Local Current Blog

Sometimes it takes a mechanical bull: CSB-SJU concert committee aims to please

SJU/CSB students hold their phones high for Eric Hutchinson. Photo courtesy Joint Events Council.

At partnered higher-learning institutions separated by gender and about six miles, students can find themselves feeling disconnected from their counterparts on the opposite campus. As students at the College of Saint Benedict (for women) and Saint John’s University (for men), we experience this unique atmosphere. We take courses on both campuses, we dine together, and we use our shared Bennie/Johnnie colloquialisms.

However, what really brings us together is the bread and butter of campus activities: live music. Acts such as Mat Kearney, Jon Pardi, Chris Cab, and Cloud Cult attract students to at least one concert a year. Some concerts sell out, others flop.

The Joint Events Council (JEC) does the heavy lifting to make the musical revelries happen. The mixed gender, 90-student organization oversee about two to three events a weekend for both campuses.

Andy Long and Kalle Byers are the co-chairs of the concerts committee; the two seniors make many of the decisive moves on concert planning. Gearing up for the bigger concerts are always in the back of their minds, “eating away at us,” laughs Long.

Both work under the JEC Advisor, Faith Dammann. “We generally do polling and surveys to decide what students want,” says Dammann.

“We ask genre-specific questions, venue preferences, [willingness] to pay, those types of questions,” Long explains. After initial surveys have been sifted through, an online ballot is e-mailed to students.

“Ultimately, we don’t want students to have to pay, but price range of artists is a large piece of the decision,” says Byers. “People underestimate the cost of bringing a concert to campus.”

“Students can go to the Cities [if they want to see a major artist], so we ask how we can create a lasting concert memory for students here on campus,” adds Dammann. She explains that events like the annual Battle of the Bands bring in campus bands and a community atmosphere.

“You know you will not please everyone,” Long notes. All three explained that the JEC struggles to determine what the student body would react positively to.

“Name recognition, students just eat that up—but it’s a catch-22 because it is also very polarizing,” explains Dammann. Students will often cite lack of interest in the name as the deciding factor for not attending. Thus, a lot of effort is thrown into creating a fun ambience at concerts.

“We strive to bring a festival-like atmosphere to campus—meaning, while the headlining artist is important, we also try to provide nonmusical entertainment,” says Long.

“When we brought John Pardi, we understood not everyone is a country fan—but it’s the other things we bring to concerts that create a lasting effect, like the mechanical bull and the outdoor venue on the CSB mall,” says Byers.

Once an artist is selected and contract drawn up, subcommittees set to work. The “street team” handles the marketing, lighting up social media and chalking the sidewalks. The “techies” oversee venue selection and sound equipment. As jobs are completed and the clock strikes time, student turnout is no longer in the JEC’s hands. Some concerts sell out, others are left wanting for an audience.

Last year, the JEC ran into some trouble during the preparation for their biggest event, the spring concert called 13 Pines. The organization contracted with Boston rapper Sammy Adams. Payment had been made, and many of the preperations already finished. A short time after news about the artist’s impending preformance broke, the school’s administration stepped in and vetoed the decision—to widespread outrage among students—citing concerns about questionable values in the artist’s lyrics. Since then, the JEC have cleared artists’ names with the administration before booking them.

Over the past month, students have rallied around the idea of bringing former teen sensation Aaron Carter to campus. A Facebook event called “The Ultimate After-Party: Bring Aaron Carter to CSB/SJU” has encouraged students to tweet at Carter to convince him to come to campus. The hashtag #acarmy, created by Carter himself, was used to generate buzz, and students loved it. Though the JEC won’t reveal any future plans, they have taken note of the movement.

“At the end of the day,” says Dammann, “no matter what club, organization, or group puts on an event, they do it for what they see as the good of the campuses and to enhance everyone’s student experience. Flaws and all, each group is trying. Our concerts are no different.”

Jane Gengel is a student at the College of St. Benedict.