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 firstname.lastname@example.org.