Seven Decades of Music at MSU
From Nat King Cole to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, MSU has held host to some of the greatest artist of all time
Editor’s Note: Today’s article is the second of a three-part series on the status of music in East Lansing
It’s no secret the culture of music constantly changes. As technology advances and instruments become more readily accessible, more bands find themselves adjusting to the ever-evolving music scene — with concert venues also working to keep up with the trends.
Students at MSU have several organizations that work to bring live music to campus, including the Residence Halls Association, or RHA, and ASMSU, MSU’s undergraduate student government. In recent years, these organizations have brought prominent acts such as Kings of Leon, Nas, Death Cab For Cutie and Lupe Fiasco to perform on campus.
However, booking high-profile acts has become more difficult as time goes on. RHA Director of Special Events Rodney James said many artists now have agreements with entertainment companies, such as LiveNation or AEP Live, that prevent artists from performing at venues not partnered with the company.
“Since we’re not one of them, it’s harder to get artists that have deals like that,” James said.
He added because of that, RHA has had to shift its focus from trying to bring mainstream acts to MSU to bringing in acts that are on the cusp of breaking out, such as rap artists Mac Miller or Childish Gambino.
Monday’s story was on the history of music in East Lansing.
Thursday’s story will chronicle artists in the scene today.
“The names haven’t been smaller; (but) they’ve been more niche as opposed to mainstream,” he said.
Historically, MSU has seen its fair share of memorable performances over the years.
Music legends such as Bob Dylan, Ella Fitzgerald, Johnny Cash and Ray Charles all have held concerts on campus while modern-day headliners John Mayer, Dave Matthews Band and the Beastie Boys also have performed at the university.
In one particularly memorable event in 1993, rapper Tupac Shakur allegedly assaulted another man with a baseball bat during a performance at the Auditorium. Although Shakur’s violent performance was a rarity, MSU Police Lt. Jennifer Brown said the department works closely with campus organizations to ensure the entertainment brought on campus will not create an unsafe environment.
James said in his time with RHA, he could recall one performer that had been vetoed by MSU Police as someone who may cause problems if they had been allowed to take the stage.
“Usually what we do is call several other venues where the artist or performer previously has played,” Brown said. “(We) find out how many arrests there were, how many people went to the hospital, were there fights, ejections.”
For ASMSU, the difficulty in booking well-known bands hasn’t come from dealing with separate entertainment entities, but from a much simpler hurdle — cost.
“A big determining factor (in who we bring to MSU) is our budget and priorities,” ASMSU Director of Communications and Event Planning Kiran Samra said in an email. “Ultimately, it comes down to what the General Assembly allocates and what the association can afford.”
Samra added ASMSU also has to deal with the challenges of artist demands, what the university can do to comply with those demands and availability of the artists.
ASMSU was unable to hold its annual spring concert this past semester due to logistical difficulties.
Although budgetary concerns can become an issue when organizing concerts, Samra assured that ASMSU will continue to strive to offer students the best possible experience when it comes to scheduling concert performances.
“Our goal is to bring the biggest name artist we can while still falling within the budget that we have set,” she said.
Both RHA and ASMSU do extensive research to gauge student interest in the proposed performers, and that interest is taken into consideration when preparing for a concert.
“There’s a lot that goes into it,” James said. “It’s not just ‘Oh, they sound good.’ It’s a lot of analyzing of numbers, and a little bit of a gut instinct about who would sound best.”
‘The Times They Are a-Changin’
Though the course of music has changed significantly over the years, organizers work to maintain a grasp on what artists MSU students would be most interested in seeing.
Although acts like Bruce Springsteen may not garner the same level of interest now as they did when they first performed at MSU, sociology professor Toby Ten Eyck said the tone of today’s music hasn’t changed as drastically as people think.
“A lot of the themes that songs cover are pretty much the same as when I was in college during the (1980s),” he said. “I think the delivery mechanism is different but a lot of the other stuff is the same.”
Samra said ASMSU pays close attention to music that is becoming more popular as it plans for upcoming shows, a strategy also employed by RHA.
“Times are changing, and the concerts we bring in reflect that,” James said. “We’re just trying to go along with the change as opposed to being old fashioned and missing the boat.”