Meiklejohn: In bid for bands, USM should buy local

Posted on April 09, 2012 in Perspectives
By USM Free Press

By Ben Meiklejohn

If creating a community centered around entertainment is the goal, the Student Senate is missing the boat. And there’s an autumn iceberg just waiting to sink $27,000 of our money.

The Student Senate wants to invest exactly that much of the student activity fee into luring a musical act to USM for an on-campus concert. It was originally scheduled for this spring but was pushed back to the fall.

The idea is to rally the university community around a new entertainment “scene,” ostensibly to stay competitive with rival colleges that put on concerts of comparable caliber.

This approach fails to recognize both the uniqueness of USM and the wealth of resources available to us in our own backyard.

Other institutions that produce large concerts are usually located in obscure rural locations, thus serving a demand to their larger community by bringing major performers to them. Here at USM however, we are just a pedestrian’s walk away from large venues such as the Cumberland County Civic Center, the State Theatre, Merrill Auditorium, Port City Music Hall and more.

In the last year alone, Portland has played host to acts such as Primus, Jane’s Addiction, The Flaming Lips, The Moody Blues, Snoop Dog and The Black Keys, to name just a few.

Without doubt, USM students have frequented these concerts and will continue to do so in the future. In a time of serious budget considerations, sinking this much student money into a one-time concert is a needless duplication of opportunities that are already prevalently available to us.

It’s a fact: local Maine musicians are struggling to survive (as documented by a recent story in The Free Press). Why throw our money to a successful artist for a one-day event, who could just as likely play in any number of venues in our city, when talent is staring us in the face?

Unlike other Maine colleges, USM sits smack in the middle of a wealthy reserve of musicians all trying to make a name and career for themselves. Traditionally, colleges have served an important role in launching obscure and unknown artists onto the national stage. R.E.M., Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Radiohead and The Smiths are all examples of bands that owe their successes to college communities willing to host them on their campuses and/or play them on their radios, exposing them to wider audiences long before the mainstream even knew who they were.

Why not play a role in helping to thrust some of Portland’s great bands into a better position to achieve success?

$27,000! With this amount of cash, USM could be hosting 20-50 local bands, paying them varying amounts between $300-$1,000, and holding an on-campus concert every Friday and Saturday night for an entire semester. These local bands would bring local fans, who once exposed to the university setting, may decide themselves to seek higher education opportunities at USM — the concerts serving as perhaps even a recruitment tool for prospective new students.

These bands would be exposed to a new audience, also helping them to advance their careers. A true entertainment community would begin to emerge — a real musical scene — and most importantly, our student money would be invested locally. Shouldn’t we be helping Portland bands succeed instead of giving it away to an artist who already has an audience?

The Gorham campus has been doing exactly this, bringing in local bands once a week to perform for USM students. Kudos to them, that’s the kind of entertainment USM needs. Now that the “big concert” has been pushed back to fall, the Student Senate should reconsider the possibilities and most effective way to use the students’ money, and come up with a realistic and sustainable vision for how to foster a sense of community.