “Why isn’t there anything else to drink at Spring – fest?”

Springfest can be described in a lot of ways. The April 27, 1979 edition of The Mac Weekly called Springfest “the massive slaughter of brain cells before finals.” However, it’s important to understand what organizers have wanted it to be, not necessarily what it is. A Springfest coordinator, Spencer Edelmen, shared his vision for Springfest in an April 21, 2006 interview with The Mac Weekly. He said, “Springfest is a time when everybody on campus can come get together and have fun. Whether you drink or not, whether you smoke or not. You can come out sit in the grass, throw a frisbee, listen to sweet music. It’s about fellowship and community. It’s about loving each other, you know. I never hated anybody on Springfest. Even Alex Hiller — who like ransacked me — ran at me and tackled me and hurt me. I still loved him that day, more than anything.”

April 7, 2017

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