On-Campus Houston Concerts Now Ancient History

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For lots more posters from Hofheinz, see below and our slideshow.

Essentially, universities in Houston don't have rock concerts anymore. In fact, pretty much all across America, institutions of higher learning are focusing less on bringing in live entertainment for students and more on building their collegiate resumes. But Rocks Off assumes that colleges that still do host concerts follow the model of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

Georgetown attempts to offer all types of music including the "Guild of Bands," a consortium of student rock bands for which students are eligible for academic credit. One of the requirements for these student bands is to give on-campus concerts.

Private schools with a lot of money bring in entertainers as part of their program board, where students vote about who/what they want to hear. And the campus concerts must celebrate diversity; they engage the students and are a collaboration between several on-campus groups.

But what about Houston? Rice and the University of Houston seem to care less these days. But it wasn't always this way.

Rice and UH were lively settings for all kinds of entertainment back in the day. Let's not forget that the Super Bowl was played at Rice Stadium in 1974 - in fact, the gigantic stadium was originally called Houston Stadium, because it was designed to be shared by Rice and UH.

We specify, because Houston Stadium was the site for many events that involved both UH and Rice students. For example, the Texxas Jam, which lasted from 1978 through 1988, was mostly a Dallas event, but it also hopped down to Rice Stadium and the Astrodome during its decade-long run.

Today, however, it just isn't so.

Besides the Super Bowl, Rice Stadium has held many major concerts. Huge crowds came out for Pink Floyd, the Eagles, Elton John, Billy Joel and George Strait. And any music fan who lived in Houston in the '70s is well acquainted with UH's campus, which used to be party central with live music aplenty.

So Rocks Off decided to talk to someone who lived in Houston and was a student at UH during its musical heyday.

"The gate underneath Hofheinz has a lock on it," said Chris, who graduated in 1979 and asked we not use his last name. "I got a key to the lock, and we let people slide in through there."

Chris wasn't an employee of the university, and he didn't have any affiliation with the bands playing or the groups who put together and promoted the concerts either.

"You can go to a hardware store and get a match for (the lock) if you've got the lock number," he said. "It's not the easiest thing in the world to do, but you can always do that."

Chris simply checked the lock number in the tunnel, took that number to a hardware store and got a key made.

"You really still have the same three venues that you had back then," said Chris, who began his UH tenure in 1976. "They just don't really utilize them anymore."

In his time at UH, Chris and plenty of his friends saw Grateful Dead in Hofheinz, Pink Floyd at Robertson Stadium on the Animals tour, and even Van Morrison in Cullen Auditorium.

True, the venues at Rice and U of H were pretty much the only places in in town besides the Astrodome that could accommodate concerts of that size until The Summit/Compaq Center, Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, Reliant Stadium and Toyota Center opened in 1975, 1990, 2002 and 2003, respectively. But Chris believes some of U of H's smaller facilities are being underutilized.

"Cullen Auditorium is a heck of a venue for singers, and now you've got the Moores Opera House on top of that," he said, adding that he doesn't understand why the university doesn't host concerts other than Frontier Fiesta more regularly.

"Hofheinz was an excellent venue - of course, you didn't have that big-ass scoreboard up there back then - and I remember seeing Steve Martin and Bob Hope, of all people; comedians. Big stars would come out."

In 1976, Steve Martin was arguably at the height of his popularity. He was becoming a frequent host of Saturday Night Live, and had just become the first standup comic to regularly sell out sports arenas when he came to UH. But Martin had plenty of company in those days, such as a young Elvis Costello.

"In '77, I bought an album just as a lark - I knew nothing about it - called My Aim is True and fell in love with the album," said Chris. "And I'll be doggone if he wasn't coming to the Texas Opera House.

"Me and my friends were the only people there," he added with a laugh. "I don't know who his promoter was for that tour, but we were it."

Texas Opera House isn't technically on the UH campus, but it was close enough for those who lived in the dorms or nearby apartments to walk or drive there in no time.

