At face value Monster Energy’s Up & Up Festival competition seems like a pretty simple numbers game: a contest between participating colleges across the country to see who can cull the most votes/pre-sale tickets in 48 hours. The top five schools get to host an Up & Up concert in their city. With roughly 17,000 students, UNCW is an underdog compared to the 99,000 student body at Penn State.
Alas, never underestimate the underdog.
2019 is the second year in a row UNCW students rallied enough votes to get Up & Up to ILM. They placed first out of 40 schools, and share the win with four others: Penn State, Dayton, Wazzu and Ohio Athens.
“That’s huge!” notes Jesse Merrill, UNCW student and Up & Up ambassador. She and Nate Daniels were among UNCW students marketing the competition across socials for weeks. She says running a successful campaign is all about evoking school pride that isn’t always tapped into in traditional college fashion, like with sports.
“I think the reason UNCW students were so excited about having a festival come to Wilmington is because . . . [w]e don’t have football games or tailgates, we don’t have a big parents weekend or fall fest,” she explains. “I believe Up & Up was something that was able to bring UNCW together as a community and was something different coming to Wilmington.”
Last year’s Up & Up featured Slushi at Pier 33. On October 9 dance DJ and singer-songwriter Tim Wu, a.k.a. Elephante, at Greenfield Lake Amphitheater. UNCW sophomore McRay Granelli, known as “Chasewater,” will open.
“I started my career doing a lot of college shows,” Wu says. “I remember how important shows like that were when I was in college, and playing a number of dusty basements and jury-rigged speaker setups. So that’s always been a big, core part of my fan base. When Monster reached out, I thought it was a cool opportunity to kind of bring it full circle. . . . They really make it about the fans’ choice.”
Matching the energy and excitement surrounding Up & Up’s competition, Elephante threads together upbeat music to dance and sing along to. The artist says he thrives on the challenge and excitement with each new show and crowd. But he’s not simply standing around, pressing “play.” Wu says that’s like saying a drummer on stage is hitting things. While it’s not entirely wrong, it’s not an entirely accurate depiction. Wu focuses on tapping into collective energy.
“One thing I like to do is pick a couple people in the crowd that are really into it,” he describes.”And you kind of connect with them on an individual level—because once you lock in with a small group of people, that energy is contagious. You don’t have to win over the entire crowd, all you gotta do is win over a handful of people up front.”
Wu came up in the rock world as a singer-songwriter for years before producing music. These days he’s coming back full circle by singing a lot of his own music during live shows. His latest 2019 release, “Diamond Days,” is his first single to feature his vocals. His previous album, “Glass Mansion” (2018), also included his first original song. There’s a lot of new originals to come, too.
“[Singing live] is another way of trying to engage the crowd and keeping things fresh,” he says. “When I started producing music, I could work with all these amazing singers and use different talents than my voice. Over the last few years, I’ve been figuring out how to make my voice work on these records.”
Up & Up concertgoers can expect compelling visuals and light shows at GLA. It sets the stage for an almost short-film experience set to music, Wu describes.
“I’m excited to see all of the lights and lasers and visuals go with the music,” Merrill shares. “I love to see the crowd’s reaction when he plays a good song that people know.” With the venue change comes plenty of bathrooms, parking and Uber/Lyft pickup and dropoff. There also will be food and alcohol for purchase.
“Up & Up is something that has brought me so much happiness and friends,” Merrill says. “Without Up & Up I wouldn’t be living with my current best friend, Haley, or have met so many amazing UNCW students who love to go to festivals. I think we will expand a bunch next year and get way more students involved. We are thinking about possibly even starting a club!”