Tales Out of School . . . Campus Concerts

Author: Notre Dame Magazine

Cold, hard cash

During my four years at Notre Dame, I played drums in bands on and off campus. After dinner on January 26, 1981, a fellow band member and I decided to try our luck getting tickets outside the door at the Bruce Springsteen concert. We ventured to what was then called the ACC with much enthusiasm but very little cash.

A guy we referred to as a “townie” offered us two tickets, stating, “My absolute minimum price is $50 each.”

We stepped away to count our total collective cash, including pocket change. We had $25.50 between us, which we offered. He responded with a curt “No way!” and our hopes plummeted as we discussed the value of better advance planning.

Moments later we heard massive applause and the opening chords of “Out in the Street” even outside the ACC. That, combined with the increasing chill of the Indiana winter night, encouraged our vendor to renegotiate.

“Are you sure that’s all you have?” he asked.

“Yeah, sorry!”

“OK, they’re not great seats, so I’ll take your $25.”

Those “not great seats” were my ideal choice as a drummer: behind the stage with a perfect view of “Mighty Max” Weinberg. We missed two songs, but Bruce played almost four hours.

That senior-year experience remains my lifetime best concert value ever. I still play drums in a rock band and listen often to E Street Radio, which always reminds me of that January night at Notre Dame.

— Mike Tranel ’81


Kazoos in the library? Hallelujah!

Spring, senior year, finals week. A group of us from Morrissey Hall decided to celebrate our impending graduation with an impromptu public concert. The venue of choice was the second floor of the Memorial Library, packed with students cramming for exams.

At the time, the library staff maintained a large public record book popular with students, who used it to make comments, enter complaints or flirt with each other. We advertised our Memorial Library Kazoo Concert.

The appointed evening arrived. Suppressing our jitters, we staked out study points for the 7:30 show. Around 7:15, we were pleased to see students gathering expectantly. At 7:29, we approached a six-person study table in the center of the floor and, with a brief apology, asked if we could borrow it for a few minutes.

The four of us climbed atop the table and performed our kazoo rendition of the “Hallelujah” chorus. It was actually not bad. We managed four-part harmony, hit the soprano notes and perfectly timed the closing “Ha-LAYYY-luuuuu-jaaaaah.” The audience gave us a thunderous ovation. For the finale, we announced: “And now, we’ll perform the GREATEST of all fight songs . . . ”

The crowd clapped along as our kazoos trumpeted the “Notre Dame Victory March.” It was not quite marching band quality, but we received appreciative cheers as we concluded our concert — and our undergraduate studies at Notre Dame.

— Andrew J. Schilling ’76


Strings attached

I know most people think of the famous marching band or one of the well-known artists such as R.E.M. or the Indigo Girls that performed on campus, but for me, the Notre Dame Orchestra was foundational. While the conductors changed during my time, we musicians (majors and nonmajors) showed up weekly for rehearsals in Crowley Hall of Music.

Notre Dame nurtures a sense of community in dorm life, but that orchestra also provided me strong camaraderie through our shared love of classical music. We raced to practice every Thursday night, taking time out of studies for immersion that required listening to and cooperating with peers from all backgrounds.

Were our Washington Hall concerts sold out, with standing room only? No. But we had guest soloists and played diverse programs, from the modern Dallapiccola to the romantic Tchaikovsky. In the violin section, I’ll admit, we sometime faked the high passages at first, but at the concerts we played our best.

I remain in touch with three friends I made through orchestra, and we continue to be connected through music — our own, our children’s. We have passed on a legacy. Community through music: thank you, Notre Dame.

— Jennifer Joyce Webber ’93

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We saw them when

I was first in line at LaFortune on the winter day that tickets went on sale to see Beck and The Roots at Stepan Center on April 8, 1997.

Today, both acts are renowned. Beck has won eight Grammy awards. The Roots have secured three Grammys, and their drummer, Questlove, is an Oscar-winning documentarian. These artists are more than their awards, however. They remain vital, continually making new music.

In 1997, though, neither success nor longevity was assured for either act. Playing live instruments in a genre dominated by sampling, The Roots were considered a novelty. Touring behind his album Odelay, Beck was trying to shake the one-hit-wonder label that had dogged him since the out-of-the-blue success of his 1993 single, “Loser.”

