Friday, May 2, 2008

Peace, Love & Smiles -- how “Fredoniafest” began

By April Diodato

An original t-shirt for the first Fredoniafest (now “Fred Fest”), held in 1980, includes the definition: “Fredonicus Maximus: the ultimate party.”

The shirt defines it as:

1. A spring experience at Fredonia State University on May 2nd and 3rd.
2. A celebration of warmth.
3. Two days of frisbee slinging, beer swallowing, bike riding, skateboarding, LIVE MUSIC, singing, dancing, laughing.”
The outdoor concert was free, the 16-ounce Koch’s drafts were 25 cents and the burgers and hot dogs weren’t over 25 or 50 cents either.

An article published May 5, 1980, in the campus paper, The Leader, by staff writer Martin LeFever was headlined “Fredoniafest ’80: two days of fun, beer & rock.” It declared the event was “a smash hit for several obvious reasons. It was the proper mix of organization and luck that made the fest such a success.”

It’s all thanks to the Union Board of Governors -- UBG for short -- which its 1980 president David Plafker described as “a radical bunch of kids, always at odds with the college administration in pushing our agendas of providing great entertainment and social activities for the students.”

“We all had to prove that we could pull this off without a hitch or there may never be another spring festival,” remembers Debbie Cohen Arntzen, a UBG member serving as the Unicorn chairperson. “We were even more motivated by the challenge.”

The UBG came up with the concept in 1980 at one of their meetings -- after which they’d usually go to BJ’s for wings -- amid the usual joking and chatter in one of the campus center meeting rooms.

“One of us came back from a spring festival at Brockport that was two days long,” said David Plafker, UBG president. “Fredonia only had a small one-day spring festival and we began toying around with the idea of doing a big two-day spring festival on Friday and Saturday. I remember how we started brainstorming all these crazy ideas about doing this, such as getting the bands and beer trucks, making bumper stickers, T-shirts, and beer mugs.”

The group began discussing their ideas with advisor Dave Kasper, who directed the students on what needed to be done in order to make the event happen. The process involved going through much “red tape” with the college administration and student administration. Plafker remembers that they “jumped through all kinds of loopholes to make Fredonia Fest a success.”

“At first it was like a game,” Plafker said. “We didn't think the administration thought we could pull this off, but we did.”

UBG member Chris Farrell – the president the following year -- remembers that they had about $1,500 to spend and they ordered 50 half kegs of Koch’s. While memories of later Fests crept in, Farrell said “the first one was definitely the most exciting.”


Music was, of course, a key element of the fest. Sam Accordino, Spectrum chairman for UBG, booked the bands. The headliner was the Todd Hobin Band, which hailed from Syracuse. The band was touring college campuses to promote its hit song, “I Hate You.” The Leader reported that they actually filled in for Fresh, who cancelled last-minute. Other bands included Benhatzel, Two Hills, George Doran and many student bands.

Joe Fiato, class of 1980, was the singer in of one of the student bands, Skin Deep, that used to play at BJ’s and the now-defunct Caboose.

“We did a lot of blues, old classic R&B stuff, Crosby Stills & Nash,” he says.

Four of the six members tried to make it in New York City after graduation; Fiato is still a musician, but has since settled down in Florida. He still has some roots in New York State, owning a restaurant in Oneida called Charlotte’s Creekside Inn.

Fiato recalls that the first Fred Fest may have actually been simulcast on the new college FM station, WCVF, of which he was program director:

“I’ll tell you, going back that far, it’s kind of a blur, but it’s a strong possibility,” he says.

He and Anne Leighton played an integral part in starting up the radio station and together made sure it stayed on the air.

“We actually first got on the airwaves, Anne and I stayed all summer long to keep the radio station going,” Fiato says. “We did 12-hour shifts.”

He remembers falling asleep at radio headquarters, then in Gregory Hall, and waking up to the end of a record of jazz.

“The fest was so long ago,” he said, it’s a bit hazy, “but we tried to create as many situations like that as possible -- a bunch of outdoor concerts and things like that. Oh, I’ll tell ya, it was somethin’ -- we had great concerts.”
“I just remember little touches of the day,” said Leighton, also a Leader staff writer, who had a good laugh remembering her carefree college days and the first fest where, she says “a few students jammed. … I remember more of the aftermath, about Joe and the picture.”

“Joe loved to sing Van Morrison songs. I remember he sang ‘And It Stoned Me’ from his ‘Moondance’ album. He had a certain way of curving his hand so people wouldn’t notice, but then a photo of him was taken [by Anne Bernstein] where you could see that he had a joint in his hand.” The photo was posted on the bulletin board in the main office of WCVF. “Everyone said, ‘Gee, what’s that in Joe’s hand?’ Because Joe was a stoner,” she laughed.

