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On a YouTube video seen more than 100,000 times, rapper Shwayze and company make their way to Cal Poly. Leaving Los Angeles hours later than expected on a Friday afternoon in May, Shwayze places a call to Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) Events Director Missi Bullock.
“I’ma say I’m Reek,” Shwayze says in the video, referring to his tour manager.
“Missi, hi this is Reek from Shawyze,” the rapper says. “There’s kind of a problem. Shwayze and the boys rented their own car and they are just now getting on the road.”
“Wow, there’s going to be 3,000 people standing there waiting,” Bullock says.
“That’s OK, that builds a little anticipation.”
Today, Bullock and ASI musical entertainment assistant Gage McGinnis laugh about the video and Shwayze’s three-hour late arrival for his show at Cal Poly. Bullock said the delay was “part of the business,” and McGinnis added that the fault was “completely on” Shwayze.
“It’s frustrating, but at the same time there’s nothing you can really do,” McGinnis, a business administration senior, said. “You can’t call them and say drive faster. You say, ‘OK, he’s going to be late. What do we need to do? We need to keep the students excited; we need to keep everything else running smoothly.’ It’s frustrating, but at the same time it worked out. The students didn’t leave. It could have been a lot worse.”
ASI’s waiting game with Shwayze was just one of the challenges the student government events team faces when it deals with big-name performers — exactly the kind of artists Cal Poly students have been demanding more of in recent years.
This year, Blue Scholars and Shwayze both made their way to San Luis Obispo to play at Cal Poly. Though neither of them are riding the Billboard charts for weeks on end, they belong to a sort of genre-specific celebrity status that McGinnis said ASI is now aiming to bring to campus once per quarter for a series of evening concerts.
“We looked at the whole package of concerts, and we started hearing from students more and more that they wanted larger names,” Bullock said.
A student himself, McGinnis knows first-hand what his classmates want: more evening shows and, as ASI data continue to show, bigger names.
When McGinnis started in his role as ASI’s student musical entertainment assistant, he looked at the current state of concerts at Cal Poly. Many of the bands that played were students or San Luis Obispo locals that were easy to book and cheap to produce during the 11 a.m. University Union hour on Thursdays — but the crowds weren’t coming.
“The feedback we were getting was that kids wanted bigger events and events that were at better times for kids to get together and go as a group,” McGinnis said.
In response, ASI launched the “Sunset Concert Series,” a push to host bigger names and create a social event around the acts that come to campus. The goal is to have one of these shows each quarter, McGinnis said, and the series has so far drawn Shwayze in spring and Blue Scholars in fall.
But in a Mustang News online poll with 100 respondents, 78 said they would prefer one high-profile concert — think Macklemore or Green Day — to three relatively well-known musicians each year, such as Blue Scholars or Shwayze. For graphic communication junior Corrina Powell, the big concert’s appeal would come from the highlight-of-the-year social event it could become.
“I think it would be more fun because there would be larger crowds, and it would be more of a community event,” she said.
Though, as McGinnis has realized during his nearly one-year stint organizing concerts, bringing a big-name band to campus isn’t as easy as making a few phone calls. Security, booking arrangements and artist price tags can complicate the process. When combined, those factors can jack up the total cost to several thousand dollars. (That’s if a band will be traveling up or down the Central Coast near the show’s target date — many acts that agree to play at Cal Poly are just stopping on their way between San Francisco and Los Angeles.)
McGinnis said he’s “constantly jotting down” names of bands or performers on his phone as students suggest to him acts they’d like to see on campus. He’s responsible for the legwork of seeing who can make it to San Luis Obispo and how much it will cost, and then makes a recommendation to ASI professional staff, who have the final say on which shows come to Cal Poly.
Once the band agrees to come, dollar signs start adding up in the form of equipment rental, security and the band’s list price. For Blue Scholars, a Seattle-based rap duo that played the University Union Plaza in late September, Bullock said the band charged approximately $7,000. Additional costs came to about $2,000. That fell in the average range of the $7,000 to $10,000 Bullock said it typically costs to produce a concert for musicians of Blue Scholars’ stature — a band known by some, but not likely to fill arenas across the country.
