Amidst almost nonexistent positive cases on Oberlin’s campus and students getting vaccinated, the college is nevertheless continuing to find many ways to provide safe, fun events for students as the semester (and my entire college career) comes to a close.
About a week and a half ago, I had the absolute privilege and pleasure of attending an in-person senior dance performance. It was the first in-theater performance I’d been to since being in Berlin in March of 2020. I felt weirdly nervous before the show, even though I was just an audience member, purely because I couldn’t believe that I was actually about to see dancers perform in front of me for the first time in over a year. When I got to the theater double-masked, I showed my green pass (which you get if you’re symptom-free), took off my shoes, and found a place to sit. There were maybe 20 chairs, all spaced apart to adhere to social distancing requirements. Then the show began—it was simultaneously so normal and so surreal to see dancers moving in space right in front of me, wearing masks and dancing six feet away from one another. But the longer I sat there, the more I melted into that familiar feeling of watching a show and losing myself in the movement, even as I was aware of how strange the setting still was. Afterwards, the cast bowed and exited, and we heard a cheer from the other studio as they celebrated having finished their opening night. Before I left, I was able to congratulate my friends in the show, and everything felt almost normal. Almost. As I get vaccinated and prepare to graduate, return home, and then head abroad on a fellowship, these past few weeks have been an introspective tug between the now-customary delayed gratification and apprehension at burgeoning normality, and that is reified particularly well by my ability to see shows in a safe way, while also remembering all the things we have to do for these things to happen in the first place.
This past weekend, I was lucky enough to be able to partake in another Oberlin tradition I didn’t think would even happen this year. One of my all-time favorite Oberlin events is Folk Fest, a weekend of folk music organized by students with Obie bands and groups and usually a few guest artists. In the past we’ve had the likes of Josh Ritter, Sam Amidon, Amythyst Kiah, Margaret Glaspy, and more, come to campus to perform. Naturally, Folk Fest couldn’t happen on the same scale as it has in past years, but I was so thrilled to hear that the Folk Fest student committee had organized some livestream performances in addition to a several-hours-long outdoor concert featuring many student groups, including two which my housemates are part of! The day of Folk Fest was blessed with lovely weather, a nice break from the rain we’ve been having recently, and opened with a performance by OC Taiko, the Japanese drumming group on campus. One of my housemates took the intermediate Taiko ExCo this semester and got to perform with the group for a few of their pieces. I am always floored by the dynamism, physicality, and sheer magnetic energy of Taiko, and this performance was no exception. After that, a student folk musician played a small set, which was great, and I got myself a free Blue Rooster brownie from the Folk Fest check-in table, where they were also selling old Folk Fest t-shirts for a mutual aid fundraiser. Then came a performance by OSteel, Oberlin’s steel pan band, which my other housemate plays for. Despite some challenges with strong winds and escaping sheet music, the show was such a great time, and I was so happy to be able to participate and experience music at Oberlin in a way that felt so much like other years. If you didn’t look around and see people wearing masks and sitting further apart than usual, you’d think it was a performance like any other, with students filling Wilder Bowl and lounging in the sun.
That night, the Folk committee also screened two performances, one of which was a pre-recorded set by folk guitarist William Tyler, followed by a Zoom livestream performance by Hayley Henderickx, who was the sweetest, gentlest, most humble musician I’ve ever seen perform! Both performances were projected onto an inflatable TV screen while people sat on the lawn, bundled in blankets, for the two nighttime sets. The Hayley Henderickx show was live, and since it was on Zoom, she could also see us, and the AV person panned the camera across the quad so she could see her audience throughout the show. Like the dance show, it felt so close to normal, and yet so strange at the same time. The experience definitely simulated that of a real performance, with just a few things out of place. Hayley said that the show felt very dream-like, and I have to agree with that description. It was definitely weird, but in a wistful, happy sort of way that reminded me of all the amazing, in-person shows I’ve had the privilege to see during my time at Oberlin.
As I complete my last few days of classes and try to soak up the last few weeks in Oberlin, I’m so happy that I had the chance to experience shows and performances like it was in ye olden pre-COVID times. Getting to finish off my college career at Oberlin going to events like the ones I loved so much when I first started out here feels like a full circle journey, and yes: almost normal.