A popular complaint for students at USM is the absence of nationally-renowned musicians performing on campus.
It’s easy to be envious when you see other Maine colleges and universities pulling big-name acts every year. Deerhunter at Bowdoin College in 2009, Snoop Dogg at Bates College in 2010 and our university system’s flagship institution, UMaine, hosted Girl Talk last year.
But student leaders at USM hope to change the trend this spring. Student Senate approved around $27,000 for a spring concert at USM. Currently they don’t know where it will be held or who the artist will be. Dan Welter, GEB staff adviser and coordinator of student activities, said they’re looking to host it in Gorham somewhere outside or possibly in the Costello Sport Complex Field House. The electro-pop singer Dev has been mentioned as a possible artist, but Welter encouraged students to check out concertideas.com for possible artists.
Most concerts held at USM in the past have been poorly attended or unimpressive. There hasn’t been any big-name musicians play here since I started in 2008. During the same time, UMaine have seen acts like the Roots, Ludacris, J. Cole, the Dropkick Murphys and Ben Folds.
A lot of the grumbling regarding lack of concerts at USM boils down to a college-rivalry pissing contest. The past has shown that hosting concerts on campus isn’t one of the university’s strong-suits.
Chris O’Connor, director of student life in Portland, recalled when the Mighty Mighty Bosstones played at the Costello field house in 2000, and the GEB-sponsored event lost significant money because of very poor attendance.
In another disappointing outcome, a 2003 Ani DiFranco concert scheduled for Gorham had to be moved to the Portland Exposition Building as a result of poor ticket sales and unexpected facility costs. GEB only sold 13 tickets in the first week.
Hosting an on-campus concerts at USM brings inherent risks. Without an already-outfitted venue, we have to sink money into renting staging, lighting, audio and other set-up costs. The only possible inside location on the Portland campus is the Sullivan Complex. USM has hosted events and concerts in the past, but it’s not meant to be a concert venue. There are also challenges to holding show in Gorham.
“You do run the risk of Portland-based people going to Gorham for it,” O’Connor said.
Instead of spending the students’ money on set-up costs, USM should host concerts off-campus in partnership with an existing venue. Portland has a variety of venues that students already go to for shows. The university could pay for bringing a student-friendly act to Portland and offer steeply discounted tickets to students.
O’Connor said he has promoted the idea of holding shows off campus in the past.
“I feel strongly that I think you get a bigger bang for your buck,” O’Connor said. “Anything you have to put in production cost would go towards an act and not something you’ll never use again.”
However, Welter said hosting a concert off campus doesn’t align with what they hoped to gain from the event. He said the concert will serve to showcase the university and build community.
USM’s lack of community may be a reason for the unimpressive concerts in recent years, yet the university needs attractions like concerts to boost community. I think this could still be accomplished with an off-campus event hosted by USM, but I understand the appeal of an on-campus show.
It’s crucial for the Gorham and Portland event boards and Student Senate to succeed with their spring concert. A well-attended show will help fund similar concerts every year. But a failed showing will make it that much more difficult for USM to build a tradition of hosting big-name musical acts.