For $110K, spring concerts hold ‘No Air’

Even STAR's signs for the concert lack appeal. (Gina Dolski/TommieMedia)
Even STAR's signs for the concerts lack appeal. (Mary Kenkel/TommieMedia)

Every semester I look forward to one thing: the STAR concert. Even though my past experiences with St. Thomas’ concerts have been hit or miss, I still get excited.

But this semester’s concerts disappointed me more than ever before.

STAR announced April 29 that Jordin Sparks will perform May 8 in O’Shaughnessy Educational Center. Jordin’s music is the typical pop you hear on KDWB, but she hasn’t had a true hit since “No Air,” her 2007 duet with Chris Brown.

I don’t want to go to another concert like every other show St. Thomas has had, such as Michelle Branch and Sara Bareilles.

This spring’s line up is a flashback to yesteryear. Jordin Sparks has not been relevant since winning season six of “American Idol” in 2007. Many seniors are also having déjà vu, rembering their freshman year when Phil Vassar performed on campus.

Is it really necessary to invite repeat performers when there are so many other great artists to choose from?

Music math

Jordin Sparks is costing the university $50,000. Let’s break this down.

The money used to pay for musicians comes from student activity fees. If student activity fees fund the artist coming to campus, shouldn’t the entire student body be able to attend the concert?

Only 600 can attend the Jordin Sparks concert. If each of those 600 students were to pay directly for his or her ticket, it would cost $83. But instead, those 600 students get to go “for free,” while the rest of the students who don’t go still fund the concert through activity fees.

Overall, STAR is shelling out $110, 000 to bring an irrelevant pop artist and a country star who performed here less than five years ago. Both performers hover along the same line of pop sensations. There have to be other artists we could bring, right?

A laundry list of options

Gustavus Adolphus College recently had hip-hop artist Lupe Fiasco perform on campus for the same price as Jordan Sparks. Tickets were available for purchase for students and the public as well. A lot of Tommies even went to see the concert.

In 2008, Creighton University, a St. Thomas-sized Jesuit school in Omaha, Neb., brought in alternative rockers Third Eye Blind to play at no charge to its students. Marquette University, another school comparable to St. Thomas, hosted electronic mash-up artist Girl Talk in February 2010.

According to Main Stage Productions, which lists college concert booking prices, there are plenty of other relevant artists for $50,000 or less.

Why doesn’t St. Thomas bring a hip-hop artist? For the price of Jordin Sparks, Tommies could be enjoying a performance by Common. Cobra Starship, an alternative band, has a couple hits under its belt and costs well under $50,000. Even recent pop sensation Ke$ha is less expensive and certainly more relevant.

Students not too excited

According to a TommieMedia poll, most students are not thrilled about the spring concert line up. Out of the 346 people that voted in the poll, 36 percent are completely uninterested in the concert line-up. An additional 21 percent of people said they don’t even know who the performers are.

Students should be the ones to decide who performs at concerts because their money is being used. Clearly there are other Tommies who are just as disappointed with the spring concert line up as I am.

I think there should be a better means of deciding which performers are invited. Polls to decide the artists should be better advertised to the student body. If a majority of students get to vote, that means more students will be happy.

Gina Dolski can be reached at

31 Replies to “For $110K, spring concerts hold ‘No Air’”

  1. Excellent analysis. The University should not be forcing students to subsidize the 600 students who do get to go to the concert.

  2. I completely agree with your opinion–the STAR concerts can have some pretty unimpressive lineups. And while I can’t defend the decisions, made I can attempt to shed some light on them. To answer your question, “Why doesn’t St. Thomas bring a hip-hop artist?” you have to think about who is in charge of these things. While STAR’s name is on the show, I would imagine that there’s a significant amount of influence from the administration, and, though I can’t say this for sure, I wouldn’t imagine that they would be very stoked about bringing a hip-hop artist to campus. For one thing, as a Catholic school, they probably try to bring in performers who are not going to have much offensive lyrical material. Regardless of whether or not that is true for any particular artists, it’s generally accepted that there are a lot of offensive hip-hop acts out there. Also, pop–as implied by its full name, “popular music”–should appeal to a wide array of people. At least one would think (it’s an easy conclusion to draw). Maybe not yesterday’s pop, but today’s pop is probably pretty expensive.

