Hundreds of Harvard students flocked to the Tercentenary Theater on April 16 to witness the return of live music to Harvard Yard as Swae Lee headlined the first in-person Yardfest since 2019.
The event was a throwback to tradition for Harvard students new and old. While Yardfest was held virtually in 2021, featuring artists Aminé and Trevor Daniel, it failed to match the excitement of its in-person counterpart.
“It just doesn’t feel the same,” said Isha Agarwal ’24, director of the College Events Board’s arts and entertainment committee, of the virtual concerts.
This year, the committee sought to re-energize Yardfest for its big comeback. “We were looking for a good performer, someone who is very energetic and has a lot of exciting, upbeat songs that can really get the crowd moving,” Agarwal said. Finding such an artist proved to be a difficult task for the committee. Selected artists had to appeal to a wide audience while remaining within budget and musically distinct throughout the event.
For the headliner, Swae Lee fit the bill. Bringing his unique blend of hip hop, trap and pop melodies, he was sure to offer something for every audience member despite their different musical tastes. The artist is best known for his work as one half of hip hop duo Rae Sremmurd, a collaborative project with his brother Slim Jxmmi. For Yardfest, Swae Lee performed Rae Sremmurd hits like “Come Get Her” and “Black Beatles,” as well as solo collaborations like 2018’s crowd favorite “Sunflower,” with Post Malone.
“It was a very intimate concert experience, the likes of which I had never had before,” Raina Cohen ’24 said of Lee’s performance at Yardfest at the Tercentenary Theater.
Throughout the performance, Swae Lee reflected on the Harvard experiment, calling himself “Professor Swae”. Appropriately, he reminded students in the public to stay in school and keep working hard. He even spoke to the audience about his hopes for a better future with Harvard students as the next generation of leaders.
Dutch DJ Sam Feldt played the celebrity opener, performing a high-energy EDM set to warm up the audience. Feldt stuck to a collection of crowd-pleasing songs, remixing hits like Dua Lipa’s “Don’t Start Now,” David Guetta’s “Titanium” featuring Sia, and “Something Just Like This” by Coldplay and The Chainsmokers. He has also mixed some of his own tracks, including 2020’s “Hold Me Close” with Ella Henderson, and his latest release, “Follow Me” with Rita Ora.
In addition to celebrity acts, Harvard talent was on display throughout the day. Student bands Charles Revival and Yard Bops both played sets to open the event after winning the opportunity through the College Events Board’s Battle for Yardfest competition held earlier this semester. “We are so grateful to everyone who came out and supported,” said Yard Bops member Alexander K. Park ’23.
“It was really special for us because we had aspirations to open my freshman year,” Park said, citing how the pandemic cut short their first opportunity. “It was a great way to see the culmination of a few years of work.”
Yard Bops covered plenty of bops in their set, adding their signature funk twist to a collection of pop classics. Highlights included covers of Silk Sonic’s ‘Skate’, a Lady Gaga mashup with ‘Bad Romance’, ‘Telephone’ and ‘The Edge of Glory’, and Earth Wind and Fire’s ‘September’ – all of which were recently arranged by band members.
While student reactions to the Yardfest musical selections were generally positive, the same cannot be said for the concert experience. Several audience members noted the lack of mosh-pit etiquette among Harvard students in the crowd, citing excessive jostling throughout the event.
“I thought the crowd was enjoying the music less and trying to hustle each other more,” said Steven Cho ’24, a first-time Yardfest attendee. It was an environment that “made more people worry about not falling or getting hurt,” Cho added.
There were several times when members of the public fell to the ground, unable to get up without help from others. Fortunately, Swae Lee seemed to be aware of the heckling from the audience. The performer repeatedly stopped, asking the crowd to take a few steps back to prevent the onlookers from being crushed by the masses.
Not only did it achieve the energetic atmosphere that organizers intended to accomplish, but this year’s Yardfest also marks a return to form for Harvard traditions more broadly. He brought the Harvard community together in a way that only live music can, reminding students to take a break from their work and just have fun.