KUST drops hip-hop concert after planning difficulties

KUST decided to cancel its proposed Brother Ali concert due to planning difficulties. (Creative Commons)
KUST decided to cancel its proposed Brother Ali concert due to planning difficulties. (Creative Commons)

If KUST’s spring concert plans had materialized, Minneapolis hip-hop artist Brother Ali would have performed in McCarthy gym last week.

But the campus radio station encountered numerous obstacles in the concert’s planning phases: obstacles KUST Promotions Director Matt Lichtfuss said were unprecedented and introduced to prevent the concert from happening.

“I believe that [university officials] didn’t want to bring in a hip-hop performer,” Lichtfuss said. “For whatever reason, they thought that it would go against what the administration would want… It was telling by all the obstacles they put into place.”

However, Director of Campus Life Margaret Cahill called the issue one of timing.

“They’re disappointed, and I totally get that,” Cahill said. “What they wanted to do was plan a very large concert, which is exciting, with a genre that we have had some difficulty trying to get because of the lyrics that tend to be in hip-hop… But it really wasn’t about Campus Life. It’s about just the logistics of planning a big event so that they have a good event.”

Trying to bring diversity to campus concerts

This spring’s effort came after KUST’s successful sponsorship of two concerts in spring and fall 2009, when they brought Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin and Halloween, Alaska to campus.

Lichtfuss said KUST’s goal this spring was to bring variety to a “strangely homogenous” list of previous performers at St. Thomas.

“We really felt there’s a lack of diversity in music with what STAR is already bringing in themselves for the fall and spring concerts,” Lichtfuss said. “You’ve got Michelle Branch, Sara Bareilles, Matt Kearney and now Jordin Sparks. You get to a point where you’re like, ‘That’s not what the whole campus wants to hear.’”

Lichtfuss said the KUST executive board asked students at February’s activity fair for their opinions about who they’d like to see perform on campus. He said KUST decided on Brother Ali because its members “felt like that was the pulse of what students wanted.”

The planning process

KUST then contacted Brother Ali’s agent and was able to negotiate “a very discounted rate” of about one-fifth of Jordin Sparks’ $50,000 price tag, Lichtfuss said.

KUST leaders then met with Cahill before submitting the event proposal to STAR and Campus Life.

One of the key issues raised in KUST’s meeting with Cahill was the controversial nature of Brother Ali’s lyrics. According to Cahill, a university policy stipulates that on-campus performers cannot use obscenities and “that gets tricky for hip-hop.”

Lichtfuss said KUST then contacted Brother Ali’s agent, who agreed the artist would perform a clean show.

“We were so pumped at this point because we thought that was our only obstacle,” Lichtfuss said. “There were some minor issues, but we thought they would be resolved.”

Besides obscenity, other issues raised were the need to hire five public safety officers and three undercover St. Paul Police officers, to cover equipment and lighting costs, and to pay for laying carpet in McCarthy Gym for the event at an estimated $8,000, Lichtfuss said.

KUST was also asked to make two separate presentations before the student life committee, something Lichtfuss said never happened in planning previous concerts.

“The past two semesters, the two shows, we were set to a certain protocol to make a show happen,” Lichtfuss said. “And then suddenly, for whatever reason, we’re playing with whole new rules in the game. For what reason? Because it’s a hip-hop artist coming in?”

Cahill said the student life committee becomes involved in the decision-making process for all controversial events, and KUST’s event was approached as any event organized by student clubs or organizations.

“Any time a space request comes through for student clubs and organizations, it comes to Campus Life for approval,” Cahill said. “What we’re approving is the content — meaning if it’s a large campus event or if it’s anything that might be controversial to the university or anything like that. Some of Brother Ali’s songs, some might consider controversial. Does that mean we can’t have him? No. But there’s a process.”

Deciding to cancel the show

About a month before the concert’s scheduled date, KUST called an emergency executive board meeting and decided to cancel the concert.

“Though we would have had funding, there would have been too many issues and obstacles, too many committee presentations,” Lichtfuss said. “It took the wind out of our sails. We looked at it realistically. There are four weeks left, and we just didn’t think that we could do it.”

Although frustrated with the process, Lichtfuss said he hopes KUST’s efforts will pave the way to bringing a more diverse range of performers to campus, starting with Brother Ali next fall.

“There are some really positive things that came out of it,” Lichtfuss said. “We were able to see that we do have a lot of support from the student body about this, about bringing a better performer onto campus. I don’t want Campus Life to view KUST as an opponent because we need to work with them. I hope it doesn’t come off like that, but it’s really important students know this.”

Brian Brown, KUST’s staff adviser, said there are lessons to be learned on both sides.

“I can’t imagine that it would be handled the same way,” Brown said. “I don’t think that worked particularly well for either side.”

Brent Fischer can be reached at bafischer@stthomas.edu.

12 Replies to “KUST drops hip-hop concert after planning difficulties”

  1. I’m sorry but to have an artist that in my opinion is head and shoulders better than Jordin Sparks for 1/5 of the cost is ridiculous. Aren’t those costs associated with any and every concert too, not just when Brother Ali would perform?