    These are my theories, anyway.

  3. (Also, I’ll note that while “If a majority of students get to vote, that means more students will be happy” is likely true, “If a majority of students get to vote, that means students will make the right choice” certainly has problems. That mistake has been made at St. Thomas before.)

  4. If I may offer a brief note…freshman year’s Phil Vassar concert was one of the best concerts I’ve EVER been to, and I was absolutely thrilled to see them invite him back. It was one of those rare performances where you could be certain that the artist on the stage was enjoying the show just as much as the audience. Go PHIL!!!

  5. Just a reply to Steven’s comment about Vassar’s concert a few years ago,

    It’s awesome that you got to experience something you enjoyed so much @ UST, and I feel like the STAR concerts are an awesome idea in theory, but it’s just way too hard to please an entire campus of people with entirely different interests.

    In my opinion, we either have to start getting a better variety of artists and genres, or re-evaluate whether or not it is fair to force every student to pay for 600 people’s good time. Just my 2 cents, but it really ticks me off when I hear about schools like Gustavus (pretty much a rural St. Thomas) with such a nice mix of artists every year and we’re stuck with the same radio crap that only certain people like.

  6. Gina, you make an excellent point about the activity fee. I don’t like one bit how I am forced to pay for other students to go see ridiculously overpriced and overrated artists.

  7. This article is spot on.

    I heard that KUST tried bringing Brother Ali onto campus and was shot down by Campus Life. Anyone know the deal with that? It wouldn’t surprise me.

  8. I think the argument of “I shouldn’t be paying for you to go” is bogus because that same argument could be made for nearly all student activity on campus and solves nothing.

    The real point here is that we, as students, pay an activity fee that is placed into a fund which is managed by USG. USG allocates a good portion of that total fund to STAR which we all know spends most of their budget on these concerts. In that allocation, we are trusting that STAR will spend the money with the interest of the student body in mind. With these purchases, we don’t feel as if our money is being spent with the majority of interests in mind.

    I realize it’s impossible to please everyone. But, speaking for myself, I would be a lot less upset about this if STAR came to the student body with a list of pre-approved acts and we voted on which one we wanted to see. If we voted and Jordin Sparks and Phil Vassar won, I would totally be fine with it and articles like this wouldn’t have to be written.

    STAR should be acting as trustees of OUR money. Right now, I don’t think they are.

  9. We’re a private college. Good Lord. Be grateful! You want relevancy? You think Third Eye Blind is “relevant”? That’s not what college boards look for when trying to book an artist. Jordin Sparks is an American Idol winner; you’ll have to forgive STAR for thinking that all of us spoiled kids would appreciate her. Of COURSE she’s typical pop! Wow. What do you want? Some cutting-edge indie rock group that nobody has heard of? That sounds like fun!
    Oh, no, sorry. What you want is hip-hop. Because THAT’S relevant. And not typical at all.

    And Ke$ha, may I just say, will NEVER be relevant.

  10. Carla, Why should we be grateful? As a private college we should be MORE concerned with this issue because of the fact that the students pay for this themselves. If we got some “cutting-edge indie rock group that nobody has heard of” we would be much better off. The group would probably cost less and give us some variety. By the way… Jordin Sparks isn’t exactly the most popular or well known artist out there. If Phil Vassar is what we wanted to bring back to campus… that’s totally fine. But STAR should have stopped there. That way, we would have been $50,000 ahead, and the only complaint would be that some people don’t like country music.

