Review: Juice Jam’s return excites music fans

Review: Juice Jam's return excites music fans

After 18 months of live concerts being canceled or put online, SU students packed Skytop Field for Jack Harlow, B.o.B. and more.
Published: September 26, 2021 | Updated: October 6th, 2021 at 4:04 pm
Jack Harlow points to a fan at Juice Jam on September 26th, 2021.
Jack Harlow points to a fan in the crowd as he headlines at Juice Jam 2021 on Sunday at Skytop Field.

There was a noticeable buzz building as a slow but steady stream of Syracuse University students made their way to Skytop Field Sunday afternoon for Juice Jam 2021.

The last in-person Juice Jam was in 2019, and it was easy to tell students were more than excited that the 2021 tradition was actually taking place. What was harder to tell is whether the intensifying enthusiasm was music fans’ desperation for live music after a lack of concerts for 18 months due to COVID-19, or simply that University Union had assembled a star-studded lineup that included talents such as Jack Harlow and B.o.B.

Eventually, Audrey Nuna took the stage, starting the set off with her song “Cool Kids.” The track is loud and bombastic, something that was needed to wake up the crowd. Nuna noticeably struggled to get the full attention of the crowd, but still got a lot of excitement despite only being an opener.

In an interview, Nuna talked about the difference between pre- and post-pandemic performances.

“I think people are realizing how lucky we are to do shows and to be together in certain moments,” Nuna said.

Nuna had such incredible energy and stage presence as she played some of her recognizable tracks such as  “Top Again ” and “Comic Sans,” but couldn’t get a ton of involvement from the crowd. This is to be expected for the opener of a show, but it was still disheartening to see such a talented performer not get the attention she deserved.

Audrey Nuna turns toward the crowd at Juice Jam on September 26th, 2021.
Audrey Nuna turns toward the crowd at Juice Jam 2021 on Sunday afternoon.

Next was Bea Miller, who garnered a larger, and more engaged audience. Miller is an expressive performer and was able to connect with her audience very easily, even breaking into a little rant about break-ups halfway through the set. Miller cleanly used the tired old line “It’s not you, it’s me” to transition into her song of the same name.

Miller’s personality shined through even when she made a mistake, laughing off what seemed like a tiny bit of lyric confusion by riffing, “I told you guys I’d f—- something up”.

This only added to her strength as a performer and helped the audience better connect with her, which raised the energy in the crowd.

After Miller was rapper B.o.B, who kicked his set off with his song “Ready,” and there was a massive spike in crowd size and energy by the time the song had started.

B.o.B is by far the most experienced performer out of the line-up, whose comfortable stage presence was on display as he played hit after hit. B.o.B knew how to get the crowd involved, and even choose a side of the audience he liked best to spur up a rivalry between the two.

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Thousands of Syracuse University students made their way to Skytop Field for this year's Juice Jam

In another move to get the crowd involved, B.o.B borrowed a pair of sunglasses from an audience member, and then asked the audience, “Can I put my shades on?” which led to an outpour of cheering from the crowd.

Most of the crowd was dancing along to his whole set as B.o.B went through his extensive catalog of hits such as “Airplanes” and “So Good,” and some hits that weren’t his own like Sheck Wes’s “Mo Bamba.”

As B.o.B closed his set, he signed off to an already elated crowd, “Don’t drink and drive, just smoke and thrive.”

As was expected, the Juice Jam crowd felt on edge as it was staring at an empty stage as it awaited headliner Jack Harlow’s arrival. That tension finally exploded as Harlow began his set with his 2020 hit “Tyler Herro.”

Harlow then performed his song “Warsaw” and it was at this point that the concert’s energy levels began to wane.

Rapper B.O.B. performs to Juice Jam 2021 fans on Sunday.
Rapper B.O.B. performs to Juice Jam 2021 fans on Sunday.

A sleepier performance from Harlow could have been expected coming off a fairly lengthy tour run across the country including Boston the day before Juice Jam.  But Harlow’s low-key nature — at least in comparison to the other acts — was noticeable from the moment he started.

There was, however, a turning point when Harlow asked “Is Joe Boeheim still coach here?” that got a huge response from the crowd and Harlow kicked it up a notch.

Seemingly, this connection was needed for him to really start to perform with an energy that matched the crowd.

Harlow played “Industry Baby,” a song he was featured on, and “Already Best Friends” that were crowd-pleasers as students knew almost all of the words and sang along.

Harlow made note of the fact that the last college he performed for was the University of Kentucky, and asked the crowd if they could make his closing song “What’s Poppin” the “best performance of this I’ve done for a college.”

It’s safe to say that, given the palpable excitement from the audience, that performance of “What’s Poppin” was certainly better than Kentucky if not best the best he’s ever done on a college campus.