The first NextNOW Fest I attended was a crazy cacophony of art and people and music. And though the coronavirus pandemic has taken away the physical presence of concerts, The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center isn’t letting that stop students and artists from sharing their craft.

NextNOW Fest is live this week through Saturday night, completely virtual on Zoom, Vimeo and Instagram Live. The majority of events don’t require registration, so it’s never been easier to pop in to a performance. While the virtual aspect does take some getting used to, I loved how I could attend events from my bed. 

From student-led workshops to live performances to art tournaments, NextNOW has an event for everyone. They wanted to maintain the role the festival plays on the campus and create a space for students to connect through creativity, said Megan Wells, associate director of the Artist Partner Programs.

This year’s theme is based on Y2K, a time when so much creativity and community happened online; chat rooms, AIM and MySpace were all the rage.

Campus radio station WMUC DJ Jared Cunanan played throwback jams on Tuesday night. I appreciated the angsty classics he played, such as “Teenage Dirtbag” and “Stacy’s Mom.” It reminded me of all the music I missed from the early 2000s.

[Students and alumni create a new Disorientation Guide for the academic year]

“I realized with COVID and being in quarantine, we’ve returned to a time when being online is one of the only ways people can continue to connect and continue to create and share their creations,” Wells said.

One of my favorite discussions was a sustainable fashion talk with Joelle Everett, a senior information science major. She runs an Instagram account, @fitsxjo, where she shares her outfits and thrifting finds. During NextNOW, she talked about the importance of thrifting instead of buying new. She even did a little show-and-tell of her favorite thrifted pieces.

Karli Lawrence, a senior general biology major, helped proctor the Artsphere Art Tournament, which was ridiculously entertaining to watch. In the bracket-style tournament, artists raced to draw prompts. For artists and nonartists, it’s important to have a space where students can engage, especially when we aren’t having the same kind of interactions that we usually do, Lawrence said.

“I think it’s a really great chance for people to still feel like they’re a part of the campus and a part of the community,” Lawrence said.

[The dread and anticipation of the post-pandemic glow up]

Surprisingly, the performances felt intimate. Headliner Black Belt Eagle Scout performed live with just her guitar and delicate voice. It felt like she was giving me a personal performance in my own home. After her set, I followed her Spotify, and it reminded me of why I love NextNOW: It’s so easy to discover and fall in love with artists. 

Throughout the performances, the chat on the side of Vimeo or Zoom made it easy for artists to read questions and interact with the audience. Rather than a typical concert setting, virtual performances allow for more of a connection between the performer and the audience.

Many events were recorded, so they’re available for future viewing if you forgot to tune in. This weekend, keep an eye out for Lion Babe on Friday night and a zine-making workshop on Saturday. While it’s definitely not the same as previous NextNOW fests I’ve attended, it works. Keeping community and creativity alive is important now more than ever.