Star-studded Juice Jam attracts and pleases record-breaking crowd

Review: With co-headliners Calvin Harris and Childish Gambino each delivering sets infused with unmatchable energy, 8,500 fans were left with no option other than to dance their Sunday away.

Heavy bass, feverish dancing, and a crowd dressed in neon, paired with barely-there outfits and body glitter doesn’t sound like a typical Sunday afternoon; but this year’s Juice Jam was a high-energy, nonstop dance party that’s sure to go down in SU history.

Photo: Keegan Barber
Childish Gambino's Donald Glover was front and center during this year's Juice Jam.

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Headliners Calvin Harris and Childish Gambino did not disappoint the massive crowd at what University Union Concert Director Ken Consor said was the most successful show in the concert’s nine-year run.

Concertgoers erupted when Consor said to them, "I want you to know that you are a part of the biggest Juice Jam ever."

The afternoon was made extra special with the appearance of Stephen Barton, the SU alumnus who was wounded in the shootings in Aurora, Colo., this past summer. With Barton’s arrival onstage came the announcement that each ticket sold to Juice Jam would yield a $1 donation to the families of victims in the shooting.

Childish Gambino

Donations to a worthy cause paired with an incredible lineup left no room to regret the purchase of a ticket. Co-headliner Childish Gambino, or Donald Glover as he’s known off-stage, opened his set with “Outside” from his recent album Camp. Within seconds, it was clear that Gambino would be a hit with the crowd, as they were singing every line of the refrain. When he performed “Freaks And Geeks” two songs later, the audience hardly needed the lyrics displayed on the LED screen behind him.

Gambino alternated between high-energy, aggressive tracks and songs with a distinctly hip-hop feel, featuring a heavy bass reminiscent of A$AP Rocky or Waka Flocka Flame. His performance was a breath of fresh air — he isn’t jaded like Jay-Z, doesn’t copy lyrics from his predecessors like Drake, or repeat stale rhymes like Kanye. Gambino summed up his own performance when halfway through his set he asked, “What’s the point of rap if you can’t be yourself?”

Another refreshing aspect of Gambino's performance was his live band. After the crowd-pleasing track "All the Shine," a beautiful melody from his violin player carried into the next song. His band seamed the entirety of his set together in a similar fashion, carrying the same energy Gambino had in his vocals throughout, in between every song. Each member was visibly ecstatic to be on stage.



View more animated GIFs from Juice Jam


Aside from the music, Childish Gambino was accompanied by a stunning visual display in the form of an LED screen with videos that were personalized for each song. From song lyrics, to a montage of life in New York City perfectly in sync with the lyrics to "L.E.S.," there was no shortage of visuals to keep the crowd engaged.

After the hit song “Heartbeat,” whose video was nominated for Best Hip-Hop Video at the 2012 MTV Video Music Awards, Gambino’s between song banter became more risqué. Gambino became increasingly vulgar but remained humorous, making crude references that most Syracuse girls wouldn’t appreciate if they weren’t coming from a famous musician. When Gambino launched into a freestyle that lacked substance, the audience seemed to lose interest.

“He played for way too long,” said Steve Glennon, an exercise science junior. Gambino’s set lasted more than two hours.

The Dean's List

Prior to Gambino, supporting act, The Dean’s List entertained the crowd. Despite a too-long intro that left the crowd wondering what was going on, The Dean's List was able to earn their attention when rapper, Sonny Shotz finally joined DJ Mendoza on stage.

Shotz’s repeated use of the phrase “F--- it, I’m young” made their opening act feel like a quintessential college show. References to iPhones, professors, and using illicit drugs were popular with the audience members, who happily obliged when Shotz requested they put their middle fingers in the air. Judging the performance as part of the “college music” genre in the same vein as Sammy Adams or Asher Roth, it was a solid, entertaining set.

One of the most memorable moments of the opening act involved a remix of country band The Band Perry's "If I Die Young," which reinforced the group's obsession with youth while capturing the attention of the audience with a catchier version of a song they already knew.

Unfortunately, the backing band was often too loud and The Dean’s List seemed to rely on shouting more than enunciation. Though new tracks off of the group's upcoming release, Jerusalem, boasted a much fuller sound than their older music, the only original track that truly resonated was their hit “Ce Soir,” which should have ended the set. Instead, The Dean’s List concluded with a rounding chorus of Shotz’s carefree, expletive-laden motto. 

“I had fun with the music on in the background while I hung out with all my friends,” said Amy Brown, an advertising junior, who said she was looking forward to Calvin Harris’ performance more than either of the opening acts.

Calvin Harris

When Calvin Harris finally took to the stage, it became immediately apparent why he was closing the show. The crowd began to dance as soon as Harris began his set, wasting no time in turning Skytop Field into a writhing dance party.

Harris barely greeted the crowd. When he did speak, however, it was obvious that Harris was not only enjoying himself but was extremely appreciative of the support he was getting from the students. He simply preferred to let the music speak for itself.

When it comes to a good electronic music show, it seems that the most important ingredients are a loud, bone-crushing bass and the ability to get people to dance. Harris certainly provided both those things. His performance was infectious, and even the most uptight music aficionados would be caught at least nodding their heads.

However, there was a distinct lack of soul or emotion in any of the songs Harris’ performed. The lyrics, if there were any, were repetitive and unoriginal. The entire experience was simultaneously inclusive and impersonal.

The most disappointing aspect of Harris’ set was the fact that he played songs by other popular electronic artists. While sampling Daft Punk may have a smart move from a popularity standpoint, Harris' own music was supposed to be the focal point of the day. “Where’s Your Head At” by Basement Jaxx was always a crowd favorite but it has been used as a hook in so many songs that it seemed a little stale.

Fortunately, Harris’ original hit songs completely redeemed the set. When one track that Harris produced for pop superstar Rihanna, "We Found Love," began to play, his massive LED screen displayed pink hearts and all 8,500 people in attendance burst into a jubilant chorus. Harris single-handedly created one of the happiest moments that such a large percentage of the student body has enjoyed together.

His most famous track, “Feel So Close,” was the song students said they were most looking forward to, and for public relations junior Meaghan McGrath, it did not disappoint.

“I got in the front row for that,” she said. “I’m feeling so close to him right now.”

With Calvin Harris and Childish Gambino giving unforgettable performances and an opening act that was all too appropriate to warm the crowd up, Juice Jam was a massive success.

Angela Poccia, a communications design junior, summed up this year’s show best: “Awesome. Freaking awesome.”


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