Letters: The Concerts You Never Forget
UW alumni recall their favorite campus-area shows.
Our Spring 2021 issue featured an article on legendary pop concerts at campus-area venues. “The Concerts You Never Forget” included shows by Jimi Hendrix, Lizzo, R.E.M., U2, Nirvana, and others — and was obviously far from comprehensive. We asked alumni to fill in the gaps by describing their own favorite concerts from their UW days. Here’s a selection, edited for publication.
I enjoyed the article on musical memories. In 1977, I saw Billy Joel perform at the Stock Pavilion, so he clearly wasn’t yet a worldwide megastar. The Stranger had just been released, but his major hit prior to that was “Piano Man.” My recollection was that it was a small audience sitting on folding chairs that were placed on straw covering the dirt, and of course the Stock Pavilion smelled like the Stock Pavilion. When Joel got to the line in “Piano Man” where he sings about how the microphone smells, he spontaneously changed the lyric and sang “and the microphone smells like a steer.” I recall it being a spectacular show, and just a few months later he was selling out arenas.
Joshua Blacker ’79
Sometime in 1966, John Coltrane came to Madison with a quintet, which included only one remaining member of his extraordinary quartet of the early ’60s, bassist Jimmy Garrison. Coltrane’s wife, Alice, was on piano. The concert was in the hall in the student union. Coltrane died soon after.
About the same time, B. B. King came to play the same venue. He made an emotional speech from the stage, saying that this was the first college campus he had ever played at, and how much it meant to him.
Sadly, the last memory is of the Madison concert that didn’t happen. Otis Redding’s plane went down in the lake behind my apartment, and almost all were killed. I was on my way to hear him when I got the phone call telling me about the tragedy. The date was December 10, 1967.
Steve Shapiro MA’65, PhD’69
My favorite memory of an up-and-coming band was when I saw the BoDeans during Reg Week at Der Rathskeller in August 1985. My roommates and I heard that they served beer at this Memorial Union gem, so we went to check it out one of the first few days on campus. We were delighted to see that a band from Waukesha called the BoDeans had set up to play for a crowd of about 75 people for several hours that night. I even had a chance to hum along on the mic with frontman and lead singer Kurt Neumann. Little did we know that soon thereafter, they would be playing to sold-out stadiums across the world. It was truly a night I would never forget.
Paul Zuziak ’89
I was a graduate student in the ’90s. Arguably my favorite band during that era was Del Amitri, a deeply talented Glaswegian pop band fronted by singer/songwriter/bassist Justin Currie. The success of “Twisted” allowed them to visit Madison in, I would guess, fall of ‘95.
Memories of that show include my calling out to Justin, in true 20-something groupie fashion, “I love you!,” to which he responded with a look and some comment. I immediately dropped to a crouched position in the crowd, embarrassed to have been recognized for the clichéd exultation!
In addition, some earnest expression of my adoration to a security guard allowed me after the show to pass by the entire line of fans waiting to meet the band, up the stairs to the backstage area, to meet Justin and company. I was so taken aback, I peeped out something about how much I enjoyed their music and being grateful for their visiting Madison; I can still recall Justin raising his beer cup to me and saying simply, “Cheers!” I left beaming, as any doe-eyed pop groupie would.
The other show of which I have fond memories was the Chicago-based multidimensional, integrated soul pop band Sonia Dada. I cannot tell you the name of the venue they played, but I recall it having a wide-open crowd space that lent itself readily to serious dancing. Was dripping with sweat upon the show’s conclusion!
I have been a music lover all my life, and the challenges of grad school were made all the better by the great music of that era. Thanks for the invitation to recall it.
Kristine A. Munholland MS’97, MSW’99, PhD’00
In August of 1971, I had some sort of work-study scholarship deal, so as part of enrollment week I was directed to some dreary office where I was told to look at a bulletin board full of 3×5 cards with campus jobs I could apply for. I wrote down phone numbers for a few jobs that looked less than totally horrible, and a couple of calls later from a phone booth in the Memorial Union I was the campus director for student music entertainment. That’s how for 1971–72 and 1972–73 I came to set up everything from dorm dances to concerts on the Union Terrace. Once I got the feel of things, I branched out; way out.
There was the Mahavishnu Orchestra at the dirt-floored Stock Pavilion, Tom Waits in the Union Theater, the Atlanta Rhythm Section back at the Stock Pavilion, Luther Allison and James Cotton for a weekend blues fest, and then (and these guys showed up over two hours late) Sly & the Family Stone in the Union cafeteria (man, I had to twist some arms to get permission to use that venue!). And does anybody remember Bob Dylan and the Band on the Library Mall on a beautiful spring day? For free!
Maybe the best shows for me when I ran the campus music program were the various bands Ben Sidran put together with drummer Clyde Stubblefield and sax man Fat Richard Drake. Those cats could wail! Yes, I brought up Junior Wells and Buddy Guy from Chicago, and Muddy Waters too. But let Ben, Clyde, and Fat Richard set up with a couple of stand-ins recruited for the night, and it was always world-class blues-jazz soul from the heart. I always felt like the luckiest guy on the planet to be right there welcoming those guys and making sure they had what they needed.