My friends and I were in the third row that night. The Roots delivered songs none of us had heard in a set none of us would forget. Odelay came alive on the strength of Beck’s quirky energy and the power of the backing band with which he still tours. Beholding Stepan Center’s domed ceiling, Beck remarked that the triangular lattice provided a “geometric subtext to the evening.”

Their unspoken emphasis on shaking off old labels to seek new achievements gave the performers something in common with their audience. We, too, were in a state of becoming, more nascent than these artists on the cusp of defining their era. They were becoming legends, right before our eyes.

— Dave Reidy ’99


Yes, indeed

“And rearrange your liver / to the solid mental grace . . . ”

Say what?

Those lines were a small taste of Yes’ spacey, head-scratching lyrics from the 18-minute, 26-verse title song on its 1972 LP, Close to the Edge. Yes was a quintet of progressive rock gods. At Notre Dame in 1972, they performed the album in its entirety.

I was 19. They were in their 20s. Somehow, I managed to get on the concert’s custodial staff. Free admission. Free to wander backstage. Free to sweep the aisles. With patched, button-fly bell-bottoms and shoulder-length hair, I matched the era.

We’re all older now. A lot happens in a half-century: Births, deaths, weddings, divorces, career shifts, relocations, health issues. Forty years ago, an uninsured drunken driver severed my right calf below the knee and almost killed me. Four years ago, I was diagnosed with a rare cancer that had metastasized to a lymph node. I deal with the disease through prayer and reflection. No chemo drugs. Still here. Still have shoulder-length hair. Still happily married after 38 years.

“Close to the Edge” possessed a simple repeated refrain: “Seasons will pass you by / I get up. I get down.” These words linger for me. All the other tangled verses are long forgotten, along with many rock gods. But man, isn’t that refrain the truth.

— Dan Wesolowski ’74


A better view from the rafters

I was pleasantly surprised by the musical talent stopping by Notre Dame my freshman year and used the skills required in those days (arriving early and waiting in line) to score great seats for both The Cars and Yes.

The big show that year was Bruce Springsteen’s The River tour, and ticket sales were expected as first-semester finals approached. I was prepared to take my notebooks, camp out early and study in line. The University wanted to avoid such a distraction from academics and announced a lottery instead.

I was initially upset as I was certain I would come up on the short end, but my number was pulled within the first 50, and I got four prime seats. My buddy Kent coerced me into sharing my good fortune with him, and he asked two girls to join us. The proximity to the stage pretty much ensured their acceptance of his invitation.

The show was scheduled after we returned from Christmas break, and I had met a girl from Lyons Hall at the beginning of the semester whom I grew to like. So, instead of sitting in the first few rows in my ticketed seat, I chose to sit in the rafters in the company of someone who made the show even more memorable.

— Jack Fannon ’84


The impresario

“Oh good, it fits!” I blurted out to Ani DiFranco as I stared at her in her Notre Dame sweatshirt. Days before the concert I had stood in the aisles of the campus bookstore way too long, wondering which design she’d want or what size she’d wear, worried about messing up the items she requested on her rider. I served as Notre Dame’s concert commissioner from 1996 to ’98, and my memories of campus concerts are all similar to this one: peripheral to the music.

Notre Dame had two distinct features when it came to campus concerts. The first was that, positioned between Detroit and Chicago, it made sense as a tour stop for some bigger-name musicians. Artists were willing and often curious to swing through. The second was Stepan Center, a geodesic dome so unexpected as a venue that it garnered reactions every time.

Tour buses would arrive on the morning of a show, and volunteers on the Student Union Board’s concert committee would work between classes to help roadies set up the stage, do laundry, mail letters and manage whatever else surfaced during those long, physically demanding days. By the time the doors opened and excited students poured into Stepan, I was always exhausted but always contented. I’d stand in the back and take it all in, as satisfied watching the crowd of fellow students experience the concert as I was watching the concert itself.

— Ashleigh Thompson ’98, ’03MNA

Notre Dame Magazine invites personal essays of no more than 250 words on subjects of nostalgic interest to alumni of all ages. Here are upcoming topics, deadlines and details about how to submit.