It was spring 1971, and F&M’s Mayser Gym was packed. Keith Spalding was midway through his two-decade run as the College’s president, and women had joined the student body just two years earlier. President Richard Nixon was about to announce his historic trip to China. The Kent State shootings were still fresh in the minds of students. Counterculture and anti-Vietnam sentiment was palpable around campus—and, as many students recall, there was “something in the air.” It was a time of on-campus protest marches, political activism, and of course, a love for the transcending power of music.
That power was on display on April 10, 1971, when the legendary Grateful Dead entertained thousands who filled Mayser Gym. The Student Union Board (SUB) organized the concert; ticket prices were $4.50 for students and $5.50 for general admission. The Dead entered the gym after a 90-minute show by the New Riders of the Purple Sage. With Jerry Garcia rocking his guitar, students danced the night away in front of the stage.
“The Dead ended with ‘Uncle John’s Band,’ something I think everyone was waiting for,” wrote Jimi Weiner ’73 in The College Reporter. “Garcia, on stage for five hours and still going strong, sounded terrific, looking great. They left, and behind them was a gym full of people wanting more, but satisfied anyway.”
The Grateful Dead was one of many famous acts to visit campus—many during Spring Arts Weekend—during the 1960s and 1970s. The list includes a virtual “Who’s Who” of music legends: James Brown; Peter, Paul and Mary; The Supremes; The Temptations; Four Tops; The Beach Boys; Three Dog Night; Simon and Garfunkel; Sammy Davis Jr. The scores of concerts are essential pieces of the history of the College’s campus life and a reflection of the political and cultural climate of the times.
Other big names added new chapters to F&M’s concert history in the decades that followed, including Hall and Oates, Billy Joel, the Bangles, B-52s, Live and Cobra Starship. The SUB and its successor, the College Entertainment Committee, played key roles in making the concerts a reality.
“We cared about the country, and [many of us] had friends who were drafted,” says David Fenster ’73, who wrote concert reviews in The College Reporter. “Music was an important vehicle of expression for a lot of us. Music conveyed how people felt.”
Fenster also recalls a few bomb threats during concerts—forcing the audience to evacuate Mayser.
Ted Crawford ’69 remembers the concerts with fondness. “I think I enjoyed the intimacy the most,” he says. “Concerts now tend to be held in very large venues, but in Mayser, you could see the performers—they were right there. Music was really hitting its pace in the ’60s and fit like a glove with college life. And it was pretty common to notice a familiar scent in the air!”
After the Peter, Paul and Mary concert in 1966, the trio met with F&M reporters for a private interview. Peter Yarrow “felt that the audience was perceptive, involved and not overexuberent, ‘which is all one can ask of an audience,’” wrote Andrew Green in the Dec. 6, 1966 issue of The College Reporter. (It’s hard to imagine one of today’s top musicians sitting down with a reporter from a small-college newspaper.)
For Jack Roberts ’71, who later taught at F&M, the most notable concert was Simon and Garfunkel in 1968. “The thing that was most memorable as I recall, as Simon and Garfunkel started playing, some idiot yelled at them. He was upset they weren’t doing earlier hits. Paul Simon stood up and walked off the stage.” Fortunately for those in attendance, Paul returned to the stage to finish the concert.
The duo performed original compositions for an hour and a half, from “Richard Coy” and “At the Zoo” to “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.” They also performed No. 1 hits “I Am a Rock” and “Sound of Silence.”
Sean E. Flaherty ’73, now a professor of economics at the College, was a student on campus during the golden age of concerts. “The economics of rock and roll have changed,” he says. Today, top bands play in major venues with huge crowds, but in the 1960s and 1970s, the biggest bands toured college campuses on Friday and Saturday nights. “They went on tour and their venues were college campuses. They were willing to come to smaller places like F&M.”
For Flaherty, one particular memory stands out: As the opening act for James Taylor, an unknown artist was not initially well received because the audience only wanted to see Taylor perform. Shortly thereafter, that artist would go on to release one of the best-selling albums of all time, “Tapestry.” It’s safe to say Carole King never played at F&M again.
While the artists did make money on the concerts, their visits to F&M were not purely commercially motivated. “It wasn’t as much of a business as a love for what they were doing,” says Fenster. Concerts today are more expensive for the artists with more special effects and high security in larger venues, so playing on campuses was more feasible in the ’60s and ’70s.
The SUB was responsible for bringing groups students would want to see at a price they could afford. “The concerts at F&M are put on for the benefit of the students first and it public second,” Ashok Sikand, president of the SUB in the early 1970s, said in The College Reporter at the time. “All the performers we've had…were groups the SUB signed when they were on the way up. In less than a year, these performers have gotten completely out of our reach financially. I’ve really enjoyed bringing these concerts here at a price that the kids can afford.”
Music Fervor in Lancaster
In 1966, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons entertained thousands at their concert in Mayser. But the night was also significant for another reason, as a music industry giant was born.
Brothers Roy and Gene Clair, who had been experimenting with sound systems as a hobby in their garage, provided sound at F&M’s Four Seasons concert. It was the start of a family business that grew throughout the 1970s as Clair Brothers Audio, which developed the 32-channel parametric EQ Clair Console and the first hanging sound system for indoor arena touring shows.
The company, based in Lititz, Pa., continued to expand—doing business in Europe, Japan and Australia. Now called Clair Global, it provides production support for tours, festivals, broadcasting, and live corporate events worldwide. It commands 60 percent of the worldwide concert business.
It’s just another chapter in F&M’s rich concert history. Whether in Mayser Gym or outside for Spring Arts, alumni from the 1960s and 1970s remember the music that reverberated on campus—and the many artists who went on to have long, successful careers after playing at F&M 50 years ago.
A selection of bands that played on campus
- Aztec Two-Step
- Beach Boys
- Billy Joel
- Black Cat
- Blood Sweat and Tears (twice)
- Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show
- Carole King
- Dan Fogelberg
- Dave Van Ronk
- Dionne Warwick
- Duke Ellington
- Emerson Lake and Palmer
- Eric Andersen
- Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons
- Freddie Hubbard
- Grateful Dead
- Hot Tuna
- Ike and Tina Turner
- James Gang
- James Taylor
- Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden
- Joe Cocker
- Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys
- Lou Rawls
- Lovin’ Spoonful
- Mahavishnu Orchestra
- Melissa Manchester
- Mimi Farina and Tom Jans
- New Riders of the Purple Sage
- Peter, Paul and Mary
- Simon and Garfunkel
- Sly and the Family Stone
- Smokey Robinson and the Miracles
- The Four Tops
- The Kingsmen of Louie
- The Supremes
- The Temptations
- Three Dog Night