Setting the stage

Alison Knezevich

When Zwan and Queens of the Stone Age came to Northwestern for the A&O Ball in April, student producers had to show the bands and their crews to the Patten Gym basement weight room for catering. And when the bands were ready to storm the stage, they didn’t exactly have a backstage to emerge from — organizers had to clear away the fans in the lobby to usher the musicians from their dressing rooms upstairs.

“It’s pretty disgusting,” said Matt Cort, co-producer of the show. “We definitely notified them ahead of time.”

Despite the less than glamorous facilities, the concert sold out, topping a year of success for the student productions group. After a rough time in 2001-02 — students might recall the botched Snoop Dogg plans that garnered so much criticism — A&O Productions bounced back this year with sold out shows by Ben Folds, Jurassic 5, Zwan and Guided by Voices.

That success was rewarded in April when the Student Activities Finance Board recommended the group receive $254,437 for programming. It was A&O’s biggest recommendation ever. The group snagged an extra $10,000 for next year’s A&O Ball when they appealed to ASG senators for more money at a Spring Funding meeting three weeks ago.

The facilities at Patten don’t stop NU students from lining up at the Norris Box Office for tickets. And the gym, built nearly a century ago, does “have character,” Cort said. But A&O President Natasha Little said the SAFB funding increase could allow the group to bring the more recognizable musical acts that students demand — although the lack of large, on-campus venues might limit the options.

“There are certainly bands that we just cannot bring into Patten Gym,” said Jonathan Berman, former president of A&O. The gym held 1,800 people for the Folds and Jurassic 5 shows, but on the night of the Zwan show, the Evanston fire marshal cut the gym’s capacity to just 1,200 due to safety concerns.

These shortcomings mean A&O often loses shows to the University of Illinois-Chicago Pavilion and the All-State Arena in Rosemont, Ill., which hold 10,500 and 18,500 people respectively.

“Big state schools have big, huge basketball stadiums and big, huge theaters,” said Brian Bockrath, director of concerts for A&O.

At the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, a pool of money similar to NU’s Student Activities Fee funds the Illini Union Board, Illinois’ equivalent of A&O. The group is granted $3 per undergraduate student for programming.

According to Amanda So, an Illinois sophomore and weekend entertainment coordinator for the group, her school does not face the same obstacles A&O does. The group has access to a range of venues that hold anywhere from 550 to 30,000 people. The group also is allowed to start advertising concerts before contracts are set in stone, and it doesn’t do closed shows. Students receive a deep discount on tickets, but all shows also are open to the public. So far this year, Illinois has hosted acts such as the Vines, Rusted Root, Wilco and Pearl Jam — the last of which drew about 25,000 audience members.

Closer to NU, the University of Illinois-Chicago’s UIC Pavilion often snags acts that require a large venue. Events Administrator Bill Colwell said the facility’s size is an important selling point, calling it “a big issue.”