Zootefest plans driven to extinction
After Student Government Association (SGA) leadership announced the cancellation of Lutefest last month, Max Collyard ’13 began planning a spring music festival to take its place. But plans for Zootefest, as the event was dubbed, fell through last week after the Northfield City Council told Collyard he had missed the deadline to apply for a permit.
On Thursday, March 14, SGA President Catherine Haines ’13 and Vice President Matt Alveshere ’13 sent an email to the student body, announcing that “as a result of consistently unsuccessful attempts” to “make Lutefest a fun and risk-free event,” Lutefest would be canceled after a nine-year run.
Like many students, Collyard was disappointed to hear of the cancellation. But unlike most of his peers, he immediately began forming plans for an independently-funded event. Collyard originally envisioned Zootefest as a small, private get-together with live music.
“I had been thinking about Lutefest because there were rumors it would be canceled,” said Collyard, “and I wanted to have a little party with me and 300 other people.”
But after he began to advertise the event on social media, the scope of Zootefest grew rapidly. Collyard created a Facebook event entitled “Zootefest, or the fest formerly known as Lutefest,” and within five days of its creation, the event had over 300 guests RSVP as “attending.” Student interest soared, and Collyard, with the help of Tommy Cullen ’13, Tucker McGownd ’14 and Anna Carlson ’13, set out to make a bigger and better event.
In an interview, Collyard said that he began by contacting members of the Northfield City Council, park managers, lawyers and security consultants as he attempted to build the event. He spoke with individuals involved in the planning of Jesse James Days in Northfield to learn about resources available for large crowds. They suggested the rodeo grounds, as various other parks were reserved around that time.
Through these efforts, Zootefest began to take shape. Collyard decided on the rodeo grounds off of Highway 19 as the location for the festival, and he elected to sell students tickets in order to pay for supplies and personnel.
Zootefest was planned for Saturday, May 4, and on Monday, April 15, Collyard began selling tickets for $10. According to Collyard, as the potential event’s popularity grew, school administrators contacted Collyard with concerns about liability issues, regulations and student safety.
“I think the administration has an influence on what the City Council decides,” Collyard said. “Greg Kneser warned me that he had notified the chief of police about the upcoming event. They could shut it down if St. Olaf doesn’t want it.” Due to the increased size of the event, Zootefest also needed approval from the Northfield
City Council. Soon, more than 800 students had RSVP’d as “attending” Collyard’s Facebook event. By April 20, 500 of them had purchased tickets from Collyard, paying in cash or online through a PayPal account he set up for the festival.
The use of social media caused an explosion of interest not only among Oles, but also throughout Northfield. Collyard and Ned Netzel ’13 uploaded YouTube videos to keep students informed about the event. This engagement, coupled with overwhelming student interest, kept the idea of the potential festival alive.
The prospective music lineup, compiled by Netzel, reflected a variety of styles and featured a mix of St. Olaf, Carleton and Northfield bands. Campus Band Coordinator Sam Benson ’15 expressed support for Collyard’s and Netzel’s efforts.
“One of the big things that Zootefest really offered was the potential to demonstrate to the administration that a large festival like Lutefest or Zootefest or whatever could actually be about the music and not just about the drinking or partying,” Benson said.
“I’m doing this because I feel like it will benefit the students and ultimately create a much healthier environment for things like this to take place,” said Collyard, echoing Benson’s sentiments.
Collyard regularly communicated via email with students who had purchased tickets to Zootefest, keeping them updated on his efforts and reminding them that nothing would be set in stone until the festival received approval from the Northfield City Council.
Collyard attended a Northfield City Council work session on Tuesday, April 23. He was informed that, as council members do not vote at work sessions, he would have to present his proposal at the next official meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, May 7 – after the tentative date of Zootefest would have passed.
In a video posted on YouTube and Facebook later that night, Collyard asked those who had purchased tickets to Zootefest what they wanted his next step to be. Through an online survey, Collyard asked whether students wanted their money refunded, donated to charity or put toward a possible future Zootefest, to be held at a later date.
Students were split over how to use the $5,000 in ticket sales. Some wanted to donate the money to charity, while others voted for T-shirts or refunds. However, 80 percent of students still wanted some sort of event, so Collyard continued to attempt to make Zootefest a reality. He called City Hall on Wednesday, April 24, and, later that evening, a councilperson contacted him via phone and told him that in order to receive a permit for a public event, he would have had to apply at least 45 days prior to the event day.
After that phone call, Collyard suspended ticket sales. In the days following, Collyard offered refunds to those who wanted them, as well as the opportunity for students to donate the money from their ticket sales to charity. Despite the disappointment, Collyard is hopeful that Zootefest could still happen next year.
“I’m going to make sure that it does,” Collyard said. “I have talked to several sophomores and juniors to carry the torch, and I will be there to make things happen electronically. It was an issue of time. The city takes much more time to put things together.”
St. Olaf has had a history of various spring festivals that have come and gone. Before the genesis of Lutefest, the annual spring festival, Arbstock, was a festival co-sponsored by St. Olaf and Carleton College and hosted in the Carleton arboretum. In 2003, however, citing legal and liability issues, St. Olaf withdrew its funding for the event.
After withdrawing its support, St. Olaf used the money it had placed in Arbstock to continue the tradition of a spring music festival. The event, originally named the St. Olaf Outdoor Spring Blues Festival, was later coined Lutefest.
Though Arbstock and Lutefest are things of the past, and the college will be without a campus music festival this spring, Collyard is confident that Zootefest still belongs in St. Olaf’s future.