Bonfire 2021: Students, organizers, and performers say reward outweighed risk

The CDC states that large events increase an individual’s risk of contracting COVID-19, but Bonfire attendees were willing to take that risk to see Willie Jones, Jesse McCartney, Kiana Ledé, and Flo Rida take the stage on Sept. 9.


Photos by Eston Parker III and graphic by Marcy Wilder and Michelle Rodriguez-Gonzalez.

“The risk of getting COVID will always be a concern,” a student attendee said.

Kendall Little, Managing Editor

Students lined up at the gates for the university’s annual Bonfire Music Festival around 5:45 p.m. on Sept. 9 to see Willie Jones, Jesse McCartney, Kiana Ledé, and Flo Rida perform. Many were unmasked, but most said that they were glad the event was happening — even in the middle of a pandemic.

Bonfire organizers put the festival on hold last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Palm
Beach County was averaging around 14,300 COVID-19 daily cases the day before Bonfire this year, according to the New York Times. But university officials made the call to hold the event this year—on a smaller scale than in previous years.

Staff limited attendance to 2,800 in an attempt to decrease the likelihood of attendees contracting COVID-19, according to Program Board Adviser Richard Mahler.

“The risk of getting COVID will always be a concern,” communications major Rachel Hirsch said from the front of the crowd. “I’m just super hyped that [Bonfi re] is back.”

Political science major Chris Pierce agreed.

“It’s a great way to bring everyone back into action,” he said. Pierce told the UP that he is vaccinated and planned on wearing a mask during the event.

He wore a mask while speaking with the UP but took it off several times during the night due to the weather.

Eston Parker III

“Socially, bringing Bonfire back was a great decision, but scientifically? Probably not,” Pierce said.

The CDC does not recommend attending large events due to the risk of contracting COVID-19. According to the CDC website, events with a large number of people increase the risk of exposure to the virus.

Janeese Doné, a sociology major who stood next to Pierce at the event, said she was nervous about being at Bonfire due to the COVID-19 variants, but felt protected by being vaccinated and wearing a mask.

“An event with no spacing is scary,” she said. “I feel better being at the very front of the crowd though.”

Program Board member Hadassah Mederios said that she was happy to be able to give students an opportunity to participate in an on-campus event after nearly 18 months. “I know some people don’t feel it’s safe, but I know a lot are missing on-campus events,” the public management major said.

Mederios predicted that people would be quick to blame Bonfire if the university experienced a spike in the next few weeks, but she doesn’t believe the event would be the main cause.

“People might want to blame it on [Bonfire], but people go without a mask all the time on campus. I’m more worried about football games causing spikes,” she said.

Program Board staff hired two body painters to create neon art designs on attendees, free of charge. One of the painters, Haley Damon, told the UP that she wasn’t worried about contracting COVID.

“I’ve taken a few precautions,” she explained, pointing out a bottle of hand sanitizer on her table. “I’ve been doing events like this for three months and I always wear my mask.”

Damon is vaccinated and says that if she felt the need to, she wouldn’t be afraid to ask someone to leave her station. However, she said she hasn’t encountered any issues with unsanitary clients, such as those who have visible grime on their hands.

“It’s up to trusting people,” Damon said as she painted a dolphin on the leg of Mederios.

Jesse McCartney and Willie Jones, two of the artists on the Bonfire lineup, both expressed their excitement to be back in front of a crowd.

“It’s so good to be back on stage,” McCartney told the crowd during his set, receiving a round of applause and cheers from the audience.

Jones told the UP that he wasn’t worried about getting COVID at Bonfire and that he was focused on having fun on stage.

“I wasn’t too nervous. I feel like I’ve been keeping myself safe and taking care of myself so it’s just good to be out and vibing with people,” he said.

The hip-hop country singer and songwriter feels that he has taken the proper precautions to avoid contracting the virus.

“I’m vaxxed and waxed,” Jones laughed. “I’ll keep my hands clean [and] I’m sure everybody else here does too. Even though it’s close proximity, I feel like everybody should be good.”

As of Sept. 9, FAU had a total of 203 COVID-19 cases on campus since the semester began, with 87.2% of them reported on the Boca Raton campus.

Last year on Sept. 9, the university documented 161 fewer cases than this year with 42 cumulative COVID cases since the fall 2020 semester began.

Editor’s Note: This story is a part of our September issue titled “SG Leaders Unmasked,” which you can pick up on campus or read online here.

Kendall Little is the Managing Editor for the University Press. For more information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet her @klittlewrites.