Stony Brook Eyes Return to Concert Roots
Efforts by the Student Activities Board and the projected completion of Stony Brook’s 40,000-square-foot $21.1 million arena in 2014 may usher in another big-name concert era for Stony Brook University which, during the past five decades, has been a popular performance venue for well-known musical acts. The music scene is already beginning to heat up on campus, with rap musician Ludacris and indie pop rock group Grouplove scheduled to play on April 25 at Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium.
In the electric mid-1960s, the biggest names in rock ’n’ roll had routinely appeared on campus just before or about the time they were riding the wave to national fame. Alumnus Howie Klein, who later became the president of Reprise/Warner Brothers Records ’69, remembers that time well: “We booked just about everyone but the Rolling Stones and the Beatles,” he said.
Back then, students had autonomy when it came to overseeing all aspects of the concert process, said Phil Doesschate ’72, deputy chief information officer at Stony Brook, who served as treasurer and president of Polity, the equivalent of today’s Undergraduate Student Government (USG).
Aside from New York City venues, Stony Brook had little competition for the big-name acts during its early years, Doesschate said. Nassau Coliseum, for example, with seating for 18,000, wasn’t built until 1972.
“We were tapping into the New York City market, the clubs and coffee houses,” he said.
What were some of the acts rocking Stony Brook in the late 1960s? Klein and other Stony Brook students were instrumental in booking such megastars as Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Grateful Dead and The Who. Kicking off the 1970s were Pink Floyd, The Allman Brothers Band — booked for a mere $300, which recorded the album “Live at Stony Brook” here in 1971 — and singer-songwriter Jackson Browne, who entertained a dozen or so students in a cozy lounge setting just a few months prior to achieving national fame in May 1972 with his hit single “Doctor My Eyes.”
Other big-name acts followed: U2, in 1983; the Red Hot Chili Peppers, in 1989; Bob Dylan, in 1990; 3 Doors Down, in 2001; Kanye West and John Legend, in 2004; and Taking Back Sunday and Jimmy Eat World, both of which performed on campus in 2005, to name a few.
When it comes to booking musical performers, these days Stony Brook students deal with agents and management companies, which is in stark contrast to earlier days, when students often interacted directly with the artists, Klein said. P.J. Abelein, USG vice president of Student Life, along with other Student Activities Board members, review a list of available artists, who must have security clearance before contracts can be made final — a practice that didn’t exist for the Woodstock Generation.
A legendary Duane Allman solo on "Blue Sky" was among the highlights of a 1971 concert at Stony Brook University.
With the completion of the Stony Brook University Arena next year, Abelein said, the Student Activities Board is considering sponsoring a big concert in the spring and the fall or a series of smaller concerts throughout the academic year. The Arena will offer seating for 4,000 spectators.
– Glenn Jochum