Early April at Kenyon usually means sunglasses, shorts and sunning on the South lawn. It means budding blooms and brisk mornings that melt into warm afternoons. For the past three years, April has also meant WKCO Fest. This April, with COVID-19 forcing the campus to close, it seemed like students would miss seeing their talented friends perform and the studio would stay shuttered. However, thanks to the hard work and dedication from the WKCO staff, the live music and radio will go on.
Traditionally a daytime concert event with Old Kenyon as the backdrop, this year WKCO had to move its annual festival to the virtual world. The WKCO (Remote) Fest began on April 1 on Instagram Live. There will be a total of four days of performances over the first two weeks of April.
As WKCO moved the festival off of South Quad and into students’ electronic devices, Ross Feller, associate professor of music, made sure that seven weeks of remote learning would not mean seven weeks of radio static. Feller’s show, “Live from Gambier,” will in fact be live on WKCO on Thursdays at 10 p.m. EST. Feller has long been a host on the station but rather than his traditional mix of music and talk, he has much more of a variety-show feel in mind. In an email to the Collegian he talked about his sources of inspiration for the new program.
“The first thing I thought about was wartime radio programs,” Feller wrote in regards to sources of inspiration, though he added that the show will take different forms depending on the week. He will be making use of the WKCO studio each week armed with paper towels and a can of disinfectant.
While Feller sets up shop in the otherwise vacant studio, the station’s student performers will be setting up makeshift stages from across the country. WKCO’s student managers, Andrew Perelman ’20 , Isa Mojares ’20, Russ Norowitz ’20, Ben Weinman ’21 and Eric Schwartz ’21, announced via email on March 29 that, rather than cancelling, they would be transitioning WKCO Fest, which had 18 student groups slated to perform, to an online format. Citing the festival’s immense growth, both in terms of set list and student interest, they refused to let the virus get in the way of art.
“While this year will go slightly differently than we originally hoped, we have every bit of confidence that our community will tune in and be a part of another great WKCO Fest, together,” the managers wrote in the email.
According to Perelman and Mojares, WKCO chose Instagram because they felt it would be the most accessible way to watch performances and that it was the proper choice since other stations, labels and artists were moving their concerts to the platform.
The festival kicked off on Wednesday, April 1 with performances from Sleepy Jones, Organs, Day Moon and Harper’s Ridge.
For Perelman, day one of WKCO Fest was a success in terms of keeping the tradition alive and the community connected. Mojares said in a message to the Collegian that she thought continuing the tradition was a good way to celebrate 50 years of WKCO.
“While this online format is not the same as a sunny day spent on South Quad with friends, the overwhelming support and passion displayed by our Kenyon community has made this year’s festival equally meaningful for us at WKCO,” Perelman wrote in a message to the Collegian.
Perelman said that viewers made use of the comment feature on the live streams to connect with friends over the music. He and two other members of WKCO’s management team Zoomed together while they watched one of the sets.
According to Mojares, the digital space actually opened the door to performers who would not have been able to be on campus: some students who were abroad and one incoming student are slated to perform over the course of the four day festival.
On the same night that friends gathered in the digital sphere to listen to student performers, Feller sent an email to the student body announcing his show “Live from Gambier,” premiering on April 2 and running on Thursdays at 10 p.m. According to his email, the show will feature not just music but a grab bag of other things, including cures for cabin fever, an interview with Moxie—Kenyon’s divisive campus mascot—and “curious texts.”
Feller wrote to the Collegian that radio can ease the hardship of the current moment by connecting people to a familiar place.
“Sound heals, it’s a proven fact,” he wrote. “And of course music is the medium of emotion par excellence.”
Perelman, who is taking an independent study with Feller, was very excited to hear about his professor’s show.
“He has been so helpful and informative.” Perelman wrote. “He’s a stellar musician with great taste, highly recommend tuning in!”
Feller’s show can be caught at 10 p.m. on wkco91.9.org and the station’s SHOUTcast stream. WKCO Fest’s remaining show dates are April 4, April 8 and April 12. The live stream, set lists and other updates can be found @WKCO919 on Instagram.