For this year’s Back to the Brook concert, Stony Brook University’s Undergraduate Student Government (USG) broke from its traditional student opener selection process, with USG representatives claiming the change is a way to save money and prevent performers from having their music go unappreciated. Ardit Piroli, a senior psychology and applied mathematics and statistics major, was asked to open as a DJ instead.
“It seemed like what was really happening [was that] we substituted elevator music for students,” Jaliel Amador, USG’s Vice President of Student Life and Programming, said. “I saw the students putting their heart[s] out there, doing what they do best, and people not really acknowledging them. I don’t want to make someone go on stage and feel discouraged because there are only 10 people looking at them.”
Although student openers do not get paid, Amador said that it typically costs between $500 and $800 to cover the costs of equipment. Piroli, who has his own equipment and usually charges for his work, played the concert for free as a favor to Amador, he and Amador confirmed. He hooked up to the same sound equipment used by the concert’s headlining performers, Post Malone and Slushii, thereby making for a smooth transition between performers.
In years past, students approached the USG, requesting to perform as openers for Back to the Brook. Unlike Brookfest, no student vote is held for the Back to the Brook performance, Amador said.
“In the fall semester, the act is chosen by the board because there is usually no programming time to have an event for a competition,” Amador said in an email.
However, this semester, the USG opted to use a student DJ rather than have students perform their original work, as in years past.
“From my understanding, it was decided over the summer that there would be no student opener for this concert,” Josue said in an email. “Members that have served on [the Student Advisory Board] before all agreed that due to the small crowd size, almost all past student opener performances have been somewhat awkward and the lack of crowd size could come off as disrespectful to the student opener.”
When asked about the selection process used this semester, Josue said in an email, “Jaliel [Amador] has told me that he reached out to a few DJs before asking Ardit, but none of them wanted to do it because it wasn’t paid.”
“[The prospective performers] usually participate in a competition and perform all in one night for students’ votes,” Josue said.
Amador said that in the past, the USG relied on either an application process or a direct approach from the artist. The Commas, student performers for last year’s Back to the Brook event, initially got in touch with members of the Student Activities Board to express their interest in opening – and were asked to send in recordings before being invited to a meeting in which they were informed that they had earned the gig.
“Playing there did help us get more performances on campus,” Dylan Schreiber, The Commas’ drummer said via Facebook Messenger. “People had heard of us, so people started asking us to play at their events…It was the biggest venue we’[d] ever played. The sound system was unbelievable and it just kind of hit us during sound check that this was something different. There were a lot of professionals there who really cared about prepping all the equipment to sound its best and it really felt great to be appreciated like that.”
Amador said there are other opportunities still, for students to showcase their work, including Brookfest, Wolfieland, Roth Regatta and Homecoming.
He also said that another student DJ, as referenced by Josue, was approached to share the stage with Piroli, but that the DJ turned down the offer. Piroli said he has been employed as a DJ by the university for the past two and a half years, working gigs on an as-needed basis, being paid up to a few thousand dollars for large events. There are a lot of talented DJs and producers on campus who he knows personally, he said, adding that he plans on providing their names as references to the school after he graduates this semester.
“I kind of feel bad that I’m doing [Back to the Brook], because I’m not playing my original music,” Piroli said. “I’m just literally DJing this event, you know, it’s not like a showcase for me.”
Some Stony Brook students said they felt relatively indifferent toward the change in student artistry this year— saying that although they enjoyed past student performances featuring original work, they are open to a DJ like Piroli, who has played previous Stony Brook events.
“To be honest, if he’s performed before and he’s had success, then it really doesn’t matter,” Ariana Ricci, a freshman biology major, said. “Because that means he’ll be successful again.”
“I don’t think that one person, because their medium is different, should outshadow someone else’s art,” Devan Kartha, a sophomore psychology major, said.
“Everyone was super pumped and ready to see Post Malone, so we were dancing, singing, jumping and yelling to anything,” Jennifer Kustanovich, a freshman business and health science major on the pre-med track, said of Piroli’s performance post-concert. “He had good energy, which definitely resonated with the crowd.”
“Personally, I think the spot for a student opener is a great opportunity for starting artists to practice being on a big stage,” Josue said in an email. “However, from my own past experiences as an audience member, I would agree that the time during the student opener’s performance was usually slightly awkward because of the lack of people and energy.”
Although Piroli does produce his own original work, which is available on SoundCloud, he did not play it on Friday. Rather, he said he focused on getting the crowd pumped before the concert, through more intense dubstep and hip-hop music.
“I hope people are ready to mosh,” he said in an interview before the concert,” he said. “Nothing would make me happier than to see a big Stony Brook mosh pit open up and have everybody just hug each other.”
Correction: This story was previously published with the headline “USG does away with Back to the Brook student opener competition.” In previous years, student opener competitions were held for other USG concerts but not Back to the Brook