Photo by Lauren Canavan
By Rafael Cruvinel and Lauren Canavan
On Nov. 15, 2023, USG announced the results of their poll revealing the top artists to headline the 2024 Brookfest this upcoming spring. As students’ attention turns to next year’s event, it’s fair to say that an unforgettable memory of the 2023 Brookfest was the disaster that unraveled leading up to it.
Funded by Stony Brook University’s Undergraduate Student Government (USG), the annual concert still requires students to pay $20 for seats in the stands and $35 for floor tickets. This year’s show was originally supposed to be headlined by rapper Bryson Tiller, with opening performances from rapper Fivio Foreign and R&B artist Sevyn Streeter. The artist announcements drew a common split of opinions among the student body. While USG does provide a poll for students ahead of choosing the lineup, it seems that lately, the only genres represented at Brookfest are rap, and sometimes R&B. For example, in the last few years, Stony Brook has hosted artists including Gunna, ASAP Ferg and 21 Savage.
Just under a week before the highly anticipated event, ticket holders were devastated to hear that Bryson Tiller had been removed as a headliner. Since there was no immediate explanation given, students began criticizing USG in the comments section of their Instagram announcement, expressing their disappointment and demanding refunds.
“Pls tell me this is a super super late prank for April Fools,” one user commented.
“EXTREMELY COMMON STONY BROOK L,” another wrote.
One day after USG’s announcement, Tiller canceled a concert in Toronto. He posted an Instagram story apologizing to fans and explained that his doctor advised him not to fly due to an ear injury. While it isn’t confirmed that the two cancellations are related, Tiller’s post seemed to provide some answers.
Brookfest tickets have always been nonrefundable, but USG provided a short period in which students could get their money back. Many students didn’t see the lineup change and were not available to request their refunds during the short time frame, which left them outraged.
Three days before Brookfest, USG took to Instagram with an update: Rapper Lil Tecca was the new headliner. Best known for his 2019 hit “Ransom,” the 21-year-old attended Lawrence High School.
Tecca’s time as headliner didn’t last long. On April 13 at 11 p.m. — less than 24 hours before the concert — USG announced that Yung Gravy would be the new Brookfest headliner, as Lil Tecca was unable to perform due to “circumstances beyond our control.”
The 27-year-old rapper from Rochester, Minnesota, is known for songs such as “Gravy Train” and “Mr. Clean.” These hits respectively sample the older tunes “Right Back Where We Started From” by Maxine Nightingale and “Mr. Sandman” by the Chordettes. This fusion of older, familiar music mixed with Gravy’s newer, often comically explicit lyrics have resulted in great success on the charts and on TikTok.
Stony Brook sophomore Alexander Vangeuns said that he only purchased tickets after Gravy was announced as the headliner.
“Honestly, I wasn’t gonna see the other two — I’m here for Yung Gravy,” he said.
Vangeuns and his friend Skyler Gibson were among the few students who formed a line in front of the arena ahead of the show. Gibson explained that she bought the ticket for Bryson Tiller and then Lil Tecca, but mainly because she considered it cheap. She emphasized that she was going because she wanted to.
“Why not?” she said. “It’s an experience.”
Between floor space and seating, Island Federal Arena has a capacity of over 4,000 people. After entering and seeing the half-empty arena, it was hard to consider this year’s Brookfest a success. As compared to last year’s sold out show, only about one-third of the floor was filled, which left artists looking out to see a large empty space as they performed.
Florida native Sevyn Streeter put on an engaging opening set, complete with two backup dancers. It was clear that despite whether or not people knew her prior, they were able to enjoy her lyrics and dancing in what was perhaps the most energetic act of the night.
Sevyn Streeter was quick to note that she often gets “lonely” on stage, selecting a student from the crowd to join her under the violet-colored lights. The student was directed to sit in a chair and was given a lap dance during her following song. The crowd responded with excited screams, marking the moment as one of the highlights of her performance.
Fivio Foreign, who consistently referred to himself as “The King of New York,” hails from Brooklyn. When he emerged on stage, he was accompanied by another man with a mic. For people unfamiliar with his material, at first it was unclear which person was actually Fivio Foreign. While there were some apparent fans in the crowd, Foreign’s performance continued to confuse the rest. For nearly half of it, he gripped a plastic Taco Bell cup of water in one hand and his mic in another, as his DJ’s sound effects often drowned out his voice.
Just before the headliner went on, Yung Gravy’s DJ Tiiiiiiiiiip came out to ramp up the energy in the echoey arena. Dressed in a red cowboy outfit, he threw Lunchables and other treats into the screaming crowd to fuel them for Gravy’s performance. Soon, Yung Gravy swiftly emerged through a tunnel into the arena, accepting some high fives from fans before running on stage. He jumped into his set, consisting of over a dozen songs including “Betty” and “Good Gracious.”
Much of Gravy’s performance consisted of call and response as he hopped around balancing on one foot to the driving beats of his backing tracks. At one point, unannounced, Gravy threw more Lunchables into the audience.
During his live rendition of his song “Magic,” Yung Gravy brought SBU mascot Wolfie Seawolf on stage to dance. Students in the audience cheered for the pair, and they were excited to see Wolfie gift Gravy a school jersey, which he later signed.
Before exiting, the artist launched Froot Loops into the crowd, creating a rainbow effect for the final moments of his performance. Although it wasn’t the performance of a lifetime, Gravy has to be given credit for saving the show.
Now, all eyes are on next spring. On the artist poll for Brookfest 2024, students were sure to make their voices heard. According to USG’s announcement, they received a record number of submissions. The top three most voted artists are A Boogie Wit da Hoodie, Kali Uchis and Steve Lacy. However, USG was quick to note that these artists are considered to be a stretch for their current budget, and securing them would only be possible with an increase in the student activity fee. On Dec. 2, 2023, USG passed a $7 increase in the fee of all students at the university, explaining that it could enable them to widen their budget for future Brookfest performances. Before the increase, Swae Lee, Troye Sivan, Flo Milli, Chase Atlantic and Wallows were the only artists considered affordable out of the 15 highest voted.
The additional $7 will help secure more expensive artists, which could lessen the chance of short-notice cancellations from happening again, but there will always be factors out of USG’s control. Regardless of what happens, the pressure is on for Brookfest 2024 to reinstill the student body’s faith in this decades-long tradition.
Correction 12/07/23: An earlier version of this piece incorrectly stated that USG extended the period to get a refund for tickets. The time window was never extended. It also incorrectly stated that Lil Tecca attended Cedahurst High School. Tecca attended Lawrence High School.