Carnegie Mellon University

Geneva Jackson

Geneva JacksonMajor: Global Studies and History
Adviser: Judith Schachter
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From Hippies to Hipsters: A Study of American Popular Music Festivals as Youthful Rites of Passage

This project seeks to explore the similarities and differences between American popular music festivals in the 1960s and those in the early 2000s. I will combine cultural anthropological approaches with historical materials to analyze the significance of festivals as influential social and political events. An examination of the audiences, music, and media attention dedicated to these events will enable me to track changes in the sources of identity of American youth. The project also aims to explore modes of activism, intersected with forms of self-definition in the context of music festivals, and to determine the extent to which these changed over four decades of American cultural history.


All it takes to make or break a concert experience is “The Moment.” The minute when it dawns on you that you are lost in a sea of people experiencing the music and band and crowd and venue all at once. The Moment does not happen at the same time for everyone. Sometimes it’s when the act first holds the microphone out to the audience as they bellow back their favorite chorus. Other times it’s the emotional ballad verse that gets the crowd swaying just enough to feel each other’s presence. Or maybe that dance break in which the lights go wild and the audience goes wilder, jumping in tandem. My aspiration for working in the music industry is, in short, to make sure that every person has their Moment at each show I work on.

More specifically, I want to be the festival mastermind (read: production manager) who watches all the cogs fall into place. All in all, an odd career aspiration for a global studies major. But I have always been the type to know what I want when I find it. I wander and sample, and misstep to get there, but I know it when I see it. Luckily, this past summer I finally saw it.  

Never one for solitary tasks, my elementary and high school days were full of sports teams (softball, track, even soccer for a little) and choir and drama. I’d try just about anything once and continue to be a chronic over-loader to this day. As a natural extension of my love of collaboration, I began working at a summer camp when I was 15. As with most of the best things in my life (like my summer in Spain, or my ascension to leadership on campus), a series of strange circumstances extended a short training job of two weeks to a paid position of six. I can say with complete confidence that I would not have been a viable applicant for this university, if I had not gone to camp. My entire demeanor changed as I finally found a space to be myself. Interests I didn’t know I had blossomed into hobbies, or a new topic to read about, or a failed personal project. Camp taught me how to find out what I like, but more critically, to stop doing things I don’t.

Since elementary school I have been involved in theatre. At first I performed, loving the limelight. When I developed stage fright in middle school (the result of a traumatic failed choir solo at the largest concert of the year), I learned the importance of being offstage. Despite eventually conquering this fear, I found that being behind the scenes gave me so much more pride than I ever predicted. From there I got involved in every aspect I could, learning to paint sets, work microphones, be on run crew, stage manage, student direct, and production manage throughout high school and college. Theater taught me to see past the outcome in order to value the process.

In the past year I have been lucky enough to be an assistant production manager on two shows, an Auxiliary Board Member, and, more recently, vice president of Scotch’n’Soda Theatre. Additionally, I volunteered at Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival this past summer, where it all clicked. In that short week I got a glimpse of the variety of people music touches. People-watching became just as important to my festival experience as show-watching, and I’ve never felt more connected to an event. During these experiences I confirmed something I already knew about myself: I love to know what’s going on. That is, I thrive on watching a product come together by overseeing people more skilled than myself work in their areas and stepping in wherever I can lend a hand.

And so a few key life lessons culminated in a tangible career goal: one that played to my interests and talents, took collaborative work on the front end, and allowed me to watch over the moving parts all culminating in something that can move thousands. The Moment I had at Bonnaroo sparked a series of them in the subsequent months, and I can only be grateful that, years into my schooling, I finally saw it. I hope my project helps some others have their Moment’s too.

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Read Geneva's blog