  11. This is one of the best written articles that I’ve read on Tommie Media. I’m not sure if I’m more concerned with the quality of the artist or the quantity they are being paid. I don’t care how great the artist is, $110,000 is just too much money for a concert. I wish UST would have been more fiscally responsible with MY money. I’m actually quite disappointed because UST loves to save to save money wherever it can from parking passes to tuition. We are known for our business school so why weren’t they in charge of getting more bang for our buck? Maybe I’ll take a second look at the Carlson School of Management for my MBA…

  12. Carla, 
    I completely agree with you on K3$ha, who obviously possesses nothing remotely resembling musical talent.  However, I’m wondering what you mean when you say that “us spoiled kids” should be grateful.  This is not something that STAR does out of the goodness of their hearts, this is an event that EVERYONE is forced to pay for through their activities fee, yet only 600 may attend.

  13. $110,000. that’s disgusting to spend on any one event (or ‘two’ events in the same evening). great job st. thomas. the day that 1/100 of that is spent on an event or activity that could improve the climate of our campus is the day ust will implode.
    proud/excited/grateful to be a student at the university of st. thomas? false.

  14. While most hip-hop might be offensive, some one like Lupe Fiasco would probably be good for a lot of us. While Jordan Sparks’s lyrics might be safe, they all seem to be about some guy that she can’t live without or won’t forget. A good hip-hop artist’s lyrics will make us think about something substantial. Take Lupe’s song “Little Weapon” being about the child soldiers in Africa or even his popular song “Superstar” which everyone likes to rock out to but it’s really poking fun at popular music, a.k.a. Jordan Sparks. On a separate note, I went to Gustavus to see Lupe perform, I have also seen Jordan Sparks perform. Lupe’s performance was the tiny town of St. Peter and at a small private college in the middle of no where. Jordan Sparks performed at KDWB’s Jingle Ball in front of thousands of people in the Target Center. Guess what? Lupe worked so much harder and performed so much better for less than a thousand people, than Jordan Sparks did for the entire Target Center. And Carla is it? No not all hip-hop is relevant, no one entire genre is ever relevant, but some is.

  15. I hate posting two things, but I forgot to say thank you Gina for writing this article. Thank you

  16. Thank you for the well written article, Gina!  Oh, by the way Carla, there are people who do listen to those boring “cutting edge” alternative acts you speak of.  In fact, the VAST majority of the national music scene would fall into this category of alternative music.  Wider variety, less expensive, more talent.  Win, win win.  Thanks again, Gina!

  17. I couldn’t disagree with this article more! It’s impossible for the school to pick an artist that “everybody will like.” I have disliked most the concerts in the past and you know what I do? I keep my mouth shut and I don’t go to them. This one interests me and then I get to see you people berate it. The costs are irrelevant, every college pays big bucks for concerts (just be lucky you don’t go to Duluth where they got Soldja Boy to come!)

  18. Dan, I believe that many of us who are disgruntled with the concert offerings this semester and in semesters past know that there is no way on earth that STAR can please everyone.  There is no genre/artist that every single UST student likes.  My problem is that it appears to me that the concerts tend to appeal to the same group of people with no attempt to attract students with different musical tastes than Branch, Bareilles, Mraz, Sparks, etc, even though it is everyone who is paying for the concerts.

  19. Because of the nature of online, self-selected polling groups, the poll almost certainly overrepresents passionate students. From the comments, it’s clear that the unsatisfied are by far the more passionate on this issue — so it is likely that the TommieMedia poll dramatically understates student body satisfaction. I expect a scientific poll would find approval ratings for this concert at well over 50%.

    I’m speaking as someone who has never, ever cared about a STAR concert, and has never expected one to appeal to someone of my musical tastes (give me Hans Zimmer, i am jen, or The Hold Steady!), so I definitely sympathize with the dissatisfied. I’m just pointing out that STAR has probably made a choice that pleases most of the student body.

    Much more irritating is the fact that the concert is capped at 600 students, even though we are all paying for it. Even those who *want* to go but don’t get wristbands before they run out will have to pay. That seems unfair. Curse all this silly construction we’re doing, or we’d still have a real auditorium on campus!

