Thursday, August 9, 2012
Some of the hottest concerts in town are closed to the public
DFW universities are snagging artists like Drake, Ke$ha, and Lady Antebellum, but oftentimes, the general public can’t attend.
The opening of the University of Texas at Arlington’s College Park Center gave the university a glitzy new venue to host hip-hop superstar Drake in March. It was a turning point for UTA when the show sold out in a matter of hours, bringing positive attention the university’s way and securing them a place as a major venue in DFW for big-name shows.
The new arena also added some healthy pressure for other local universities to be able to book the same caliber of national acts for student-sponsored concerts. Of the residing Dallas-Fort Worth universities, Southern Methodist and Texas Christian compete the most with UTA for coveted shows.
Pop icons as big as Ke$ha have played university venues for free, while other highly-coveted shows like the upcoming Passion Pit concert at UTA will cost students an out-of-pocket fee.
UT Arlington’s College Park Center: 6,750 seats
TCU’s Campus Commons: more than 6,000 seats
SMU’s McFarlin Auditorium: 2,386 seats
SMU’s Moody Coliseum: 7,457 seats – though it is closed for renovations until 2014
UNT’s Coliseum: 9,797
UNT’s Main Auditorium: 1,531
Each university has its own logic about how they book, sell, or give away tickets for student-sponsored shows, but they all stand behind the mindset that university shows are a service to the students and the community and can be a way to gain a competitive edge.
UTA, for instance, has consistently sold tickets to their student-sponsored concerts. For the Drake show, students could buy two discounted tickets with the option to purchase two more full-price tickets, which helped soften the pricey blow of $35-80 each.
SMU and TCU usually offer a free ticket option, some with a +1 attached.
SMU’s funding comes from the Student Senate, said Jonathan Machemehl, a senior at SMU and the incoming president for the Program Council. SMU receives about $40,000 per year.
SMU invited Gavin DeGraw at McFarlin Auditorium to play in March, and it hosted pop star Ke$ha at Moody Coliseum in 2011. Students received one free ticket to the DeGraw show with an option to buy a guest ticket. SMU students were also given a free ticket in the stands for Ke$ha and could opt to purchase a floor seat for $10-15. They were limited to five guest tickets for both of these events.
TCU scored the Grammy-winning country trio Lady Antebellum for their fall showcase in 2010, and followed up with The Fray and TCU’s own Tim Halperin in 2011. They declined to disclose budget details, but said “when a great opportunity comes (like Lady Antebellum), we have been able to flex a bit to make something really special like that happen,” according to Brad Thompson, the student activities coordinator.
A competitive advantage
UTA featured other major artists including Ludacris, Rihanna, and Maroon 5 before the center was open, but the new College Park Center has certainly boosted the university’s ability to make those shows more frequent.
“When we are considering a show – whether it’s closed or to the public – we’re really looking at the show to serve our campus or our community, and not what other universities are doing,” said Sharon Carey, the director for special events at College Park Center. “Are we proud that we got Drake and that SMU felt like they didn’t achieve that same level? Sure,” she said, laughing.
A university with a lacking concert calendar can detract from its allure, said one student. “I feel like other universities have better artists than we do,” said Meagan Reid, a TCU junior majoring in social work. “I felt cheated when I heard that UTA got Drake and we got stuck with The Fray.” Reid went onto to say that she does appreciate that the events are free. They have also offered free hamburgers and hot dogs in the past.
SMU makes it a point to offer free shows, said SMU’s Machemehl. “Especially now with SMU diversifying its student body, a lot of students are coming to campus on financial aid, so they don’t have the money to drop on a $60 or $40 concert ticket, even if it’s discounted,” he said.
TCU’s Thompson said their draw is about seeing artists close to home. “We bring great acts right into the backyard of our campus and offer these events free of charge for our community," he said. "It's a pretty incredible experience to see a nationally known, Grammy-winning artist right outside your residence hall.”
The big-name shows attract a diverse audience, but sometimes the only way general public gets in is if they buy a ticket off of a college student. For the Drake show, for instance, a UTA student said high school kids packed into the audience. “A lot of times UTA students scalp the tickets,” said Katey McFarlin, a UTA junior majoring in public relations who snagged a ticket to Drake. “I think that UTA gets really good performers to come, but the only problem is that because we’re in the Metroplex, a lot of high school kids come out. It ends up not being a college student event. … I think that the organization could be better,” she said.
Amy Crowe, a recent SMU graduate with a focus on advertising and Spanish, attended both the Gavin DeGraw and Ke$ha shows. “I think it’s pretty awesome. It’s great that they’re on campus and affordable. SMU set the bar by hosting Ke$ha last year and Big Boi and Girl Talk in 2010 – both made big news in the area.” (The concert was shut down after Big Boi finished and shortly before Girl Talk was set to come on due to residential noise complaints.)
“Ke$ha took place close to the same time when TCU hosted The Fray and Tim Halperin, which was kind of a joke,” Crowe said.
What about UNT?
The University of North Texas doesn’t have a competitive advantage when it comes to national touring music acts, despite their brand-new football stadium and their heavy-hitting list of alumni such as the Eagles’ front man Don Henley, Norah Jones, and the entire Eli Young Band.
John Sanford, a UNT student majoring in drawing and painting who works for the Student Services office, could only cite February’s Distinguished Lecture Series as a recent notable event. R&B superstar John Legend spoke at the 2012 series, singing a few songs at the close, but the event was not considered a concert. Molly Orr, the program coordinator for the University Program Council, noted that they hosted Reckless Kelly, a Texas country band from Austin, for free in April 2012 as a trial run to see what students thought of a more notable show than recent years being on campus.
“Our budget is restricting us from getting bigger acts; we’re also trying to see if we have the attendance to support a more prominent artist before investing,” Orr said.
Sanford said the lack of shows sends him to House of Blues in Dallas for music instead. “I’ve been dying for a cool band to come to UNT,” Sanford said. It’s worth noting that alt-rock band Wilco played to a sold-out crowd at UNT’s Main Auditorium in 2011, but the show was open to the public and not a student-sponsored event.
UNT has made a point to spotlight their local talent over the years, hosting up-and-coming acts such as The BoomBachs and Mockingbyrd Station at the on-campus café, Syndicate, or at the Library Mall.
“We try to showcase local artists on campus, because we have some incredible talent in Denton,” said Orr.
Maintaining a cool factor
In order to keep future concerts at universities exciting for students, contacts from TCU, SMU, and UNT said they poll students in hopes of acquiring the best acts each year.
“We just started polling two years ago -- we ask what genres the students would want to see and give them a list of options,” said Machemehl. “Being such a diverse student body, we can’t please everyone, but we try to please as many as possible.”
Notable upcoming shows at DFW universities include Passion Pit at UTA in September; and Blake Shelton at TCU in September, which will kick off the grand opening of the Amon G. Carter football stadium.