When Heat was cancelled last weekend, it would be an understatement to say that students were upset.
The Heat Facebook page quickly filled up with comments noting that Heat tickets were emblazoned with the words “rain or shine.” Now-useless tickets to the event were crumpled and discarded on the ground.
And though a lot of the whining seemed petulant, to a certain extent, who can blame them? There’s no question that Heat is a major selling point for UCR, and a huge part of the campus identity. This year, the nearly $600,000 event was expected to draw about 12,000 people to the campus for a night of partying and fun times, more than half the campus’ student population. Unfairly stuck with the “UC Rejects” label, Heat is one of the ways that UC Riverside is able to prove that it has something to be proud of. It’s integral in building a sense of campus community and identity on par with Berkeley and UCLA, something we have been striving for for decades.
And this year seemed particularly ripe to vault UCR into concert stardom. The Neighbourhood. Ciara. Portugal. The Man. And Childish Gambino as the headliner. It was a glamorous cast of musical all-stars, and the excitement around the campus was palpable. Heat seemed like the only thing that people were talking about during week eight, and tickets sold out in a dizzying 50 hours. This was the year that UCR would break that barrier — and then it never happened.
It’s disappointing to say the least, and not just for students. Put yourself in the shoes of the event programmers, who started planning this year’s Heat in summer of last year. Seven months of blood, sweat, tears and toil were all extinguished in the blink of an eye by the cruel whims of the weather. It’s like building a magnificent sand castle beyond the reach of the waves, when, just as you’re ready to take the picture to preserve it for all time, a rogue wave rises up and drags it back into the sea. Students must remember that although they may have spent money to purchase scalped tickets and attend the event, it was the workers at the HUB Programming Board who put their time into ensuring that it even happened in the first place, and that they were just as disheartened at its cancellation.
Beyond that personal investment in wanting the concert to go on, the HUB had other incentives to keep the concert on. Cancelling Heat this year, with such large headliners, would irretrievably tarnish the luster of the concert, with students never forgetting the broken promise the HUB made to them. Event planners would have to rebuild from scratch something that took years to create. In addition, the HUB would not delude themselves into thinking that cancelling Heat would earn them praise and plaudits from the UCR community. They knew full well the mountains of blowback they’d receive from the campus.
And yet, despite wanting to continue Heat to avoid the negative reaction, despite wanting to push through to preserve the concert’s brand, despite wanting to persevere if only because of the sheer number of hours programmers poured into it, the decision was still made: The show cannot go on.
That says something very significant about the perceived threat of the storm. Confronted with potential thunderstorm warnings, HUB programmers had no choice. Knowing that the forecast called for more heavy rain, and that even tornado warnings had been issued for the Los Angeles area, people made the best decisions they could with the information they had. Of course, we all now know that there was little rain — but what if there was? Going through with Heat would have risked the integrity of the stage and people’s lives. While it’s entirely natural to want to blame someone, something, anything for the cancellation of the event, the only one really to blame is Mother Nature.
Still, the HUB could have done a better job conveying the seriousness of the matter to students and concert attendees. The disappointment was largely due to missing the big names in music, but the outrage stemmed from the feeling that the cancellation came out of nowhere. Given that an unprecedented rainstorm was forecasted to dump buckets of rain on Southern California that weekend, the HUB had to at least consider the possibility of cancelling the concert, yet it declined to mention if cancellation was in the cards. Students, content with the knowledge that Heat had never been cancelled before, and not receiving any information to indicate that this year was any different, expected Heat to set UCR aflame again in 2014.
If there were any flickers of concern at the state of the concert during the day before, the HUB extinguished them with a confident post to the event’s Facebook page, gleefully announcing, “Only 17 hours left!” In so doing, it had the tacit effect of confirming that Heat would go on, a poor programming decision that settled wavering students’ fears despite the plausibility, if not probability, of severe weather.
As a result, the text message that was sent out to UCR students only 45 minutes in advance of the concert’s start time was the first time they had even considered that Heat might be cancelled. This, more than anything else, was the flash point. If the HUB had let students know in advance that cancellation was an option being considered, students would have been prepared when the final decision was handed down. We still would have been disappointed and maybe even angry, but not as disappointed and not as angry — we knew it might be coming.
The only inkling Heat gave about a potential cancellation was a small section from its website’s FAQ that warned of a cancellation if “the weather situation becomes unsafe.” But it was buried in a larger paragraph that trumpeted that the event would go on in spite of rain. This decision was surely made to assuage student fears, but perhaps it did so too well.
The HUB should have come clean with the status of Heat, and told students frankly where the status of the show was at. A campus-wide email on Friday saying that cancellation was possible, or even just listing the circumstances in which Heat would be cancelled, would have been beneficial. Similarly, the HUB could have done without its congratulatory Facebook posts in favor of seeing where the cards fell on Saturday.
The HUB should not be blamed for Heat’s cancellation, and we as students should stand in solidarity with the programming board to maintain a strong relationship and help build a better performance for next year. We will provide the the attendees and funding from our student fees; the HUB will bring the programming expertise and the technical know-how. But, like in any relationship, the HUB shouldn’t keep secrets from its partner. Next year, we’d like the HUB to trust us enough to tell us that Heat might not be working out.