ASI’s annual event budget changes from year to year, though this year’s $200,000 figure is lower than average because of state budget cuts to school funding, Bullock said. In addition to concerts, that money also goes to comedy shows and other ASI events.
What kind of music can ASI afford with those dollars? Big-name artists such as Green Day or Macklemore are technically within reach, but don’t expect to see them rocking on ASI’s dime anytime soon. The cost of just booking the band would be close to or more than $100,000, and the show’s total cost would nearly deplete the budget for events, Bullock said.
“It doesn’t seem worth it to just offer the students one activity, one concert,” she said. “I’d rather have multiple concerts over the year, just from a programmer’s standpoint.”
Instead, ASI relies on a local events company to bring in top-tier bands. Otter Productions, which has been working with Cal Poly for more than 20 years, has brought some of the country’s most famous artists to San Luis Obispo to play at what owner Bruce Howard considers one of the best venues in town: the Cal Poly Recreation Center.
“The main appeal is you have an active student body, so there are young people who are into music,” Howard said. “And (the Recreation Center) is a 3,400-seat room that can do shows year round.”
Unlike ASI, which produces “free” concerts (they’re paid for by mandatory student fees), Otter Productions charges for tickets to the shows it brings to Cal Poly. Howard said he tries to keep the cost down so students will be more likely to come, but it inevitably depends on the cost of the performer. Bigger names want bigger fees, which lead to bigger price tags on the ticket stub.
While Howard has brought Blink-182, Jack Johnson, Incubus, Third Eye Blind and Bob Dylan — twice — to campus, he was limited as the Recreation Center went under construction for several years. He lost the opportunity to bring acts during that time, but Howard said he was working on a debut concert for the center’s reopening in 2012.
He landed a show with the punk-rock trio Green Day, but ASI ended up vetoing the choice because of what student government officials said was a lack of student interest.
“There’s some people on campus who thought it wasn’t a college band because they’ve been around for 20 years,” Howard said of Green Day. “They (ASI) are trying to focus more and more on what the students want, and not just what the room can do.”
Instead, AWOLNATION was Otter Productions’ first concert at the new Recreation Center. That show drew 1,350 attendees, according to ASI records.
In addition to piecing together the financial side of shows, ASI also has to beef up security — especially when concertgoers start to fill up and spill out of the University Union Plaza, as they did during Shwayze’s performance.
“Security is something we look at very seriously because of the large crowd,” Bullock said.
While Bullock said crowds have remained under control during on-campus concerts, others around the university said evening shows bring with them predictable concerns of alcohol and volume.
Shwayze’s visit, for example, was at the same time as the Orchesis Dance Company’s performance in the Alex and Faye Spanos Theatre, just across the road from the University Union Plaza. Orchesis director and Cal Poly dance professor Diana Stanton said in addition to disrupting silent pieces during the show — possibly a result of Shwayze’s delayed start time — intoxicated students also wound up in the dancers’ dressing rooms.
“There were a lot of people that had been drinking coming in, and we were trying to do a performance,” Stanton said. “And we were running around changing clothes, so it was a little tricky.”
The University Police Department (UPD) works with ASI to provide additional security at each concert, and Bullock said police would remove overly rowdy, intoxicated students at a concert.
“UPD takes care of all those situations,” she said. “That’s what they’re there for.”
Coordinating with other campus events is also on Bullock’s and McGinnis’s minds as the duo produces their shows. They’re cautious with amplified sound and overlapping events, as well as what students are doing in the area near the concert — whether that’s acting drunk in a dance show’s backstage area or trying to crowd surf at the University Union Plaza.
But, as the two knew all too well when there were thousands of fans waiting for Shwayze and nothing left to do but stall, the producers can only control so much.