NYC: Bright Lights,
YOUNG ALUMNI | Different people surely had their own defining moments for the PennFest NYC event this past June. One came fairly late in the evening, when John Stephens C01 sat at the piano, slaying the audience with a delicious, gut-tickling cover of Marvin Gayes Lets Get It On. As he sang, a tall young guy near the stage stood behind his lady friend, arms wrapped gently around her, both of them swaying to the music. Most of the crowd was swaying, too, and for a moment the whole scene seemed straight out of the movie High Fidelity.
Stephens was just one of five musical acts and a couple of dozen filmmakers and performers showcasing their stuff at the sold-out PennFest NYC. More than 500 peoplemany but by no means all of them Penn alumnicrammed into the Knitting Factory in Tribeca to hear live music, see the work of up-and-coming filmmakers and performers, schmooze, and otherwise immerse themselves in a Penn-centric world of arts and entertainment.
The evening was the result of a lot of hard work and over-the-top enthusiasm by a core group of New York alumni, especially Hayley Lattman C97, the events director; Melissa Donald C98, PennFests film coordinator; and music coordinator John Gottstein C97. (Gottstein is also the front-man for the high-voltage SSRi, which cranked out some rousing, high-testosterone metal anthems with verveand Gottsteins disarming smile.)
They also had considerable help from PennNYCespecially Karen Chance C99, assistant director of the Global Alumni Network in New York and from the model that had been created out in Los Angeles by Matt Rosler C96.
I actually read about PennFest in the Gazette [Alumni Profiles, May/June 2002], said Lattman. I saw that Matt Rosler had started it in L.A., and I just thought it was an incredible, exciting idea, and something that was needed. Because when you think of Penn, you think of pre-professionalism, and you dont think about people who are doing really amazing artistic endeavors throughout the country. Rosler encouraged her to give it a try in New York, and offered more than just encouragement: He and his Penn Club Los Angeles colleagues had put together a 20-page PennFest Planning Manual to be used by other host cities.
Donald and Gottstein also had concluded that New York-area alumni in (or aspiring to be in) the arts and entertainment professions needed an outlet and a means for networking, since an arts and entertainment alumni community had not really galvanized in New York City.
After reviewing tapes of a number of Penn comedians, the three settled on Aaron Karo W01a standup comic and author of Ruminations on College Life and an emailed newsletter (also called Ruminations)to be the events emcee [Laugh It Up, March/April].
After the show, Karo suggested that it wasnt his most successful night as a stand-up comic. But he kept the evening moving at a crisp pace, and he got his share of laughs along the way.
Other schools wouldnt do this, he said of PennFest. I think its really special that were doing thisand turnout has been huge. And I think this is just a portent of bigger and better things to come.
That would be Ryan Oakes C00, conjurer, who did some baffling things with ropes, defused a would-be heckler (I acted the same way the first time I got drunk), and offered a lively, sometimes-dazzling presentation and patter. And he did in fact make himself disappear from inside a large wooden box, with the help of a lithe assistant. But you had to be there to see itor not.
not often that a band performing in a Manhattan nightclub plays paeans
to Locust Walk, and nearly all of the audience knows exactly what
hes singing about. The lyrics sounded better when backed by their
authors band: The Bobby Fingeroth Band, whose guitar-based songs
featured a searing electric violin, bass, and drums as well as the
melodious vocals of Bobby Fingeroth C97, a former diplomatic-history
major at Penn. He diplomatically dedicated one song to former Penn
quarterback (and current Atlanta Braves infielder) Mark DeRosa W97
The two other musical acts were the multicultural Aquavibe, which featured Derek Lee C97 on guitar and offered a powerful, richly layered sound that melded a range of styleship hop, trip hop, funk, soul, and jazzinto what they called the Peoples Groovement. And Brooke Wurst C94 provided able guitar accompaniment for the soulful torch songs of Lucy Keating.
The two dozen film clips were presented in three discrete blocks, each lasting about 15 minutes, which meant that no individual clip lasted more than two minutes. Stylistically, they ranged from Alan Dorfman C00s outrageous The UK of A and Shane Stein C00s I Wish My Beer Was As Cold As Your Heart to Adam Hertzog C95s Sportscasters: Behind the Mike to Neil Chatterjee EAS01s dazzling animation, Carsus Corporeus. While that condensed approach had the advantage of offering a broad mix of styles and visions in a short amount of time, the rapid-fire pacing sometimes overwhelmed the impressive individual efforts.
Were already thinking about things that were going to do a little bit differently for next year, said Lattman.
On the whole, she described herself as ecstatic with the way the evening had gone. It exceeded my expectations, she added, and I think that this is something that can go on for many years. S.H.
2003 The Pennsylvania Gazette