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Vintage Days past and present, two different philosophies

Can you imagine 20,000 people in front of the Joyal Administration Building dancing, drinking and partying like no other?

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Vintage Days attendants crowd into the Amphitheater for the start of Vintage Days. This marks the 40th Vintage Days celebration. Archive photo / The Collegian

Maybe not today, but take yourself back to 1975, when an event called Street Dance was a reality.

“The Fresno State police department estimated the crowd at 20,000,” said Reggie Rush, one of the Vintage Days founders. “We had no idea how many people showed up, but I can tell you my memory of it is that you couldn’t tell where the sidewalk ended and the street began, because the gutters were so full of beer bottles.”

And so, Vintage Days was born. A group of students put their heads together to create a spring celebration.

“It was just a matter of throwing a big party,” Rush said.

Now 56 years old, Rush said he and other coordinators, such as Gary Bongiovanni and Earl Whitfield, were overwhelmed by the turnout.

“That was when Gary and I looked at each other and said, ‘Oh my god, we’ve got a tiger by the tail here,’” Rush said. “It just kept growing from then on. It was just turned into an immediate, monstrous success.”

With the 40th Vintage Days hitting Fresno State this weekend, the comparison between then and now is vastly different.

The changes are something current student director Erica Herrejon is aware of, yet she believes the “roots” of Vintage Days are the same. She said the event still puts on a “showcase to the community of what Fresno State as a campus is about.”

“Vintage Days has changed a lot. It’s hard because times have changed,” Herrejon said. “Technology is more prevalent in our era, so students then were more likely to attend those events because they could socialize with their friends.”

Yet with the importance of the 40th anniversary, Herrejon said efforts have been made to keep some traditions alive. The band Wild Blue, which played at the first Vintage Days with blues legend Muddy Waters, will perform Saturday in the beer and wine garden.

Although he understands the new pressures and restrictions in organizing Vintage Days, Rush said the event these days is “kind of disappointing” in comparison with his involvement from 1975-1985.

“The only tradition we ever had was a party,” Rush said. “I guess if they don’t want to have a party, that’s their business, I suppose.”

Rush left in 1985 after the death of Earl Whitfield, for whom the Satellite Student Union is now named after. Calling Whitfield the true “hero” of Vintage Days’ success, Rush said he was behind the scenes making everything happen. He said since then, things have changed.

“When you leave something, you want it to get bigger and better,” Rush said. “It kind of went the other direction.”

While mindful of the changes, she said with the tradition of Vintage Days being organized by students, it means things can always evolve.

“We’re trying to make it as close as possible, but there’s also some restrictions of course,” Herrejon said. “But the cool thing about Vintage Days is that it is really a showcase of how diverse Fresno State is.”

“It’s all up to the students,” Herrejon said. “Students are who plan Vintage Days with the help of advisers, so new things can be created, as well. It’s constantly changing with new students and new ideas.”

Rush said, from his perspective, the party atmosphere of Vintage Days was meant to enrich the experience of current students while attracting new students. He said, back in the ‘70s, the university was little known, meaning any boost was a good one.

“I always thought it was good for the university,” he said. “If I was a high school student coming to that, it certainly would make me want to go to Fresno State. But these days they’re turning students away. It’s not quite like back in the day when not everyone was dying to go to Fresno State.”

Rush said the model of Vintage Days came from other colleges, such as Chico State’s Pioneer Week.

“Lots of schools have a great spring party sort of week, and that’s what we were trying to make,” Rush said. “But I think there was pressure within the university to make it not quite so much fun. It was pretty wild those first 10 years.”

So what was the “crazy stuff” Rush mentions? One example is regular performances by band Papa Doo Run Run, a California band playing the surfer-style music iconic of the ‘70s era. Similar to the Beach Boys, Rush said each year its concerts were always a hit.

One memorable performance was when Papa Doo Run Run collaborated with famous rock ‘n roll duo Jan and Dean during their comeback years. The bands performed Sunday, but that Thursday CBS ran a documentary on Jan and Dean’s revival.

“That was just monstrous – what an event,” Rush reflected.

The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Over 25,000 people attended the concert.

“After 25,000 tickets, we didn’t have any more tickets to sell, so we just opened up the gates and said, ‘Let’s go, everybody. Let’s have a good time,’” Rush said.

Rush said another annual event was a Friday movie night that played the 1975 film “A Boy and His Dog.” While commenting that it was a “terrible movie,” Rush said it became a tradition that started in the Student Union lounge but grew to fill the Amphitheater due to its popularity.

“By the last year, we had a crowd of about 8,000 in the Amphitheater, and they were all yelling the words back to the screen,” Rush said.

This year’s Vintage Days will also host a movie night – the Disney hit “Frozen.” Herrejon said an issue with today’s festival is student turnout to such events.

“That was huge back in the day,” Herrejon said. “We’re just trying to make it as appealing, but also trying to stay true to the roots of why Vintage Days is even around to this day.”

These days, Herrejon said there is more of a concentration of including the entire community of all ages.

For example, this year Vintage Days teamed up with a marketing class to attempt to collect 12,500 pairs of shoes in a charity event called Sole Train.

“Fresno State is such a community-driven school, so the fact that we’re raising all these shoes for local nonprofits is really amazing,” Herrejon said.

Meanwhile, Rush said in his era, the primary focus was on the students.

“I was a student. I was focused on me, like every kid is,” Rush said. “I was just trying to do things I thought was fun.”

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