  2. Undercover police officers? Well I suppose since the only individuals that would attend a rap concert are violent drug addicts…. and to add to Cole’s comment, we sign Brother Ali – who I would argue is much more than head and shoulders above the others – and the combined savings from Jordin Sparks and Phil Vassar is pushing $100,000

  3. St Thomas was able to bring Counting Crows here and do all the same things including carpeting the gym, maintain cost, undercover security etc. Brother Ali is national act barely comparable to the Counting Crows in terms of fan base. Having a home town hip hp icon should have been more of a priority than spending 10 times that a getting the 6th American idol winner. The recent performers of Jordin Sparks and Phil Vassar are about as all American as you can get, not exactly the most diverse acts.

  4. This is yet another example of the UST Administration treating the students like babies. They need to stop worrying about sheltering my ears from a few swear words and realize that I am an adult. This same scenario happened with Desmond Tutu a few years ago. I believe that a proper institution should present the students with information of all ideologies, religions, beliefs, and ways of life. It is up to the student to process that information and ultimately make a decision for themselves. Denying me the opportunity to expose myself to something new such as Desmond Tutu or Brother Ali is doing nothing but denying me a well-rounded education. I doubt UST is going to change their policies, so I’d like free tuition because babies don’t pay for schooling.

  5. People see hip hop as youth culture and when youth culture becomes monopolized by big business what are the youth to do? Do you have any idea?

    I think we should destroy the bogus capital process that is destroying youth culture.

  6. I went to a show at Gustavus before we’ve ever gone to a show at UST. Gustavus had Lupe Fiasco in their hockey arena and as far as I know everything went okay. He had a clean show and actually delivered the message of how education is really important in society today at the end of his show. St. Thomas needs to expand its musical horizons.

  7. I completely agree Mr. Dahl. We are not childern anymore and deserve to be treated as adults. I believe it is unfair that we are not exposed to different ideas since St. Thomas prides on our “well-rounded” education. Some students choose to be here for that “well-rounded” education we’re promised, but St. Thomas denies people like Desmond Tutu and Brother Ali. I feel cheated out of my tuition everytime St. Thomas pulls a stunt like this. Now, I don’t know who Brother Ali is, but I give props to KUST for trying to bring someone new and different.

  8. Brother Ali is AMAZING he’s young and fresh and reflects MN…I agree with most of you guys in that we should be open to artists that are urban & different from the norm. I hate not being able to defend St. Thomas when it comes to our performances because I love our school and wish we gave a little culture to our students. 10 smaller performances (with lesser known artists) is much better than one huge performance where people are either going to love-it or hate-it.

  9. Mr. Martin brings up an excellent point when he says that the students at St. Thomas are here for a well-rounded education. Many of us have never attended a concert because of the homogenity discussed previously, and much of the time it is the same group of students attending the concerts approved by Campus Life. Maybe KUST is going to have to work outside the system next time to enrich students’ on-campus experience, but hopefully they will continue to have the courage to speak up for St. Thomas students. Thanks guys.

  10. This is an absolute joke.  Our administration is un-believably ignorant and naive to what Hip Hop even is.  Brother Ali is a family man, who has explicit lyrics? He is a class act…. and OMG he may cuss in a few songs that in my opinion have the right to be cussed in.  Many of his songs are to educate and inform on very controversial topics that are in-turn relative to youth.  He’s an activist, things aren’t always going to be pretty and Catholic as our school wants them to be.  He speaks of reality not of “obscene” lyrics. 

  11. By reading the article it is clear KUST cancelled the show, because KUST did not feel they could do it in the last 4 weeks of school. So, if KUST had planned further ahead Brother Ali would have performed. KUST is now planning to have Brother Ali in the fall, and that means they’ve alloted themselves 3 months (at least) to plan this out. Hopefully it won’t come down to the wire next semester as well.

    I am genuinely confused as to how this has been misconstrued into the solely administration’s fault. Brother Ali is undoubtedly controversial. I say this as a fan of the artist. For those that followed him I assume you remember the Uncle Sam controversy. For those that don’t I suggest you read into it before trying to claim otherwise. 

    The whole “I’m an adult” argument is both tired and irrelevant. As an adult it would have been prudent of you to read this school’s policies before you applied. If not then, surely before you decided to attend. You’ve given your consent to this school’s policies and think it is mature to complain about them without attempting to change them, unless we are counted complaints as effort. 

    For those unaware, STAR’s Facebook page has a poll for genre’s that are appealing to students for the fall. I suggest you participate.

  12. I must disagree with Brett. Yes, the argument about being an adult is tired, however it’s only that way because we as students see it brought up time and time again. So, I would argue that it is in fact, relevant. 

    As for the lack of planning that you suggest: From what I heard, KUST had reached an agreement with Brother Ali in February, to perform in May. That’s a lot of planning ahead, especially compared to the fact that STAR had not had either of their spring performers booked until the beginning of May. 

    Lastly, about the STAR Facebook Poll: I would suggest that the creation of this poll was a direct result of the publishing of this article. Great job TommieMedia.

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