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Baylor lacks high-profile music acts of past

Jan. 20, 2010

By James Byers

Thirty years ago, big-name artists like The Carpenters, Waylon Jennings and Chicago regularly performed on the Baylor campus. Now, on-campus concerts are more likely to feature smaller acts like David Phelps or Jon McLaughlin.

Why are there fewer concerts now?

The change can be traced back to Baylor's growth in the mid-'80s, when the Department of Student Activities was created to coordinate campus programming, supplanting the Student Union. The Student Union began to concentrate on the management of the Bill Daniel Student Center. The Baylor Activities Council was established in 2001. The 12-person council facilitates on-campus concerts and other student programming.

Mike Riemer, assistant director of student activities for campus programming, said that the council's goal is to give students an opportunity to lead. The council works with student organizations to bring acts to Baylor, but doesn't actively seek out entertainment like the Student Union did in the past.

"Our office is really devoted to helping student organizations," Riemer said. "We're not out there actively seeking artists to come to campus."

Any organization can book an artist if it has enough money, and if a venue, such as Waco Hall or Fountain Mall, is available.

Riemer also said the council oversees an "extensive approval process," to insure that any artist who performs on campus will abide by Baylor's standards.

"The bottom line is that we're not going to let anyone come if they're going to be swearing the whole time," Riemer said. "They wouldn't be able to perform."

Audrey Gray worked on the Student Union staff for more than 30 years and organized many concerts at Baylor. Gray, who now works part-time at the exit desk of Moody Memorial Library, said she wishes Student Activities would bring more acts to campus.

"I think that they need to underwrite this stuff and bring it in," Gray said. "But they don't seem to be trying, and I think they're making a big mistake. They're Student Activities, and they should be representing all the students and not just the fraternities and sororities."

Kent Ellis, associate director of conference and event management, stated in an e-mail that the decreased availability of venues, such as Waco Hall, makes it difficult to accommodate external concerts.

"Our calendar is maxed out with Baylor events and Waco community events," Ellis said. "There really aren't any good dates throughout the year that we don't already have something going on. Additionally, we set our calendar a year in advance and promoters do not usually book that far out. Despite these challenges, we still manage to have a couple of external concerts every year such as the David Phelps concert last year, and the Tribute to the Beatles, which was hosted by the Waco Symphony Orchestra."

Drew Pittman, director of facilities for the athletic department, said that the Ferrell Center also has a full schedule, including career fairs, premieres and athletic events.

"Back in the '90s, when most of the big concerts happened, the building wasn't run by the athletics department, it was run by finance and administration," Pittman said. "We haven't really done a big concert since Keith Urban in 2005."

Tickets for that concert were $40, and the show did not sell out.

Perhaps the biggest reason for the decrease in concerts, as is often the case, is money.

"It's almost become cost prohibitive to bring people in," said Dr.. Martha Lou Scott, associate vice president for student life.

"Concerts are challenging, and they keep getting more and more expensive," Pittman said, citing production and staffing costs.

Practical problems such as expenses and the availability of venues play a role, but Kathy Johnson, assistant to the dean of the School of Music, said students have simply changed since she was a student.

"Back in the day, students didn't have the means to go see people play in Dallas and Austin, so they would bring people to us," Johnson said. "We stayed on the weekends. But that's a different age. Students are more mobile now, and they're better off financially. Now, everybody's attention is so fractured. Who knows if they would even show up?"