When I heard that Echosmith was playing Jamtoberfest this year, I began to vividly relive my freshman year of high school.
While my roommates chatted about being underwhelmed by the choice, I was trying to figure out if someone on the selection committee had secretly stolen my high-school diary.
I used to be a big fan of the indie pop band Echosmith, so naturally I was very excited to see them perform at this year’s Jamtoberfest.
Although they aren’t particularly well known, their song “Cool Kids” certainly had its moment on the Billboard Top 40.
If the name doesn’t sound very familiar, Jamtoberfest is a new collaboration between Hoptoberfest and the Hopkins Student Organization for Programming, colloquially known as The Hop. While they usually put on separate concerts in the fall, they pooled their resources together this year.
As usual the event was held outside on the Beach Friday night.
Some students were sprawled out across the field on picnic blankets, while others stood in front of the stage, ready to dance. Food trucks lined the street and free t-shirts were handed out.
The concert was opened by Public, a pop band from Cincinnati. I only knew one of their songs (“Make You Mine”), but the rest of their material was fun enough that I could look past not knowing the words. They had a vibrant energy, and any band that covers Brittany Spears’ “Toxic” deserves a listen in my book.
Public performed for about a half an hour before leaving the stage, pulling off a far more successful performance than I would have predicted.
A while later, Echosmith stepped out. Greeting the audience, they began with their 2017 song “18.” For a crowd of college kids, starting their set with a song about being confused and 18 was a pretty relatable choice.
They followed it up with performances of their songs “Let’s Love” and “Come Together,” two tracks I absolutely adored in high school. It was around this time that I started realizing a flaw in the concert.
Echosmith is a good band, and they were putting on a good performance, but a large part of the audience wasn’t connecting.
It wasn’t entirely either side’s fault. The audience simply wasn’t familiar with the music, and Echosmith’s chill vibe couldn’t get the audience’s heart pumping.
This wasn’t to say that no one was enjoying the music. Plenty of people were having a great time, whether or not they could sing along. Two of my friends (who were not familiar with Echosmith’s work) were dancing so energetically and passionately that complete strangers asked me if they were big fans.
It just wasn’t everyone.
Echosmith then played their songs “Future Me,” “Tell Her You Love Her” and “Bright,” as well as a cover of Coldplay’s “Fix You.”
Their next song, “Terminal,” was one of my personal favorites. The song is sentimental and touching, one of the band’s best, and I was pleased that it made it into the set.
“Terminal” is, however, one of their slowest songs, making the momentum of the concert stumble. Following it up with “Over My Head” was a good move.
Although it’s nothing groundbreaking, the song’s catchy, repetitive chorus was one of its biggest strengths, since it let the largely unfamiliar audience sing along and start to dance.
“Get Into My Car” and “Diamonds (in a Sea of Pearls)” were similarly upbeat and fun.
Sometime during “Diamonds,” one of the speakers blew out. Sydney Sierota, Echosmith’s lead singer, used the opportunity to call her father onto the stage and introduce him to the audience, revealing that it was his birthday.
Echosmith is made up of siblings, so having them wish their father a happy birthday with the entire family on stage was sweet and a great way to stall until the speaker could be fixed.
Sydney spoke directly to the audience frequently throughout the entire show with something heartfelt to say between almost every song. At times it was a bit meandering and excessive, but every word was so genuine that I couldn’t fault her for it. Sure, it was cheesy, but it was earnest.
Echosmith finished out the evening with their biggest hit, “Cool Kids.” It was the first song of the night that everyone seemed to know.
At age 14, I was trying to force myself into a “too cool for pop” mentality, turning my tastes towards indie music (read: indie pop). At some point, randomly clicking through YouTube videos, I found Echosmith’s “Cool Kids.”
For a while it was my absolute favorite song. I listened and re-listened to it ad nauseam. I felt like I could relate to it on each and every level.
The song perfectly captured the way I was feeling at the time: desperate to be cool and well-liked but wary of the popular kids — an ode to teenage social anxiety, written and performed by fellow teenagers.
In an interview with Elle, Sydney said that the band’s chief intent in writing the song was to make a statement on the human tendency to compare oneself to others and, in some cases, to desire to be like others as well.
“We didn’t write the song with the intent of, ‘Oh my gosh, I want to write a hit single, and I want people to know our song.’ Obviously you do want that, but when you write, you need to be honest,” she said.
“We wrote this song because we relate to it. Everybody at some point, whether you’re a kid or not, you do have that desire to be like somebody else, and you constantly compare yourself. And it’s an everyday decision to decide not to.”
That year I listened to all of Echosmith’s output (which at that point was about 15 songs), and commented on their YouTube videos.
Since they were still starting out and weren’t getting much feedback, they responded to me. I was thrilled to have a band I liked acknowledge me, even if it was just a quick “thank you” in a comments section.
The first time I heard “Cool Kids” on the radio, I was stunned and excited. I tried to explain to my mom that I knew this song. I knew this band.
So naturally, four or five years after that, I was pumped to see them perform it live. On top of that, there was a sense of relief in seeing everyone else sing along, excited to finally hear a song they recognized.
I had a great time at the concert, but when I asked my friends what they thought of it, they just said it was “fine.”
And that was the real flaw of the concert. For fans of the band, it was a great experience, but for everyone else it was a bit confusing. Jamtoberfest should have picked a more widely known band or artist so that it could appeal to the largest possible number of students.
This band once meant so much to me, and I’m glad I finally got to see them perform live. I just wish everyone else got an experience like that too.