The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Friday, Sept. 29, 2023 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

Annals of UNC memory include high-profile acts

Officials speak on landmark events

The Mamas and the Papas dealt with poor acoustics in Carmichael Gymnasium, so what was OutKast's problem?

Yes, canonized acts such as The Mamas and the Papas performed on campus, and they weren't alone. Despite the decline in the number of quality musicians and acts playing on UNC's campus in recent years, it once was a hotbed for major acts and festivals.

From Memorial Hall to Carmichael Gymnasium to the "Tin Can," campus was a major venue for touring artists, giving them the opportunity to cater to student audiences on their turf.

Martha Clampitt McKay, an alumna of UNC, is quoted as stating, "A simply mad, mad time is had by all on Jubilee weekend. An outdoor concert on that weekend turns the mall between South Building and the [Wilson] library into a sea of swinging cats. Holy Administration! It's great."

Her statement appears in "Light on the Hill: A History of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill" by William D. Snider.

Perhaps the explanation for the stronger history of music, more so than present day's lapse in on campus music performance, lies in the acts themselves. Maybe OutKast and other groups have the gumption to take risks artistically, but not to cater to fans for a cheaper price than Alltel Pavilion.

Don Luse has worked as the director of the Union since 1992, aiding in booking performance art acts as well as musical gigs. While UNC students might look down the road to Duke University and note its success with campus performances from high-profile artists, Luse said that across the country, colleges are having a harder time booking acts than in the past.

"It's definitely a business and you have to understand that," Luse said. "This is the way artists make their living, so there is a market value to their talent and that's how they earn their living. It's not out of the goodness of their heart."

That might be true now, where many artists seem to bow to the almighty dollar, but groups that treated students between the 1960s and 1980s were still able to bank on performing on campus. While Luse helped bring acts such as Phish, The Roots and String Cheese Incident to UNC, these acts still pale in comparison to Duke's reining in of Kanye West, Ludacris and Wilco in recent years.

Clearly though, the University of old had better luck in the performance department and current faculty were here to reap the benefits of bands and artists such as Taj Mahal, the Isley Brothers and Dionne Warwick, who graced Tar Heels with concerts in various campus arenas.

While some of the acts appeared before Bland Simpson's freshman year at UNC, the director of the Creative Writing program still recalls their presence. Simpson was a student between 1966 and 1969 before becoming a sporadic professor in the early '80s and establishing permanent status in 1989.

"A university like this is a crossroads and musicians, like speakers who tour, are going to come here," Simpson said.

As well as being a spectator, Simpson has also had the opportunity to perform on campus, as well as off, as a member of the Red Clay Ramblers, a group now in its 35th year. The band has entertained audiences in Gerrard Hall as well as holding its 15th and 20th anniversaries in Memorial Hall.

Besides the Ramblers, Memorial Hall has hosted many notable acts such as Louis Armstrong and his Dixieland All-stars, Dizzy Gillespie, Arlo Guthrie and John Prine, Patti Smith Group, Kool and the Gang, The Connells and The Pixies.

After its last performance in April 2002, the hall has been under renovation. The anticipation of future performances hangs heavy with current and future students, as the building has and will be a crucial arena for performances.

"There is no telling what Memorial is going to be capable of," Simpson said. "The capabilities and capacity of that theater for touring shows is going to be great."

One person who understands the quality of the performers who have played on campus as well as the importance of Memorial Hall as a performance space is executive associate provost Steve Allred.

Allred was a student in 1970 and bore witness to the infamous Spring Jubilees, where big names such as James Taylor, Joe Cocker, Grand Funk Railroad, the Allman Brothers Band, Chuck Berry and Tom Rush entertained hordes of Tar Heels on the Navy field.

At the Jubilee in 1971, Allred was able to experience one of his "top three" concerts, all while his feet were planted on campus turf.

"It's a Saturday night and a friend-of-a-friend kind of thing got us backstage passes and we watched the whole concert from a sound truck to the right of the stage," Allred said.

"I was probably 15 feet away from the Allman Brothers Band. That ranks in my three best concerts of all time."

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.

But all hope isn't lost, and while it might seem that comparing two completely different eras of the University and of music seems unfair, the campus community and those involved with booking acts have faith in the return of quality artists to Carolina.

"We do have the occasional great opportunity. Part of this just sounds like an old guy reminiscing about the past," Allred said.

"With the reopening of Memorial Hall and with the movement towards a new performing arts program, I hope we can bring back a new level of excitement, bring artists back and make it not so unusual."

Contact the A&E Editor at