Under the stars on the shore of Lake Matoaka, among patches of empty seats and bare grass, a few hundred students waited for this year’s fall concert to begin. The headliner Max, a pop musician from New York, was performing along with Shaboozey, the multi-genre musician from Northern Virginia. Nobody seemed to know what to expect, and a low murmur of conversation rustled through the crowd as canned pop music blared from the speakers. A few students stood at the base of the stage, but most stayed in their seats, waiting to gauge the energy of the acts. It turned out to be a wise move on their part.

The night began when Shaboozey sauntered out onstage to a recorded version of “A Horse With No Name,” bobbing and swaying to the music. This was the first of many peculiarities in his idiosyncratic act. He played his first song, “Drip Drip Splash,” which certainly made more of a drip than a splash, with students half-heartedly clapping along to the pounding beat.

“This is gonna be a legendary night,” Shaboozey said. It was not.

As his first song faded out, an awkward hush fell over the crowd, waiting for the next track. After a beat or two, Shaboozey, looking confused, turned to talk to his DJ.

“The songs I came with aren’t working,” Shaboozey said apologetically.  Fortunately, his next song, “Start a Riot,” worked fine. The track, a collaboration between Shaboozey and fellow musician Duckwrth, was featured in the soundtrack of “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” As the beat dropped, students began to bounce up and down, propelled by the energy of the music. Shaboozey threw water into the roaring, pulsing crowd. Finally, there was something worth dancing to. Until, of course, the music faded out again.

From then on, either due to technical difficulties or a short attention span, Shaboozey’s DJ only played brief clips of songs, punctuated by long periods of silence. Shaboozey, making the best of the situation, chatted about his love of Virginia and appreciation for his fans. His attempts to crowd surf turned into an awkward lean onto students in the front row, most of whom looked extremely uncomfortable. After only 20 minutes onstage, Shaboozey exited to lackluster applause.

Next up was a performance by Max, whose high-energy mix of covers and original music dispelled Shaboozey’s awkward energy. Students got to their feet as he began to sing “Ms. Jackson” by OutKast, his presence shining bright from the stage. He kept the energy going, urging the crowd to sing along to the chorus of “One More Weekend.” As voices rose, spirits soared, and Max soaked up the energy.

He started to sing “Basement Party,” one of his characteristically upbeat pop songs, bouncing and dancing acrobatically across the stage. Hands raised in the air, students swayed side to side, mouthing along to the chorus.

Breathing heavily, Max brought the crowd’s energy back down to a gentle murmur before his next song, “Still New York,” where he professed his love for his hometown. Singing soulfully, his lyrics described his deep connection to New York and its unique features. The audience swayed side to side, the crowd at the front of the stage growing larger as students got up from their seats to join the masses.

Over the next hour, Max’s infectious mix of emotional tunes and upbeat party songs kept the horde of students entertained. Clapping, snapping and singing along to the wcatchy music, the crowd’s energy peaked.

As the pinnacle of his performance, Max performed his best-known tune “Lights Down Low,” a song he said he wrote for his wife. The crowd sang along with the verses and the chorus, vibing with the heartfelt lyrics and powerful melody. Max professed his love for the energy of the crowd, winked and exited the stage, returning only for a brief encore performance.

Max’s ability to hype up the crowd perfectly matched his musical talents, creating an unforgettable atmosphere. Lifelong fans and new listeners bonded together over his music and charisma. Although the concert started off uninspiring, Max was able to turn it around, truly showcasing his strength as a performer. And Shaboozey? Well, at least he made Max look good.