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Dillo Day History

Dillo Day History

We’re less than a day away from Dillo 2016 and almost two years away from the most recent Dillo performance, and like any Northwestern senior I’ve found myself pondering some big questions. How much have I really changed since being in college, and was it for the better? Do I actually want to go to grad school or did I just default to that? What are the origins of Dillo Day? Now, cards on the table, that last question was something I asked when I was hanging out with some people I didn’t know very well, mainly because I wanted to break an awkward silence. BUT, it is the only one of those questions I am currently comfortable trying to answer, so here we go.

3000 Years Ago-ish to Kinda Recently in the Grand Scheme of Things

“Kill people, burn shit, fuck school” -Pope Urban II
“Kill people, burn shit, fuck school” -Pope Urban II

With the distant possibility of your existence floating in the existential ether of the universe (1), people in the Roman, Germanic, and modern day-UK regions of Europe were busy celebrating the pagan holiday May Day. It happened on May 1st each year to mark the beginning of summer. Then there was the whole Jesus thing and eventually the Roman Catholic church got created and they just went ham with the whole destroying other religions/peoples/dissenters thing. So the pagan rituals got retconned into safe semi-secular holidays, and, as a part of this, May Day’s ties to pre-Christian pagan cultures got the axe. Sweet.

The secular version of May Day has to do with Jesus’s virgin mom (ha, nerd), and sometimes his stepdad Joey, too (2). But the secular version, which is more relevant to the evolution of modern Dillo, involved dancing around maypoles and the crowning of the Queen of May. The latter of those traditions was present at Northwestern for a number of years in the 20th century as the central event of Mayfest.

1900-1970

It was the start of the 20th century. Nationalist tensions and regional drama were making Europe just like, a total mess right now. People who looked like this still existed.

Daniel Bonbright, NU President 1900-1902
Daniel Bonbright, NU President 1900-1902

And the Women’s League of Evanston was busy hosting the increasingly popular event Mayfest: a spring pageant/festival hybrid that culminated in the crowning of the May Queen (YAAASSSSSS). In 1911 the festival got popular enough to expand from the Women’s League to the entire college, presumably without the women being allowed to vote on it.

Then there were these two big wars that probably fucked shit up with this event in some way, but I’m not clear on how.

Mayfest continued to grow from there and in 1950 event organizers decided to form an independent Mayfest board for entitled students to get angry at every year (and to organize the event I guess). This committee was formed by the Mortar Board Honor Society and Deru, and included members from IFC and the Panhellenic Council. Because what better way to celebrate women than to involve Greek life.

Hottest underground indie DIY punk scene in the Chicago area
Hottest underground indie DIY punk scene in the Chicago area

In 1954 Mayfest expanded the events to a week which included some all-freshman event (3) and a concert in Patten parking lot, the same place that Nirvana, Queen, the Jay-Z, and Diplo all famously got their big breaks.

Through the next decade these added events began to overshadow the traditional May Day celebrations, but the event hit a wall when Vietnam War protests forced its cancellation in 1970. Pretty selfish, hippies.

1971-1981

At this point Dillo origins become slightly disputed. One totally 100% true anecdote from the 1971 IFC president recalls the inaugural event:

By 12:30 pm I was called to the phone, the Dean of Men was on the line. He stated that he was getting reports of a party with beer, was that true? I told him that his information was accurate. He said he would be right there and to meet him in front of our house. When he arrived there were over a thousand students with a beer in their hands dancing to the music. He reminded me that Evanston was dry. I said nothing and waited. My three years at NU flashed before my eyes. There was a long silence as the Dean surveyed the scene in front of us. It was clear to me, and I hoped the Dean, that everyone was having a good time and there was no way to put the genie back in the bottle. Finally the Dean turned to me and said, 'give me a beer'. I took a deep breath, smiled and said 'yes sir, right away.'

There is speculation that the entire party then began a slow clap, chanting the frat guy’s name and lifting him onto their shoulders in a triumphant freeze frame. Roll credits.

Artist’s rendering of said frat guy’s self image (also valid are pictures of Luke Wilson in Old School or Justin Long in Accepted)
Artist’s rendering of said frat guy’s self image (also valid are pictures of Luke Wilson in Old School or Justin Long in Accepted)
Come for the mind putty, stay for the fantasy auction and naked horseback riding (via library.northwestern.edu)
Come for the mind putty, stay for the fantasy auction and naked horseback riding (via library.northwestern.edu)

Another account of Dillo beginnings tells of two Texan students who in 1973 set up an event on Deering Meadow to protest the fraternity/sorority-focused Spring Thing (see above). With virtually no budget and a “do it yourself” kind of attitude that would have made for a great woodworking blog if the internet had been around, this group was named Armadillo Productions to honor a venue in their hometown of Austin.

This event died away a bit after these rambunctious upstarts graduated (4), but was revived a few years later to revitalize my parents’ marriage A&O’s spring festival and the IFC/PHA event, which had merged. The following 1978 Daily Northwestern article gives an account of one of those first Dillos, making sure to hammer home the point that NU was a huge bummer for the entire year before that. Also apparently people didn’t know what armadillos were in 1978.

Old habits die hard. (via Dillo Day Pinterest)
Old habits die hard. (via Dillo Day Pinterest)

From here and throughout the ‘80’s Dillo expanded into a spring quarter staple, alongside desperately looking for a summer job and forgetting that April is still basically winter.

1980s-early 2000s

Not really sure what happened here. I think I blacked out.

Found this pic of me though (via library.northwestern.edu)
Found this pic of me though (via library.northwestern.edu)

Dillo Day in the 2000s

Can you believe we had [The Black Eyed Peas/Kendrick Lamar/Lupe Fiasco/almost the Wu Tang Clan] that year? Blah blah blah you guys have heard this shit before.

You know what post-2000 Dillo Day is like (unless you’re a sophomore or freshman, ha). Get shit-housed at 9 AM. See musical acts who will get big in 3 years or were kinda big 3 years ago. Get angry at Mayfest for things. Go ‘Cats.

I don’t know. But yes, it sure seems like it. (2006 Dillo poster, via library.northwestern.edu)
I don’t know. But yes, it sure seems like it. (2006 Dillo poster, via library.northwestern.edu)

(P.S. Much love to the NU archives and this 2012 NBN article for info on this. Also Wikipedia.)

(1) In many ways, it still is

(2) The Pope actually moved St. Joseph’s feast day to May 1st as a counter to International Workers Day, because we all know that Jesus was strictly a capitalist

(3) Whatever, it’s fine, I didn’t want an invitation anyway

(4) Hmm, wait, why does that sound familiar?

A Tale of Two Dillos: Sherman Ave's 2016 Dillo Diaries

A Tale of Two Dillos: Sherman Ave's 2016 Dillo Diaries

“You Can Do Anything You Want Here” Reports Tour Guide Who Was Rejected from 13 Different Campus Organizations

“You Can Do Anything You Want Here” Reports Tour Guide Who Was Rejected from 13 Different Campus Organizations