Dickinson College Homepage Dickinson Magazine This issue of the Dickinson Magazine was mailed on Monday, July 3, 2006
From This Issue
Volume 84 • Number 1
Summer 2006

Reeling in the Years
Musical performances defined the times on campus
By Jessica Grinspan ’05

OK, music-heads, here’s a little quiz. Which legendary musician worked as a grave digger before becoming famous? Was it Rolling Stones rocker Mick Jagger? Pop diva Cyndi Lauper? How about raspy-voiced Rod Stewart?

If you guessed “Rod the Mod,” you’d be right. As a teenager, Stewart earned his wages for a few weeks at London’s Highgate graveyard.

But those are facts you can find anywhere. If you want to learn some truly obscure trivia, you needn’t look further than Dickinson’s musical past. The college has hosted performances by the likes of B.B. King, Jimmy Buffet, even Bruce “The Boss” Springsteen. They had one thing in common: a cultural bond that brought Dickinsonians together for the enjoyment of song, from classical and folk to new wave and rock ’n’ roll.

The swinging ’60s
“If you remember the ’60s, you probably weren’t there,” the saying goes. But no Dickinsonian who attended the decade’s biggest classical performances could easily forget them.

The ’69 concert by the renowned Vienna Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Wolfgang Sawallisch, “was the first orchestra I ever saw, and it was just overwhelming,” says President William G. Durden ’71. “I remember the strangeness of having this big orchestra perform in a high school.”

Since there was no Anita Tuvin Schlecter (ATS) Auditorium the orchestra performed in Carlisle’s old Lamberton High School.

“We all walked over from campus,” Durden says. “The wind was blowing, it was dark outside, and the side streets were just filled with people wandering in the night.”

Even crammed into the school’s small auditorium with its high-school-quality acoustics, the capacity crowd, says Durden, was “overwhelmed” by the performance, one in a series of recitals sponsored by Dickinson’s cultural-affairs committee.

A few of the other ’60s performers: the Ray Charles Orchestra, the British pianist John Ogden, the Dave Brubeck Quartet, and Jeffrey Hollander, who entered the Eastman School of Music at the age of 7. Let’s not forgot the eccentric Swiss tenor Ernst Haefliger.

“[His] was a wonderful concert,” remembers Dieter Rollfinke, professor emeritus of German. “But I do remember one strange incident precisely.

The college had asked if I was willing to host a reception in my home after the concert,” Rollfinke explains. “So I got in touch with [Haefliger] and asked him, ‘Would you like to come to my home?’ He replied, ‘Yes, but I can’t eat until after the performance, and my drinks have to be the right temperature.’ So when he arrived at my home, I got ready to make him a drink—a gin and tonic—and he asked me to take the ice cubes and hold them in my hands until they melted, then put them in the drink. I was holding his ice cubes in my hands for a few minutes.”

That wasn’t the only bizarre event of the evening.

“Here’s another great story,” says Truman Bullard, professor emeritus of music. That night, Haefliger was accompanied by the pianist Franz Rupp, a Jewish refugee from Germany. The concert’s audience had a Jewish refugee of its own—the septuagenarian professor emeritus of German, Friedrich Sandels.

“Sandels was an incredibly astute lover of classical music,” Bullard says. “When he recognized the pianist [from their youth in Germany], he went backstage and the two ancient Jewish men fell into each others’ arms and wept. This was the first time in 30 years that they’d seen each other—it was an immensely touching reunion.”

The super ’70s
In 1970, the now-legendary blues artist B.B. King kicked off an era of diverse performers—many of whom didn’t hit stardom until after their college tours.

King probably doesn’t realize that he left a legacy in the “Caf” (Dickinson Dining Hall) that memorable night.

“Everyone on campus knew this was going to be a key performance,” Durden says. “At this time, B.B. King was hot and at the beginning of his career, and we knew the Caf was going to be crowded. At first, there were chairs set up so that people could sit during the concert, but people pushed the chairs back and sat on the carpet. It looked like one vast strawberry field—everyone packed in, everyone sitting down on the floor.”