  20. Although I agree with the majority of the posts here about the “horrible” choices in artists, I think the largest travesty is the limited number of spots. According to the St. Thomas Admissions Website (, there are 6,000 undergraduate students and 4,900 graduate students…

    This means that a concert is open to only 10% of undergraduate students (assuming no grad students wanted to go), yet we all pay for it. Why isn’t there more of an outcry for a new direction or SPACE?! “First come, First served” for 600 tickets is fine provided those 600 pay for their tickets, but for St. Thomas to make us all pay for a concert most of us are not able to attend seems rather contrary to the ideas of the university…

    Notice that while St. Thomas is one of the most prestigious universities in the state, we have a preforming arts center (BEC auditorium) that does not even match area high schools.

  21. Despite the article’s excellent writing quality, and while I may personally agree with this article’s sentiments regarding the choice of entertainment that we will be receiving this Saturday, one aspect that was failed to be mentioned was the University of St. Thomas’ policy regarding who and what is acceptable, which all concert planners and artists must abide by. I have not personally seen this policy with my own eyes; however, I do know plenty of people within STAR who have. When asked, the response I always get regarding the policy is somewhat similar to “it is really restrictive” or “it is not realistic for popular music today”. I think what should be addressed and highlighted is the ridiculously strict policy as well as the numerous hoops artists are expected to jump through in order to perform at this institution. In addition, some of the artists’ contractual requests are a bit unrealistic for a Roman Catholic university to provide. There is also no point in this article where STAR is quoted or interviewed. Since STAR is organizing the concerts, asking a STAR representative why they chose the performers they did may be a good start before jumping to anger and frustration. In my opinion, a bit more investigative journalism was needed before publishing such a…

  22. One of the factors that had to be considered this year was space given the construction on campus. Again, there is a lot that goes into the concert selections and if you have any questions or suggestions, I would encourage you to e-mail Thank you.

  23. Clarification here:

    ‘No Air’ was a 2008 single release, according to Billboard, not 2007.
    ‘Battlefield’ was actually a top 10 hit from a bout a year ago, sold over a million copies.

    Nice article. Do a little more research next time. Maybe, and hopefully, next year, with the new athletic complex which will seat over 1,000, UST will have a more wide-appealing artist.

  24. Dylan
    There wasn’t a last wristband given away because they only handed out 400 of the 600; well under what the auditorium could hold. I think that says something about Jordin Sparks being chosen to perform…

  25. I think people are forgetting that no one (or two) music acts will satisfy everyone on campus and really that is the reason why most of the time St. Thomas will book a Top 40 pop act, because it is the lowest common denominator. In my opinion are there a million other acts I would have rather seen than the concerts St. Thomas put on while I was there, yeah sure. But I also understand the need to appeal to the masses. I do have to back up Steve about Phil Vassar playing at St. Thomas. While I am not a huge country fan, the show Phil put on was the best I had seen at my time at St. Thomas and has earned a repeat trip.
    I think if you want a solution, I see only about 3 options.
    1. Just don’t have a concert
    2. To address the issue of limited seating, move the concert to the football stadium
    3. Making the preliminary voting process more comprehensive with a series of run-off elections and try and find the best fit that way

    Mostly though everyone has to realize that you simply cannot please everyone and that will be the case as long as there is a concert. Even if your own personal favorite happens to be playing at Macalester, just know that there are plenty of students there with the same gripes we have here, nothing about musical tastes is universal

  26. First thing I would like to comment on is this was a very well written article. The second thing I would like to comment on, was the concept of getting artists. I remembering reading in article STAR polled people, what was this poll? I remember vaguely taking one about what genre of music I like, along with if I was willing to pay extra money for a concert (which I was), but nothing else. As for the concerts I only saw Sparks perform, but was she good? Yes. Would I go see her again? No. I’m sorry but the lack of diversity in the performers in the past two years hasn’t been very good. Now I’m not a country fan, and not hating on this music but the one thing that bothers is he came three years ago, while some have said it was a great concert I would like a little longer wait in-between having the same artist back. Furthermore I would like an ability to choose, or at least have a vote. I’m sure the concert had been planned for quite some time, so why not when you get a few artists selected that you think students would like send a poll? That way the students have a choice on the matter, not just he people of STAR. 

  27. If you’re a fan of STAR on Facebook, check out their page. They have made a survey for next year’s concerts.

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