There was one totally mind-expanding concert late in the winter of ’73 that I will never forget at the Dane County Coliseum. I got to see the first show Pink Floyd did (why did they choose Madison?) on their tour to promote their new Dark Side of the Moon. I watched them unload their own light show and two semis of sound equipment (all unheard of in those days), and 10,000 people (none with assigned seats) had their lives changed that night, me included. I couldn’t hear myself think for days.
Michael Krival ’79
One band that put on amazing shows, and were entwined with the legendary producer [and UW alumnus] Butch Vig [’80], were the Smashing Pumpkins. Those who were fortunate enough to see the June show in early ‘90s were rewarded with an amazing set by a band about to soar in popularity. One thing I will never forget from that show was the location: the iconic Club de Wash. Toward the end of their set it had become so hot and humid in the small venue that it was literally raining sweat from the ceiling. It got so bad the bassist D’arcy Wretzky looked at lead singer Billy Corgan and motioned that she could not play due to the conditions. She left the stage, and Corgin whipped his guitar pick toward her. Sadly, a couple years later, she was no longer with the band and the building that housed Club de Wash burned down.
Erik Cushman ’94
You missed an epic concert at the old R&R Station on Park Street. It occurred in the fall or winter of ’92. Smashing Pumpkins (more or less part of the alternative/grunge movement in the early ’90s) was touring with its second release, Siamese Dream, which went on to be a top-selling record that year. The album would launch the Smashing Pumpkins into stardom so that afterward they would only play stadiums.
At R&R, the stage was like three feet off the ground, with no barrier between the band and the crowd. The room was hot, sweaty, with beer flying and bodies as well, thanks to a mosh pit.
A full house that night, and a memory I will brag about forever.
Jon Taft ’95
It was either 1972 or ’73 when Howlin’ Wolf and Mississippi Fred McDowell came to the Union Theater. The concert was sold out. A large crowd (including me) gathered outside the doors. During Mississippi Fred’s set, it grew a bit larger and a little rowdy. Before Wolf came on, the people running the theater actually let us all in if we promised to sit single file on the floor in the aisles. I’m sure we were breaking all the fire code rules. It didn’t matter, because as soon as Wolf came on, everyone in the theater was on their feet dancing to the music. Great show! So lucky to experience it!
David Austern ’73
I bet your mailbox will be filled with “How could you forget … greatest show ever!” I’ll add two from 1987 or 1988.
Jane’s Addiction at Wally Gator’s: there were maybe 150 people there, and I think within that same year they sold out Madison Square Garden for several nights. You could tell they were going places.
Mekons at O’Cayz Corral: how fitting that they played there and were all cowboy’d up coming out of the dressing room/bathroom. Great show, and still a band that is worth seeing when they sporadically reunite.
Thanks for allowing a trip down concert memory lane!
Jon Howaniec ’89
In the early ’70s, my future husband Marc ’70, MS’76 and I were living and working in Madison. Our taste ran more to folk and blues. Two nights stand out. On our first date, we strolled down to the Stock Pavilion from my Emerald Street apartment to take in the Siegel-Schwall Band. They were Madison regulars, but we’d never seen them perform. The opening act was blues newcomer Bonnie Raitt. (Our generation knew of her father, Broadway musical theater star John Raitt.) We sat cross-legged on the sawdust-covered floor, and Bonnie and her band blew us away. Siegel-Schwall was great, too.
Later in the ’70s, we caught David Bromberg at the Church Key on University Avenue. I loved his version of “Mr. Bojangles,” but we had no idea of the depth of his blues musicianship and his compelling onstage personality.
Judy Paulson ’70, MS’78
My most memorable concert was the Buzzcocks in the summer of ‘03. It ended up raining pretty hard at one point during their set, and many in the crowd left. The band played on, and we thoroughly enjoyed the more intimate show in the rain.
Bethany Vogelsberg ’02
I appreciated your article on great concerts. I worked at a jazz and blues club while in grad school from 1978–81. I recall two theatrical cabaret shows by Tom Waits at the Union Theater, Bruce Springsteen at the Dane County Coliseum, and, most memorably, an afternoon concert on the Library Mall by the legendary reggae artist Burning Spear that was sponsored, appropriately, by NORML [the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws]. Now that was a highlight!
Tony Carroll MPA’80
I bet it was in 1958 that Pete Seeger and the Weavers came to the university and put on a concert that made me a folk music fan for the rest of my life. I can still recall sitting in the left rear of the concert hall listening to Pete, Fred Hellerman, Lee Hays, and the other singers go through their inventory of folk songs that I still enjoy singing along with today. The hall was packed and tickets were hard to come by, and I believe I went with some of my fraternity brothers, who remain friends of mine to this day.
Joel Wineberg ’59
I enjoyed Doug Moe’s article “The Concerts You Never Forget.” I occasionally tended bar at Dewey’s and remember working there when Alice Cooper played. About that same time, Mountain (with Leslie West and Felix Pappalardi) performed there too. I was working at the bar that night and my ears were ringing for hours after.
Cory Strupp ’72
I enjoyed many fine concerts as a student at UW–Madison, but the most memorable was listening to Betty Carter at Bunky’s nightclub. A friend told me that I should go and listen to her. She knew my eclectic taste, which included Miles Davis, B.B. King, and Ella Fitzgerald. Betty’s voice just bounced, slid, shuffled, and popped around the intimate space as she performed. I had never heard singing like I heard it that night. I will always treasure that evening.
Elizabeth Johanna ’76
Published in the Fall 2021 issue