As the saying goes, “Without music, life would be a mistake.” Whether you listened on vinyl, cassette tapes, or a first-generation iPod, we all have that song that makes us feel like we’re back in our UW dorm room. But even better than jamming out with your headphones on is singing along at a concert. Did you dance along to a rockin’ UW Marching Band halftime show? Catch a then-unknown but now-iconic artist at a local dive bar? We asked Badger Insider readers for their favorite college concert stories; here are the musical memories we collected from the 1950s and 1960s:
It may not be well remembered, but Madison/State Street and the UW campus was a “hotbed” for Dixieland Jazz in the early to mid-fifties and beyond. In fact, one of the recent University Foundation publication articles, featuring the emergence of Rock and Roll, referred to its late start in on the UW campus and environs due to the immense popularity of Dixieland Jazz. Dixieland bands were comprised of six to eight musicians, featuring nearly all-improvised versions of popular jazz hits, much from the Louis Armstrong and similar repertoire, with each musician taking his solo, and then bowing to audience applause. The locations were the near-campus beer bars (legal beer drinking age was 18) and just off State Street a few blocks from the capitol. Many times, the musicians shared in “passing the hat” contributions, plus, maybe, a nominal fee from the establishment. It was classic to observe that they loved the music so much, it wasn’t about the money.
A more organized version of this phenomena occurred (probably 1953) when the three fraternities that formed the “Miami Triad” combined resources and hired Louie Armstrong and his group to play at a local country club for their spring formal — a real “big deal.” I recall the payment for that outstanding entertainment was $1,500.
Lee Miskowski ’54, MBA’57
The 1952 homecoming concert in the old Field House was memorable. I had high expectations for the concert because one of the headliners was Stan Kenton and his big-band jazz style was unique. The performance did not disappoint. However, there were two other headliners. Sarah Vaughan gave a polished performance, but the third headliner, Nat King Cole, stole the show. He sang a concert length version of “Route 66” that brought down the house. Attendees clapped, stomped and sang along with him in a seemingly never-ending euphoria. It was a night to remember, and I still do.
Philip Palmer ’55, ’55
Grand Rapids, Michigan
“Julian who?!” my roommate said. “Bream,” I said. “Julian Bream. Classical guitarist. Famous Lutenist. He’s appearing at the Memorial Union tonight and we’re going. Broadening our horizons.” She protested. I promised the world. We took our seats, my roommate threatening to leave at the intermission, and then the handsome man with the long hair and the strange looking instrument took the stage and we were fans.
Lynn Gadzinski ’63
As president of my fraternity, I couldn’t help but observe two guys doing nothing but playing their guitars during the evenings in the downstairs hallway of our house. Being a keen observer of “what was right,” in 196, 1 I appointed myself to let them both know that unless they spent more time studying and less time playing guitars, they wouldn’t amount to anything. Consequently, they left and we did not see them. It wasn’t until I was told 25 years later that I was a fine judge of talent since they were Steve Miller and his friend Boz Skaggs. Whenever I see my fraternity brother, Jim Papandrea ’63 (a former drummer with the Steve Miller Band and with Don Smith), I am reminded of my intuitive observation qualities.
Rick Frederick ’66
I think it was in 1964 that my dormmate, Alicia Kaplow, then the head of SNCC on campus, invited Pete Seeger to perform. He of course said yes — an activist performer coming to an activist campus for an activist cause. As best I can remember, he was wonderful in every way — warm, open, talented, fun, and inspirational. Nevertheless, for me, personally, the best part was riding in the car with him to the airport, just like regular people.
Elizabeth Schreiber Friedman ’67
Cresskill, New Jersey
It was my senior year at UW — 1968. The Supremes came to town. They were at the height of their popularity, and I was eager to see them. I was going out with a law student at the time. He bought us coveted tickets. The day of the concert, one of his family members had a serious accident and he was needed at home in Waukesha to help. Before going, he called me to tell me of his change in plans. He said he’d swing by my sorority house to drop off the tickets. Knowing this was way out of his way, I said, “no worries.” I can arrange another way to see them perform. Right. Tickets were all sold out. I decided the very best way to do this was to pass myself off as an usher. So I found out the time I needed to show up as an usher, got dressed in the required outfit (white blouse, dark skirt), walked in with maybe a hundred other ushers, and blended in seamlessly. I stood with the crowd as they rattled off assignments. I merely went to the first eight rows and had a spectacular view of this performance. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Chris Nolan ’68
Unforgettable — enjoyed watching folk legend Pete Seeger perform at the old Stock Pavilion in the late 1960s.
Nancy Crossfield ’69, MS’70
As a freshman in 1960 I went to a Chad Mitchell Trio concert at the Student Union. It wasn’t until years later that I learned that John Denver was a member of that group at the time. The next concert I went to was in the late 60s after a stint in the USAF was the 5th Dimension in the Field House.
Gene McNurlen ’71