Jackie Hayes and Holly Beemer: The importance of pop stars

Senior Holly Beemer opened for Jackie Hayes’ concert last Saturday night, singing many pop songs and covers. Photo by Alana Melvin.

Lawrence has had many grand “return of live music” moments in the past several weeks. From a captivating guest concert in the Chapel by the Grammy-nominated Spektral String Quartet and energized opening nights for the Conservatory’s orchestras and bands to the starlit bluegrass of The Woebegones and late-night maritime songs with the Shanty Club on the WLFM house porch, the Lawrence community has had a healthy dose of live performances this year so far.  

What’s perhaps been really missing from our stages for some time now is a pop show: not just a pop show by an academic definition (no offense to our Con readers) which paints Björk, Playboi Carti, and Radiohead as synonymous, but a true live pop show with a bonafide, in-the-flesh pop star.  

Luckily, this came to fruition in the Mead-Witter room on the night of Saturday, Oct. 16, with Jackie Hayes’ return to Lawrence.  

Chicago-based rising star Jackie Hayes occupies a space between the charts and the edges of pop music; she rests in an increasingly popular space between bubblegum and grunge, dance-pop and industrial pop, and punk. She’s also no stranger to Lawrence, having performed at LUaroo in 2019. Since then, she’s seen over 82,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, over 60,000 total views on YouTube, and write-ups in the Chicago Tribune, Flood Magazine and NME, clearly continuing her climb towards stardom. With this kind of reputation behind her, Jackie Hayes, supported by Lawrence’s own senior Holly Beemer, brought a monumental return of pop music to Lawrence. 

Speaking of Holly Beemer, one would be completely remiss to not highlight her remarkable opening set. Beemer’s folksy acoustic cuts and dreamy piano ballads were an excellent vessel for some powerhouse vocals and heartfelt words, providing contrast to Hayes’ more electric half of the show. A voice student in the Conservatory, Beemer’s stripped-down set showed off her voice’s naturally carrying and smooth timbre; she easily blended operatic lightness with a rich depth from folk, R&B and soul. Playing piano and guitar, she offered various takes on a singer-songwriter style to her enthusiastic audience. The crowd equally appreciated both the set list’s heartfelt originals, such as the tongue-in-cheek acoustic guitar pop song “Tickets to My Own Show” and the sentimentally soulful piano ballad “Trip to Mars,” and the expertly interpreted covers, namely a stripped-down take on indie rock band Mt. Joy’s “Silver Lining” and an inventive blues-meets-dream-pop interpretation of Billie Eilish’s hit “Happier Than Ever” featuring Will Quie (’22) on electric guitar. While Beemer’s raw vocal talent and impressive multi-instrumentalism shone throughout her performance, perhaps the warm charisma and sense of fun she presented to her audience of loved ones and peers was what truly made the set special.  

Luckily, the roaring applause which ended Beemer’s set meant the show was only starting. At just after nine o’clock, Jackie Hayes took the stage. She immediately got the crowd moving: in contrast to Beemer’s conversationalist take on coffee-shop acoustic pop, the thumping bass, buzzing synths and ethereal aura of Hayes’ music were more suited to a night club or basement party. She made the show intimate in a whole new way; opting for the floor level rather than the stage itself, she stood inches away from the crowd’s front row, keeping the music centered rather than sharing spoken stories (excepting brief sidebars about her crew’s hotel misfortunes and merch mishaps). Hayes, backed by Tay Norwood on strings and synths, shared cuts from her 2021 EP There’s Always Going To Be Something and its predecessor take it, leave it.  In this small-scale live setting, her music’s subtle edge was made sharper, with standout songs like the bassy “OMG” and “Material” recalling the industrial grunge of ‘90s bands like Garbage, and the electric “Headache” and “Have Fun” representing a fusion of the glitchy beats of indie darlings The Postal Service and Ratatat with the fiery spirit of pop on today’s charts.  

Hayes’ subtle take on a more rock-star stage presence demonstrated a key quality of her artistic vision: she’s all about using the music as a vehicle for connecting with her audience. In this way, her energetic show and its even more energetic crowd represented the return of a different kind of live concert experience to Lawrence: one where there’s an artist — in this case, a blossoming pop star — sharing their story up close and personal and dancing the night away while doing it. 

Be sure to follow the Lawrence University Band Booking Committee (@lubandbooking) on Instagram for more updates on live music at Lawrence.