U.Va. celebrates history, future with Bicentennial kickoff

Performers to include Andra Day, Leslie Odom Jr., Goo Goo Dolls


The Bicentennial kickoff event will feature such performers as Andra Day, Leslie Odom Jr. and the Goo Goo Dolls.

Courtesy University of Virginia | Cavalier Daily

The persistence of any institution for two centuries is something worth celebrating. When the institution in question is a place of learning as prestigious and hallowed as the University of Virginia, the celebration is guaranteed to be bountiful and continuous.

The University has taken this philosophy to an impressive maximum, technically starting off Bicentennial festivities two years early on the school’s 198th birthday. To be fair, there is logic behind this. Friday, Oct. 6 marks the 200th anniversary of the laying of the University’s cornerstone, and with this anniversary comes an abundance of special performers and speakers.

Chief among these are performances by The Goo Goo Dolls, Leslie Odom Jr. and Andra Day. Day. Day is an R&B performer who has enjoyed an impressively quick rise to fame with her 2015 debut album “Cheers to the Fall” and its tour de force single, “Rise Up,” an inspiring ode to overcoming adversity. Both the album and single received Grammy nominations that year.

Day’s ascension to fame was partially initiated when she was discovered by Stevie Wonder, another recent visitor to the University as a special guest at the Concert for Charlottesville. The two have since collaborated multiple times, with Day citing Wonder as one of the contributors to “Cheers to the Fall” and the duo appearing on an Apple TV Christmas ad.

Day’s recent work has been more politically charged. The R&B musician covered Billie Holiday classic “Strange Fruit” in a powerful video as part of a collaboration with the Equal Justice Initiative. The collaboration is described on Day’s site as a means of spreading awareness about the “legacy of lynching.”

In past interviews, Day has cited musicians Holiday and Nina Simone as major influences of hers, calling them “big voices.” Day herself has an enormously powerful voice, both literally and figuratively. Though the details of her performance at the Bicentennial kickoff are still largely unknown, it is safe to say that her presence will be a welcome, needed one, both to address the University’s troubled past and usher in its bright future.

Odom Jr. has a claim to fame in a different realm of the arts world, as the famous — some might say infamous — Aaron Burr in celebrated musical “Hamilton.” The musical, as it is hardly necessary to mention, has been hugely successful, with unprecedented Tony nominations, equally unmatched box office sales in its preliminary run and a film adaptation in the works. 

As Burr, Odom Jr. played a principal role in the story, acting as antagonist and eventual killer of Hamilton, not to mention vice president to Thomas Jefferson during Jefferson’s first term. The rich history implicated in this role suggests at least limited discussion of such history during Odom Jr.’s performance Friday night.

Though Odom Jr. said in an interview that the part in “Hamilton” might be the “greatest role” of his life, he also has a thriving solo music career and a part in upcoming film “Murder on the Orient Express.” Such a range of artistic talent will doubtless provide an entertaining presence on stage for the Bicentennial kickoff.

As the most recently announced of the three, slated performance of alt-rock band The Goo Goo Dolls comes as somewhat of a surprise. The group has been in existence since 1985 and have created 11 albums, perhaps most notably 1998’s “Dizzy Up the Girl,” which featured hits such as “Iris” and “Slide.”

It is unclear what purpose the band’s presence will serve at the kickoff event, as they have no clear ties to the University and their musical popularity arguably peaked years ago. Following up the politically relevant, powerhouse acts of Day and Odom Jr., The Goo Goo Dolls may be an anticlimax.

Forty-eight years ago, the University hosted a Sesquicentennial event of a similar nature, intended to celebrate the school’s then-150 years of existence. The visiting band that night was Sly and the Family Stone, whose music — often straying toward protest and rebellion — was surely more controversial in that time than a similar choice would be now.

Though The Goo Goo Dolls may mostly fulfill a placating presence at the event, Day and Odom Jr. should be extraordinary. Considering Friday's kickoff event is only the start of the University’s year-long celebrations, one can only wonder what else is in store.

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