That evening, a trend was born—and no one dared to set up chairs at another performance.

The concert itself was “unbelievable,” Durden says. “You could tell that this guy was going to be a star. He just had a sound that was so different. He captured the audience’s attention—everyone loved it.”

That performance was followed by other popular acts—some good, some not so good.

First, the good:

Bruce Springsteen played the dining hall in ’74, a year before he achieved stardom with Born to Run. “The Boss” rocked the Caf, creating what Michael Mandaglio ’77 called “a magical evening.” The only problem? “Bruce started his sound check late and we waited for over an hour until he was satisfied,” Mandaglio says. “There was much grumbling by all waiting in line, and I can remember Andy MacPhail ’76 looking at me and saying, ‘Who does this guy think he is?’ Well, we found out pretty quickly who Bruce was—from the opening number, we were mesmerized, and the rest is history.”

Although Bonnie Raitt wasn’t yet a Grammy Award-winner, in the ’70s she was well known in the blues arena. She delivered a “superb performance” at the dining hall, noted a spring ’75 issue of The Dickinsonian, and had “the lack of pretense combined with on-stage ease that professional successes can either bring or deny.”

The Eagles’ concert was good, says Mandaglio, with an equally good story. “A bomb scare was reported while the Eagles were performing and [band member] Glenn Frey, between songs, announced to the crowd that it was necessary to vacate the Holland Union Building,” he says. “The crowd spent 30 to 45 minutes out in the parking lot with the band, while the Carlisle police and fire departments confirmed it was a false alarm. We re-entered the dining hall, and the Eagles finished their performance.”

A folk artist before he was king of comedy, Steve Martin, playing his banjo, asked his audience to follow him out of the dining hall and through the HUB parking lot.

“There were 400 to 500 people in attendance,” Mandaglio says. “When we get outside, [Martin] tells us the plan is for us to hide behind the numerous cars parked on Louther Street while he hitchhiked. When a car pulled over, we were to all run to the car. That’s exactly what we did. The reaction from the driver was priceless.”

Here’s a sampling of the not so good:

Called “one of the best-known and oldest rock-and-roll bands in the United States” by a fall ’77 issue of The Dickinsonian, Hot Tuna was expected to rock the Caf. But “the band just played forever, and it was so boring,” remembers Rob Litowitz ’78. “I mean, they just jammed for three hours. We all left in the middle of the concert because it got so bad.” A Dickinsonian writer agreed: “Most in attendance thought that Tuna should have just stayed in the … er, can.”

If you’re a “Parrothead,” you’ll probably be surprised by this one. After Jimmy Buffet performed in ’75, a Dickinsonian writer commented that “the problem with the music of Jimmy Buffet is that it lacks depth. His music is humorous and enjoyable, but doesn’t leave a lasting impression on the listener. Perhaps he is doomed to the lowly position of a warm-up act.” About a year later, the hit song “Margaritaville” turned Buffet into a legend.

The electric ’80s
Here’s some more shocking trivia: when blues guitar legend Stevie Ray Vaughan was scheduled to play at Dickinson in spring ’84, the college sold only eight tickets to the concert. That’s because Vaughan wasn’t yet a star, says Heidi Hormel ’85.

“I remember seeing an ad in the HUB for a performance by Stevie Ray Vaughan and wondering who he was,” Hormel says. “Now I know how great his music was, but people didn’t really know him back then. College music at that time was still new wave and pop-ish, and he was blues.”

Because of a lack of interest, the concert was canceled.

“Vaughan is supposed to be one of the top guitarists today; however, the campus prefers Top Ten artists,” Marcy Grove ’84, then-head of the concert committee, was quoted in The Dickinsonian as saying. “Students are not willing to take a chance—they rely a lot on the media.”

Where Vaughan failed to attract an audience, the British synth-pop artists A Flock of Seagulls succeeded two years later.

“They performed in ATS,” says Hormel, “and everybody stood on the floor. There was a big crowd, but people managed to get pretty close to the stage. It was a good concert.”

