ASMSU Concert Effort Optimistic but Miscalculated

It’s certain you saw the posters stuffing the SUB late last semester. Maybe you even had an ASMSU senator come speak to your lecture hall. Maybe you even bought a ticket to the 3OH!3 concert, the desperately-advertised end-of-year musical entertainment concert extravaganza, the one that ended up costing the student government $90,052 in student fees because so few people purchased tickets.

This was the sort of event that, on paper, made plenty of sense. Get some hip young performers, somehow, maybe by looking at Warped Tour programs from years past or by consulting popular concert events at Montana’s other campuses. Ask entertainment planners at other universities about their current rosters. Look at a graph or two of some statistical evaluation of local culture.

Of course, despite the paperwork, the concert didn’t go as planned, if the shortfall in ticket sales is any indication. ASMSU sold half as many tickets as they needed to break even on an investment of $145,436.

The 3OH!3 incident outlines the crossroads at which Campus Entertainment finds itself. Not being an omnipotent organization, it can’t always pinpoint student demand. But it also can’t take too many chances in their booking decisions without risking uproar, or be unabashedly conservative lest it become a campus joke. Given MSU’s burgeoning student body population, it’s a tough pursuit to keep the varied campus cultures straight. Campus Entertainment’s job is far from easy—a certain amount of risk is necessary to keep MSU’s entertainment from stagnating.

And, yet, it’s hard to call Campus Entertainment’s latest risk “well-calculated”. Beyond a poor booking decision, the subsequent actions the department made were less than savory. The mid-sale reduction of ticket prices without compensating those who had already bought tickets made Campus Entertainment either a frantic money grabber or a frantic salesman, depending on who you were. It’s the department’s job to spend money, but to do it in a way that slams doors on students and the ability to fund future events isn’t good enough, even if a new legacy of musical events must be established. This was enough to overshadow the other risks Campus Entertainment has taken which paid off handsomely, such as Fall’s foam party and the acapella-sketch comedy hybrid The Blanks.

Perhaps it would be better to avoid experimenting with huge events, especially when country seems to be the only genre that works at such a scale. There are other, smaller risks that have generally worked out; I don’t see any reason for MSU’s upcoming hosting of Reno 911! to be met with anything but excitement. It’s honest, and legitimate, to question whether Campus Entertainment needs to provide a supreme, all-attracting musical experience, especially when Bozeman’s music scene seems to be content with its knots of local bands and their aficionados.

If Campus Entertainment wishes to take on risks, it might be wise to align them with MSU’s varied, specific interests—such as the small-crowd events listed above—instead of catering to what student leaders and charts think is hip and generally appealing. If they do wish to subscribe to this idea of an all-encompassing attraction, as ill-advised as that might be, it would help to directly ask for student input a month, six months, a year before even approaching any performer. It’s a way to cater to MSU’s multi-faceted social space, and can profoundly sway whatever cynicism students foster about institutions in the first place.