Pomp and Circumstance

Rice vs. UH: the battle for musical bragging rights.

Only In Houston

Many moons ago, or one or two, anyway, our friends at L.A. Weekly's West Coast Sound decided to evaluate Southern California's two main universities, USC and UCLA, using a set of music-oriented criteria. We're not talking matriculation, either, though that's certainly part of it — they also factored in each school's distinguished alumni in the music world, notable on-campus performances past and present, student media (specifically radio stations), and a few other points.

This idea was too good not to steal, especially considering two such prime candidates as the University of Houston and Rice University. As L.A. did, Rocks Off asked two members of our team to act as advocates. Here, fairly recent UH grad Matthew Keever took up for his alma mater, while Rice U. alumnus-in-law Jeff Balke stated the Owls's case. As a proud Texas Longhorn, even if he never quite graduated, our Music Editor was more than happy to play judge. Hook 'em.

The Rice MOB (Marching Owl Band) adopted Blues Brothers disguises for the 2008 HEB Thanksgiving Day Parade in downtown Houston.
Ed Uthman
The Rice MOB (Marching Owl Band) adopted Blues Brothers disguises for the 2008 HEB Thanksgiving Day Parade in downtown Houston.


UH: Besides the two UH-operated FM stations, NPR affiliate KUHF (88.7 FM) and Classical 91.7 (KUHA), the university's student-staffed station, Coog Radio, is online-only — much like KTRU now. And like UH itself, Coog Radio is eclectic, covering a wide range of genres from international to electronica and, of course, local music. Coog Radio prides itself on diversity and employs about 50 DJs throughout the week, all available to listeners at the click of a button. It isn't nearly as beloved in the music community as KTRU is (err...was), but give the new kid on the block a chance. You just might like what you hear.

Rice: There has never been a better traditional college radio station in the city of Houston than KTRU. Sure, it would occasionally play five minutes of uninterrupted guitar feedback and the DJs would often sound stoned, drunk or both. But no one played more local and college/indie music than KTRU. Unfortunately, the broadcast station was sold to the University of Houston in 2010 and all that's left is an Internet radio version. But it still blows KUHF away for music, even if it is Internet-only.

WINNER: Rice. At its height, KTRU was one of the best student-run stations on the planet, and even Internet-only — which is hardly a hindrance in 2014 — it remains an invaluable outlet for Houston musicians. Coog Radio has made impressive strides in the short time it's been around, but is still nowhere near matching KTRU's footprint.


UH: Alice Cooper, the Allman Brothers Band and Pink Floyd have played inside recently demolished Robertson Stadium (then known as Jeppesen Stadium); Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, Devo and the Clash have rocked Hofheinz Pavilion; and Van Morrison has performed in Cullen Auditorium, with John Legend scheduled there in May. UH's Student Program Board keeps music coming to campus through Frontier Fiesta, which is both current — last weekend, in fact, with performances by B.O.B., Love & Theft and A Great Big World — and local, with FF alumni including the likes of Verse City, Simple Success and The Niceguys.

Rice: While Rice is not exactly known for big stars at campus festivals — with all due respect to the KTRU Outdoor Show — its stadium has hosted some huge names in music, never mind President John F. Kennedy and his "We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard" speech and Super Bowl VIII.

The Eagles, Elton John and Billy Joel, and George Strait all played there in the mid-1990s, as did the biggest name to grace the facility, Pink Floyd. But my most relevant memory is of the Van Halen Monsters of Rock show in 1988. It was hot as hell, a cup-throwing fight made the stadium look like it was in the middle of a snowstorm just before Metallica went on, the Scorpions absolutely dominated every other act and I struck out with some girl whose name I don't remember.

WINNER: Push. For two such different universities, both Rice and UH have pretty noble concert histories and manage to keep one toe in the waters of staging their own events as well.


UH: What do Country Music Hall of Fame inductee Kenny Rogers, Grammy-winner Larry Gatlin and Original Screwed Up Circle founding member Big Moe have in common? Yup, they all went to UH. But besides diverse alumni in the limelight of commercial music, UH also boasts the Moores School of Music, which houses an opera center, hosts a jazz festival and hones some of the best voices in town. And isn't Fat Tony still enrolled at UH? He's been in New York as much as Houston lately (if not on tour), but I think he still counts as an existing affiliate.

Rice: In the first two, I concede. The kids at Rice are simply too smart to try a career in music, God bless them. As for music schools, the Shepherd School of Music is one of the most well-respected music programs in the country for chamber music, orchestral music and opera. The school, founded in 1974, has attracted the attention and support of classical stars including Itzhak Perlman and Renée Fleming, and has a reputation for producing talented alumni and wonderful recordings.

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