It wasn’t Dickinson’s only impressive ’80s performance. The concert committee managed to bring The Hooters and folk singers Peter, Paul and Mary—who requested that only metal spoons and china be brought with their food because they cared for the environment, remembers Dottie Warner, Dickinson’s director of event planning and the HUB.

“They also asked for a container of honey on their food requests,” Warner says. “As I was standing beside the refreshment table with Mary, she looked at the very large bowl of honey and looked at me and said, ‘That’s the biggest bowl of honey I’ve ever seen.’ Those were the only words she spoke directly to me the entire time [the band] was here.”

And the performance?

“It was in the Kline Center gymnasium,” says Rollfinke. “The place was packed—there were a lot of students and faculty there, along with community members. It was one of the greatest concerts I remember at Dickinson.”

Rock singer Eddie Money, whose big hit “Take Me Home Tonight” was released in ’86, also delivered a good show in the spring of ’89. But there was one problem—the college lost approximately $19,000 after only 469 people—126 of whom were students—showed up in the Kline Center for the concert.

“I thought the turnout was light,” The Dickinsonian quoted an angry Money as saying. “[Students] don’t know a good thing when they see it. Whoever came down got a great show. I sang well.”

And while Money was pleasing his crowd in the Kline, another crowd was staging a demonstration outside—protesting the concert committee’s performer-selection process. According to The Dickinsonian, these students offered free hot dogs and displayed signs and banners with messages like “Eddie Money Go Home” and “Free hot dogs for anyone who’s not going to see Eddie Money.”

But Money wasn’t as much of a flop as the late Warren Zevon in the fall of ’83. The Zevon concert, while much better attended than Money’s, is preserved in college history as a disaster.

“In his first number, Zevon’s guitar failed and for several minutes an awkward silence permeated the air of ATS,” The Dickinsonian reported. “This was not the only time his equipment failed onstage. ... The combination of his failing equipment along with the fact that he performed solo”—Zevon had refused to bring his backup band—“proved to be the makings of a poor concert.”

The naughty ’90s and beyond
The ’90s, says Durden, concluded “a [more-or-less] 15-year window for big college concerts. Performers used to come to college campuses as part of their big world tours, and then we tended to get smaller groups.”

That doesn’t mean Dickinson stopped trying to book top acts. In 1990, after a poll of the student body identified potential performers, the concert committee tried unsuccessfully to book everyone from Little Feat to the Indigo Girls.

That year, the college ended up with The Kinks, not the students’ top pick. The performance was decent enough, reported The Dickinsonian, but for the next few years, students were disappointed by the campus’s selection of acts, including the Violent Femmes in ’93, who were “virtually dragged from 1980s obscurity,” a Dickinsonian writer commented.

In ’98, the concert committee finally booked the Indigo Girls, who put on an impressive show, even though the crowd had to wait in the rain for an hour before the concert started.

The campus hosted several popular groups at the turn of the century, including punk rockers Good Charlotte. “There was a lot of energy and mosh pitting going on,” Jon Heiman ’05 remembers. “One of my hall mates and I learned how to ‘skank’ for that concert. ‘Skanking’ is a dance you do at punk shows, kind of a variation of the old-school Charleston.”

Live, performing in ATS in ’03, attracted an energetic crowd. “That was probably the 20th Live show I’d been to,” says Jessica Toll ’03. “It was amazing to see them perform in such an intimate setting. They always put on a great show, whether it’s in a stadium or a tiny venue.”

Tickets for the Death Cab for Cutie performance, held just last fall in ATS, sold out quickly. According to Durden, a local Dickinson trustee said it was one of the best concerts he’d ever attended.

So is Dickinson re-establishing itself as a stage for some of the hottest stars?

President Durden hopes so. “Colleges should still be a venue [for big performers],” he says. “There will always be a stage, and there will always be an audience—so there should be [performers] coming through.

“I do think that the degree to which we can get top stars is improving,” he says. “Even with technology, like CDs and iTunes, there will always be something magical and intense about a live concert.”

 


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