Opinion: It’s Time for Wulapalooza To Make A Comeback
By William Berrtellotti
Disclosure: The writer of this article formerly served as a member of the Wulapalooza Club.
Artists performing at Wulapalooza during past festivals. Courtesy of The Collegian Archives.
With its 20th (and perhaps final, proper) event happening in Spring 2018, the existence of Willamette University’s previously annual music festival dubbed “Wulapalooza” is lost knowledge to many current students at Willamette. Pitched as an “Earth, art, and music festival,” Wulapalooza was helmed by a completely student-run club that worked to organize the festival each year. Unfortunately, barriers of a low budget and student opposition to rigid security protocols for the event resulted in a scaled-back event dubbed “Futurepalooza,” which primarily booked affordable local acts and student bands to establish a more informal event which envisioned what a similar, yet smaller live music event could look like for Willamette in coming years.
In 2018, the event was headlined by rap duo Blimes and Gab, singer/songwriter Lady Lamb and genre-bending musician Tunde Olanrian. More notably, 2017’s festival was headlined by indie-rock band Naked Giants, experimental rap trio Injury Reserve, UK-based pop trio Kero Kero Bonito and New York rapper Princess Nokia— several of which have exploded in popularity and gained an established reputation within their respective genres since their Wulapalooza appearances. I was full of excitement to participate in a festival centered around Willamette’s artistic culture and attention to sustainable environmental practices, so I was heartbroken to find that the club had been disbanded in my sophomore year during Fall 2019. But with live music returning as countless musicians begin announcing tour dates, and the Willamette campus returning to almost full in-person for the first semester since pre-pandemic times roughly one and a half years ago, I cannot think of a better idea to bring the Willamette and greater Salem community together than a live music event. Especially after months of online school making it difficult to connect with our peers and classmates, the student body needs a unifying experience now more than ever.
The largest obstacle standing in the way is that most underclass students don’t know such a festival ever occurred. Joaquin Ocaña (‘24) noted that he had “never heard anything at all” about a Willamette music festival prior to me informing him of it. Knowledge of Wula is limited for those who were on campus when the club’s final “Futurepalooza” event occurred, such as Nia Lopez-Salmons (‘22) who had “only heard of” Wula, but “never got the chance to go.”
Despite this lack of awareness for Willamette’s past annual music festival, spreading awareness of its potential would almost certainly spike student interest in bringing some form of similar, live music event back to campus. Lopez-Salmons noted that “it would be a beautiful, unifying experience, to enjoy the healing powers of live music with our community.” Another former member of the Wula club that worked to organize these festivals, Desmond Inglis (‘22) gave his full support of bringing the festival back in some capacity, expressing that “It’s good to have fun, especially as a student who doesn’t have much time to do fun things” adding that the convenience of an on-campus live music event “doesn’t give you much of a choice but to go.”
So with students in support of revitalizing Willamette’s annual earth, music, and arts festival, we must discuss how this can be achieved in a way friendly to the university’s budget and in a way where all students who attend feel safe and accepted. Inglis suggested a catch-all solution of foregoing any hiring of security, which would ease student concerns of feeling welcomed at the event and add more space to the budget. He suggested that “Willamette faculty should chaperone the event and act as security” since the main goal of security is to prevent students from engaging in illegal activities or illicit substances. Ocaña provided the idea that the festival should be “a big event for multiple organizations across campus to fundraise for,” since placing that onus on one club “seems like a lot of work,” but acknowledged that a “need for security unfortunately seems unavoidable.” On the other hand, a self-governed and trust-based model in which Wula club members and students entirely oversee the event as staff is far more in-line with the festival’s DIY spirit and is not without precedent— as that was how Futurepalooza was staged.
The primary expense of such an event has been booking headlining acts to perform, and a challenge faced by previous organizers was balancing affordable acts with those who might have name recognition to draw students to the event. Inglis notes that “students want to see recognizable artists” and that “knowing a famous person will perform is half the appeal of going.” Of course, booking any big-name artist is a hefty expense, so Inglis proposed that organizers “focus on getting one artist with name recognition” rather than 2-4, and to hire “local and student bands to fill the rest of the bill.” This idea would not only ease strain on an already tight budget, but center the event as primarily a display of Willamette’s culture by opening more opportunities for student musicians to share their creativity with the community.
A common misconception about Wulapalooza is that it was solely a music festival, when the event also featured numerous side activities and aimed to promote environmental sustainability. Though these additional activities changed each year given the organizers’ vision, expanding the vision of Wula beyond just that of a music festival would not just make it more appealing to the administrative boards that offer it funding by offering a diverse array of ways for students to engage with their campus culture, but would enrich the overall experience as well. Some student ideas include a houseplant swap station, a table for arts and crafts and a station for student visual artists to showcase their work. Students could also be drawn to such an event with the presence of outside catering or to see friends involved in various extracurriculars— such as acapella groups, improv club or the fire-spinning club— put on performances. Traditionally, the event is held on the weekend of Earth Day, and includes fundraising efforts towards organizations focused on combating climate change through ticket and merchandise sales. With Willamette’s reputation of academic rigor, an endlessly busy student body and being located in a home to gloomy seasonal weather, I see no reason why such events couldn’t be a possibility, and certainly agree that establishing a music festival with fresh supplementary activities could lend a bit more fun to the university’s name, potentially making it a more appealing destination for prospective students.
Whether under the Wulapalooza name or not, a music festival provides near limitless ways to engage with the student body and beyond into our Salem community, ranging from the involvement of various clubs and campus organizations and side activities that appeal to a diverse array of potential student interests or booking local musicians desperate to start performing live again. Previously, the event has also been open to the greater Salem community beyond Willamette’s students, and by inviting outsiders to a WU-hosted event, Wulapalooza could pop the infamous “Willamette bubble” of students confining themselves to campus from the inside— offering new ways for the University’s students to connect and get involved with our local community beyond the bounds of State and Winter St.. Perhaps most importantly, imagining a new campus-wide live music event can revitalize the student body’s penchant for creative expression and paint Willamette as a beacon of this artistic and environmentally-focused culture to the greater Salem area and beyond.