Music Greats from Billy Joel to B.B. King Have Graced Campus Stages
Wally Stapleton M’87, a music buff and IUP’s director of athletic development, tackled a most unusual archaeology project in 2016.
Instead of digging in the dirt, he dug into the school’s concert history.
With some assistance from friends and colleagues, Stapleton compiled a comprehensive list of musical acts that have graced campus venues over the past 50 years. Many are giants of the entertainment industry. Legends even.
Bob Dylan performed at IUP. So did Peter, Paul and Mary. Chicago. James Brown. The Beach Boys. Stevie Wonder. Billy Joel. Chuck Berry. Johnny Cash. Ray Charles. Loretta Lynn. Smokey Robinson. The list, quite literally, goes on.
“IUP’s level of programming has always been beyond the curve in higher education,” said Zach Clark M’09, the Student Cooperative Association’s director of student activities and assessment. “IUP has a strong record, a strong culture, of really awesome
programming on this campus. There have always been people here who understand what students want and what our local community wants. They understand what sells here. And they’re able to bring those acts to IUP.”
Piano man Billy Joel was said to have done more talking than singing in his March 1996 show in Fisher Auditorium. (Photo: Cate Planisky/Indiana Gazette)
Consequently, audiences have rocked to Kansas, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Alice Cooper; sung along with country stars Willie Nelson, Eric Church, and Trisha Yearwood; tapped their toes to Tom Jones, the Temptations, and Frankie Valli; and welcomed
a succession of Broadway greats.
“I watched the Tony Awards this year, and there were three people on the show that we presented here,” said Hank Knerr, who served as executive director of the Lively Arts before retiring after nearly 30 years of booking acts at IUP. “Renée Fleming, who
was born in Indiana [parents Edwin Fleming and Patricia Seymour Alexander are 1959 graduates of Indiana State Teachers College] and is one of the world’s top opera singers, is now starring on Broadway. Bernadette Peters, who presented the award for
Best Musical, also performed here, as did Chita Rivera, who won a Lifetime Achievement Award.”
The appearance of performers from Frank Sinatra Jr. to rapper Wiz Khalifa, from hip-hop trailblazers Run-DMC to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, underscores IUP’s dedication to diversity. The campus calendar of events might feature a country artist
like LeAnn Rimes within days of an appearance by an R&B vocal group like Boyz II Men, which actually occurred in 2010.
B.B. King performed before a sold-out crowd in Fisher Auditorium in April 1994. (Photo: IUP Archives/The Penn)
Musical lineups year after year invariably appeal to a broad range of tastes.
“And that’s by design,” said Frank DeStefano ’75, M’85, who booked talent for 25 years as director of OnStage Arts and Entertainment and now runs his own business, 4th Wall Talent. “We wanted to meet the needs of the local community, and we wanted to
meet the needs of the students. So we brought all different types of shows to IUP.”
The campus organizations charged with booking acts generally catch artists when they’re most affordable, either before they hit it big or when they’re a bit past their prime. But what they sometimes catch is a break.
Dave Surtasky ’89 remembers when Robert Palmer came to IUP in 1986, and “Addicted to Love” was the No. 1 song. “It just so happened he had been contracted to perform here long before that song came out,” said Surtasky, the technical director at Fisher
Auditorium for nearly 30 years. “And so we had the artist with the No. 1 song in the country at IUP.”
Dionne Warwick came to campus in 1967—at the peak of her popularity, riding a wave of chart-topping hits—and attracted a throng of 4,000 to Memorial Field House, fans packed in like sardines in a tin. Fifty years later, hip-hop artist Lil Uzi Vert, as
much a musical icon to his generation as Warwick was to hers, drew a record crowd of 5,000 to the Kovalchick Complex.
They may not remember everything that’s discussed in their Introduction to Geology course as a first-year student, but by God they’re going to remember the sellout Homecoming show they went to as freshmen.
Whether baby boomers or millennials, music fans can scan Stapleton’s list of concerts and find a favorite. One of DeStefano’s was a 1994 appearance at Fisher by blues guitarist B.B. King.
“The show, of course, was sold out, and when he walked on stage, the audience gave him a standing ovation, before he even started,” DeStefano said. “He was contracted to play only an hour and 15 minutes plus encore. He played over two and a half hours
because he was having such a great time, and the audience was obviously very much into it. Musicians and artists felt very comfortable at Fisher, and when they feel comfortable, they want to play. Many artists would play beyond what they were contracted
to do, because they had such great feedback from the Indiana audience.”
But not every concert memory is so pleasant. Tracy Settle ’80, president of the IUP Alumni Association board and a stage manager during his student days, recalls a Todd Rundgren appearance that nearly ended in disaster.
“He brought his Utopia show to IUP, and Utopia was really out-there, psychedelic stuff,” Settle said. “He had this huge pyramid on stage, with a big green eye that would stare at you throughout the show and light up. Anyway, they told us they needed a
hundred pounds of dry ice for all the fog machines to create this atmosphere. They were supposed to have dry ice for me in the dining facility. I went to get it, and I couldn’t get in and couldn’t contact anybody. The road manager looks at me and
says, ‘No dry ice, no show.’”
Fifty years to the month after Dionne Warwick (at left) packed 4,000 fans into Memorial Field House in 1967, Lil Uzi Vert (at right) drew a record crowd of 5,000 to the Kovalchick Complex during Homecoming 2017. (Photos: IUP Archives/The Penn, Karen
A panicked Settle dispatched an assistant to Johnstown to procure the requisite dry ice. He returned in the nick of time, averting catastrophe.
Most times, concerts go off without a hitch, and audiences revel in their proximity to a world-renowned performer. On rare occasions, the artist makes more than a superficial connection with fans, and something magical results. Surtasky recalls how Johnny
Cash greeted a gathering awaiting his arrival near the loading dock behind Fisher and, despite a steady drizzle, exchanged pleasantries and patiently signed autographs. Knerr will never forget visits by jazz pianist Dave Brubeck and trumpeter Doc
Severinsen, not only for their sublime performances but for their willingness to engage IUP students and local schoolchildren as part of a university outreach program. And Fleming charmed a full house at Fisher by revealing how thrilled she was to
return to her birthplace, even though she had lived in Indiana for only a matter of months as an infant.
Fact is, just about any artist on Stapleton’s lengthy list—be it Harry Chapin, Duke Ellington, Rosemary Clooney, Three Dog Night, Blondie, or Kenny Rogers—left a lasting impression. Today’s IUP students, like those before them, will likely cherish memories
of special concerts for the rest of their lives.
“They may not remember everything that’s discussed in their Introduction to Geology course as a first-year student,” Clark said, “but by God they’re going to remember the sellout Homecoming show they went to as freshmen. They’re going
to remember those kinds of moments, those experiences. They’ll stick with them forever.”