Kickin’ it old school: The wild history of Fresno State Vintage Days
It was spring of 1975. The Beach Boys began their Beachago Tour on one side of the world, as the Vietnam War continued on the other.
California college students were anticipating the arrival of summer. It was then that Fresno State became home to an age-old spring tradition: Vintage Days.
The event was originally designed to bring students together and create an image for Fresno State.
Vintage Days founder Gary Bongiovanni, a Chico State graduate-turned-Fresno State employee, came to the Valley in the mid-1970s.
Upon arriving at Fresno State, his vision for a springtime celebration began to take shape.
“Fresno State kind of had a dead atmosphere,” he said. “We wanted people to feel good about it, and thought it would ultimately bring more to the university.”
Bongiovanni, who, at the time, was the assistant program director of Fresno State’s College Union, drew inspiration from his alma mater. Chico State’s “Pioneer Week” was a springtime celebration promoting the university to potential students.
“I thought we should do something to liven up the social image of the school,” Bongiovanni said. “I managed to talk the university into holding an open house. The combination of open house and a variety of activities ended up being called Vintage Days.”
That year, Bongiovanni hired soundman and Southern California native Reggie Rush to work with lighting, sound and staging.
“I applied for the job along with seven to 10 other guys. They goofed up and made me the boss,” Rush joked. “At the time, there was nothing. You couldn’t rent a light, a stage, a table – there was nothing to be had. Gary had big dreams of what he wanted to do.”
Not long after Rush’s hiring, the growing team met student and musician Mike King, whose band, Union Pacific, played at the Student Union that year. Together, Rush and King formed the College Union Sound System (CUSS), the university’s lighting and sound crew in charge of the staging, lighting and sound for Vintage Days.
“I was just somebody that stumbled in playing in a band,” King said. “The next thing you know, I’m doing audio and putting it all together.”
On this foundation, a tradition was born, celebrated and drastically altered more than 39 years into what we know today as Vintage Days.
From Day One, according to its organizers, Vintage Days was nothing short of fun.
The festivities began on a Thursday in May with a parade led by the university’s student organizations. Its final destination: the Fresno State amphitheater.
When the crowd arrived at the amphitheater, which is now nonfunctioning, the university’s president, Norman A. Baxter, declared Vintage Days open.
The concert kicked off with The Beach Boys’ hit, “Be True to Your School.”
“The amphitheater was packed beyond belief with people in their swim trunks and bikinis,” King said. “There were girls on the guys’ shoulders; it was so packed. It was tons and tons of fun. We lived it, ate it, breathed it.”
The amphitheater was the center of numerous Vintage Days concerts, featuring bands such as Papa Doo Run Run and Jan and Dean in the late 1970s. Just days before Jan and Dean performed at Vintage’s “Day on the Green,” more than 22,000 tickets were sold.
During the same decade, artists such as Tom Petty and the Go-Go’s performed at the amphitheater.
The remaining three days hosted several Fresno State originals, such as “Earth Ball” – a giant inflatable ball, 8 feet in diameter, which was used in a game similar to rugby. It was brutal, according to Bongiovanni, and was quickly banned.
One of the most popular events was the free-of-charge street dance on Maple Avenue near the Joyal Administration building. Two flatbed truck trailers were staged on Maple, facing the 7-Eleven on Shaw, and were aligned to form a concert stage.
Rush said the crew had no idea what to expect of the street dance.
“All of a sudden, we had somewhere between 5,000 to 20,000 people at the street dance,” he said. “The most amazing thing I could remember is that you couldn’t tell where the street ended and the sidewalk began because it was absolutely leveled with broken beer bottles.
“Nobody got hurt, nobody got arrested,” he said. “It was kind of that moment where you step back and say, ‘Oh my God. What have we gotten ourselves into?’ It was off and rockin’ from there.”
The “New” Vintage Days
Vintage Days – though drastically different – is the university’s largest student-planned celebration. It attracts more than 50,000 people from Fresno and surrounding areas within a three-day period.
This year, the celebration was made possible by eight student-led committees: Boomtown Carnival, Concerts, Crafts Faire, Development, Kid’s Zone, Marketing, Public Relations and Special Events.
Monday marked Vintage Days’ “kick-off week” – four days of live music, fresh Fresno State ice cream and a raffle sponsored by Campus Edge and KFSR.
Kick-off week ends Thursday afternoon with a preview of Vintage Days. From there, guests can enjoy a pancake breakfast on Friday and a movie night featuring “The Avengers” on Saturday.
The Boomtown food and game booths and the beer and wine garden are open for the duration of Vintage Days. On Sunday, the final day, guests can enjoy live concerts before the closing awards ceremony.
In decades past, events were banned due to issues of safety and liability. Some events were deemed ticket-only, allowing paying guests to participate.
Fresno State is also limited because it no longer has access to the amphitheater, according to Josh Edrington, coordinator at the student involvement office and adviser to Vintage Days.
“We have to work with what we have,” Edrington said. “Over time, it evolved into an event where students are still involved, but it seems a trend of young families are coming to it, which is good.”
Bongiovanni, King and Rush also agree that Vintage Days, as it once was, has changed for numerous reasons – distribution of funds, more classes on campus, the construction of the Save Mart Center and the enormous cleanup job.
“You always feel bad when you are part of creating something that doesn’t sustain,” Rush said. “When I tell my son about Vintage Days, he just rolls his eyes. I want to be like, ‘Let me tell you about the good days.’ I feel bad that the students don’t get to enjoy the level of insanity that existed.”
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