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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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The Statesman

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    Unlocking the Vaults: Reaching Into Stony Brook’s Rich Concert History

    Quiet Riot performed in 1984. (Statesman File Photo)

    Though the Pritchard gym and Union Ballroom appears to remain dormant and empty for a majority of the year, there was a time in Stony Brook’s history that music legends of the 1960s and 70s graced these rooms and various others across the campus.

    The 2010-2011 academic year has seen a resurgence of the Stony Brook Concerts series, a series that in years past has hosted names such as Janis Joplin in 1968 in Pritchard, Simon and Garfunkel in the early 60s, Jimi Hendrix in 1967 and many others , with efforts to reclaim the days in which Stony Brook was a venue where artists wanted to play.

    “Over the last couple of years it became clearer to me that there was a new interest in the part of students to reestablish a more consistent and professional level series of concerts that immediately wouldn’t mimic the heyday back then but would be the steps toward trying to, given the current state of the music industry and the touring concert industry and the moneys available to try and get Stony Brook a little more present on the map in terms of a venue to put concerts on,” said Norm Prusslin, the director of the Living Learning Center, director of the Media Minor for the theatre arts department and advisor for The Statesman.

    The last surge of large-scale concerts that happened on campus was in the early 2000s with artists such as 3 Doors Down and Ray Charles. However, those shows didn’t garner that amount of success that shows in the late 60s and 70s received. From 1968 to 1975, there were shows happening, according to Prusslin, several times a month and even sometimes two times a week.

    “The student demographic is very different today than it was back then,” Prusslin said. “It’s probably fair to say that in terms of musical interest back then the people back had a common musical interest more than is the reality now because there are so many different types of people, so many different types of backgrounds and musical interest. Back then it was easier to come together with a common musical appreciation which, for better or for worse, primarily turned out to be rock bands.”

    The cost to bring those rock artists, such as Frank Zappa — who performed a recorded six times — Red Hot Chili Peppers who performed in 1989 and Pink Floyd in 1971, all were significantly cheaper to bring to Stony Brook than performers are today.

    “Back then compared to now is like night and day,” Prusslin said. “[Students on the concert committee] were able to bring in the biggest bands at a time literally for several thousand dollars and proportionally the money they had back then probably went further.” A band such a Best Coast, who was the first band to be a part of the newly revived concert series this year, cost $6,000 for the artist and roughly $3,200 for the production. According to Malik, USG director of event programming, they “had to slightly overpay for the artist because of the time crunch.”

    The success of shows from the past had a lot to do with the success of the student coordination from year to year.

    “It came down to several years of continuity where the people who were then in charge of the concert committees really had a built-in system where they would just transition from year to year,” Prusslin said. “In the world of SAB (Student Activities Board) concerts, there were a good number of years where there was definite continuity and that was important to the people in the music industry —to the promoters, to the agents — because they knew that there were people that they could always come back and work with, which was important for the trust factor. So another part of that success, even though the students would come and go, was that the structure was constant.”

    Over the years, the school and students developed good working relationships with venues in the city such as the old Yiddish theater turned rock venue Fillmore East on Second Avenue. When bands were being booked for the venue, shows at Stony Brook were tagged on either before or after the band’s appearance; the band was already in the area which made it easier to make the short trip out to Stony Brook.

    A lot of local promoters would not want a band to play anywhere else within like a 50-mile radius of where their show was going to be because they wanted to guarantee that they would have an audience and that there would be no conflict, according to Prusslin.

    “Stony Brook being a little bit further out from NYC and a little over 50 miles was a perfect location,” Prusslin said. He added that many times, bands would use the university’s facilities to “rehearse, have practice gigs in cafeteria building or outdoor venues and then they would play their show here, often times for little or no money because they liked having a chance to be out here.” For example, the Allman Brothers used the Tabler Arts Center as a rehearsal space and have also played at the university on more than one occasion.

    However, hosting the concert series was a double-edged sword. In years past it was easier for students to put on shows and they were able to do more of them. They were able to build a consistent history with a lot less of the requirements that exist now though there was always the possibility that something could go wrong at the concerts.

    “Any time you bring 3,000 people together and there are all kinds of circumstances — very little security and supervision — it is a recipe for potential disaster,” Prusslin said.

    Problems did arise though and, at one point, there was a time when the concerts were in jeopardy after a riot occurred at a concert in Feb. 1991. In an old issue of The Statesman, former Statesman Editor-in-Chief and current weekend editor in the Washington bureau of The New York Times, David Joachim reported on a Special Ed concert which resulted in a riot in the Union which left four students injured.

    “Several campus events have already been affected by last weekend’s riot in the Student Union and student leaders fear the future of student-run events may be in danger,” Joachim wrote.

    According to another Statesman article by Liam McGrath, “chairs were thrown and at least one bullet was fired during the melee, which broke out about 1:45 a.m., after students had jammed the ballroom for hours waiting to see a show scheduled to begin at midnight Friday. Four people, including two student security men, were injured and taken from the concert to University Hospital. An initial assessment of damages to the Union was $1,500.” At least one gunshot was fired and one student security man was stabbed in the chest.

    The concert series did continue, but saw a serious decline in the 1990s and into the early 2000s. The model that was used during the height of the concert series started to fall apart. Previously, students would come together to meet with student activity promoters, student affairs people, people from athletics, university police and other major players.

    “But then that model in part just stopped,” Prusslin said. “It stopped because those students graduated and the new group of students didn’t follow up on it and that was the end of that.”

    “That was then,” Prusslin added. “This is now. Whatever is proposed now obviously would have to work with the university guidelines and policies. They are challenging but they are not impossible to meet if there is enough time to work towards it.”

     

     

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    • B

      Bill McKainNov 10, 2015 at 7:43 am

      Too much has changed in the music business. We started seeing it in 1974 with David Crosby’s ridiculous demands to perform. That, and you’ll never be able to reheat the souffle that was SB back in the 68-73 period.

      Reply