The Problem with Rock Concerts

This post is contributed by SCARC student archivist Helena Egbert, currently a master’s student in library science at Emporia State University.

While arranging The Memorial Union Records (RG 099), I discovered a folder titled “Rock Concerts.” As far as folder titles go this already held promises of being a fairly interesting folder. I anticipated newspaper clippings, advertisements for shows, and maybe some correspondence planning the shows. I didn’t anticipate it being comedic!

Image from the concert in the 1970 Beaver Yearbook

Image from the concert in the 1970 Beaver Yearbook

Usually when I read letters and memos in the archives, it is easy to read them in the dry formal tone I imagine they were written in. The very first document in this folder was titled “The Problem with Rock Concerts.” This immediately imparted the image of curmudgeonly administrators shaking their proverbial fists at students for their destructive youthful tendencies. Many documents in this folder carry the same tone and clearly lay out their objections to the negative behavior and destruction of property that rock concerts seemed to encourage.

One of my favorite documents is the letter written to Dean Popovich from the Assistant Director of the Physical Plant Department, Donald Hout in 1969 regarding the Jefferson Airplane concert and its aftermath. The first line begins: “We believe that you should be made aware of the disgraceful and contemptuous disregard for university rules…” and within the first paragraph goes on to describe how the band referred to them as “some chicken Fire Marshal.”  The letter continues in numbered paragraphs describing the wrongs committed.

The first section of these complaints include the program being conducted in total darkness, ignoring the rules about no smoking, the odor of marijuana from both the band and audience, and all of the cigarette butts that had to be cleaned up. The author notes very specifically that it totaled to be about ¾ of a bushel! Not being familiar with this measurement, I looked it up, and a bushel comes out to just over 9 gallons, meaning 6-7 gallons worth of cigarette butts were cleaned up. I can’t help but wonder if he was somewhat prone to exaggeration!

Some of the items left behind by students at the concert

Some of the items left behind by students at the concert

The complaints continue with issues with parking, underage attendees, trashed dressing rooms, and uncharacteristically rude behavior, or as number 10 states: “Never in the memory of long-time employees of the Physical Plant have Physical Plant employees been subjected to the vilification and abusive insults by those in charge of this program and by the performers.”

The letter wraps up to recommend future acts be required to provide an indemnity bond totaling to $500,000, in order to pay for any potential damages. The letter closes out using phrases such as “wanton disregard,” “valiant but futile attempt,” “disgust and revulsion,” and finally “fiasco.”

The Jefferson Airplanes are not the only concert that had these kinds of problems. Due to the consistent nature of these issues at concerts like the Jefferson Airplanes, rules were passed to discourage concerts like these from taking place.

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