When asked about the episode, Fiato also laughs and replies, “Oh, jeez, her memory’s probably better than mine. That sounds like it’s true.”

Unfortunately, the photo couldn’t be found.


Also happening on campus that weekend were the first annual Fredonia State Bike Rally, scheduled for May 3, and the sixth annual Press Institute event, May 1 through 3. Its theme was “Woman as Journalist” and featured a speech by feminist icon and then-editor of Ms. Magazine Gloria Steinem, who spoke in King Concert Hall that Saturday.

However, it was the party held on the hill by “The Men” sculpture that was remembered fondly by Fredonia alumni – that is, if they could remember their college days. It was a very relaxed time, when the “beer blasts” were endless and there was even a bar on campus called The Sundowner.

Many former students echoed the sentiments of Donna Powers, class of 1981: “In 1980 the drinking age was 18 and there were many college sponsored activities that included beer trucks or kegs. So, if one was called Fred Fest, well, all I know is that it probably had lots of beer and I would have been there!”

The “massive thirst for beer,” as LeFever wrote, actually threatened to disrupt the first fest when on Friday, at 4 p.m., beer supplies ran dry. Students complained, “They know how much beer we drink at things like this; they should know enough to have it on hand.” Luckily, the administration responded to the students’ demand and plenty more beer was delivered, ensuring that a similar pause in sales didn’t happen on Saturday.

These marathon-partying students needed nourishment, too, and quickly dwindling provisions almost posed a problem. Maybe it was a case of the munchies. Cohen Arntzen was in charge of the food -- an integral part of the fest.

“We had burgers and dogs that we got from FSA. I remember selling so much that we had to find someone that could get into the supply building on Ring Road to get more food.” Crisis averted.

What truly threatened the event’s success was Western New York’s unpredictable weather. All alumni consulted recall the weekend as being exceptionally beautiful -- the skies were blue and the sun shone brightly.

“I got very sunburned,” recalled Farrell. “We didn't expect it to be as nice as it was, it surprised us.”

“I remember I used to fly my kite and anchor it to something on the blanket,” said Jack Quartararo, class of 1983. “That way when friends came they could follow the string down and find us in the crowd.”

“It was much more free and fun back then! It truly was a celebration of spring,” said Jack’s wife Cheri, also an ’83 alum. “Everyone couldn’t wait to take a break from studying, put on some shorts and a tank top after a long, cold, Western New York winter, get outside and soak up some sun.”

Philip J. Antz, class of 1981, remembers the first Fredoniafest as “the social event of the season” -- a fun day of Frisbee-playing and music that certainly benefited from the lower drinking age,so there was no police state around the beer truck. You showed your Fredonia I.D., and you were in… there were many very happy students partying on that Hill with the Three Men (statues).”

“It was a great day to be twenty, young, alive, and well, in Fredonia, surrounded by people who today are scattered to the ends of the earth, but who on that day were your brothers, and sisters, friends, and lovers, and who you could never have conceived that there would ever come a time when you would not have them in your life everyday,” Antz said. “Your friends grew up, and went forward with their lives for better and worse… But the memory of Fredonia, and what it felt like to be part of something so wonderful and unique stayed with you for the rest of your life.”

In the May 5, 1980 edition of The Leader, in a man on the street feature called “Verbatim,” Leader features editor Karen Bath asked six students, “What was your favorite event on campus this semester?” Gwen Jenkins, a sophomore with a puff of curly hair wearing giant white sunglasses, replied, “The Fredoniafest with the Todd Hobin Band, ’cause I think it’s about time they got some good music up this way.”


The hard work of UBG had paid off.

“We remember looking out over all the students having a great time during that first Fredonia Fest and couldn't believe we pulled it off,” Pflaker said.

“We all worked morning to night, setting up, selling beer, and continuing the party at someone’s house with a keg ‘borrowed’ from the beer truck,” remembered Accordino.

Farrell recalls the post-Fest party, too: “Most of the major planners met at someone's house,” perhaps on Canadaway Street, “after the first day and [we] pretty much all crashed. We were all very happy with ourselves for pulling it off, and we deserved to be happy about it. We ate at Chimera's after the second day, someone played Box Car Willie on the jukebox. I had a bit too much to drink, but don't remember regretting it.”

Cohen Arntzen said it was a great experience learning how to accomplish things by working with her friends on the committee: “It is great to know that we started an annual event.”

“Good weather, kites and Frisbees flying, blankets spread upon the grass, the occasional sweet scent of marijuana, live music, cold beers,” wrote LeFever.

The Fredoniafest isn’t quite what it was in the good old days, but it still lives on.

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