"And then you had Liberty Hall, and the last show I remember seeing there was Roger McGuinn of the Byrds," Chris said. "And they were all close to campus."

But this just doesn't happen anymore. The last big name to play a show at UH was probably Cobra Starship two years ago, a concert many students - not to mention other Houstonians - didn't even know was happening.

Sure, there's the newly remodeled Fitzgerald's, which is bringing plenty of talent to town that might otherwise opt out of visiting Houston, but that doesn't explain why the venues available at UH and Rice have are being ignored as possible ways for the universities to make money and grow an on-campus community.

"The venues haven't changed; they're just underutilized," Chris said. "People don't know what they have, and they don't know how to go about doing anything with it. You have to show a certain level of aggression, and you have to show a certain level of risk-taking and working with promoters on events."

Anyone who's ever attended college knows how difficult it is dealing with all the different levels and channels of communication within a university, which may be why live entertainment has fallen by the wayside.

"If you're working in a bureaucracy, and you go out there and work with a promoter, and the promoter loses money on the deal, then you look bad," Chris said. "In a bureaucracy, the whole idea is not to look bad.

"They used to be able to supplement income quite a bit just on the events they held there, and they were big," Chris said. "It was a very popular place back in my days."

From what Chris remembers, live entertainment stopped being a priority at UH around the time of athletic director Harry Fouk's departure in the early '80s.

By 1982, Chris was working for Hilton Hotels and was no longer in Houston. When he returned, what was once a triumph for the entire city was nothing more than a remnant of the past.

"It's still the same building; it's just underutilized from an entertainment standpoint, and it used to be a regular spot for those kinds of things," Chris said of Hofheinz.

"Essentially, all somebody has to do at UH is look at it from the standpoint that we have a stadium, we have a small venue, we have a 6,000-seat venue... so we, on campus, literally could do almost any type of musical or comedy or dramatic [show]. And I'm not even talking about the Moores Opera House.

"Between all the venues we have, there's no reason there shouldn't be a constant concert series going on."

If someone saw booking more entertainment at Rice and UH's gigantic venues as possible sources of revenue, we could get a lot more entertainment going on around town. And more venues means more competition, which is as American as it gets.

"I imagine some of it has to do with control of the venues - who operates it," Chris said about why it all fell apart. "While I'm sure the school of music does Moores' [schedule], I have no idea who would do Cullen.

"And Hofheinz and Robertson are done by the athletic department. So you don't have a cohesive organization that could go out to music and entertainment promoters and sign a contract to bring in different acts."

And that's not even asking whether universities could be competitive price-wise with other venues around town. But they could, and they have more parking spots than downtown, too.

"But there's no reason, with the way things are set up, that you couldn't go to a different concert promoters and bring things through that fit the size of the facility," Chris said. "The venues are there. It's just a matter of seeing them as a revenue source, and I don't think that the administration has done that or used them as such.

"You have a bureaucracy (at UH), and you have different people controlling different things, and that doesn't give you a comprehensive way of selling the venues to promoters."

One would think that things popular with the students, especially as campus life is growing, will become even more important, and if UH and Rice began touting entertainment again, students might actually have a reason to get involved in campus life.

"If you've got 4,000 students on campus, and you can bring in groups that are popular with them, you've got a built-in audience," Chris said. "But you need somebody who actually knows how to do it. Our access and our parking are phenomenal, so there shouldn't be any reason we can't build those venues into something."

And Chris doesn't think that the purchase of KTRU will do anything to help either university, either.

"The problem that I've had with our radio station is that our station has been taken over by public radio and isn't a campus station anymore, and that's the bigger issue: That we don't have a campus radio station," Chris said. "That hurts everything on-campus."

Chris said that, if it were up to him, UH's radio station would promote things on campus and inform students what was going on day to day. This, he said, would give students a reason to tune in on their way to campus.

"A buddy once told me, 'If I had a hold of that station on-campus, the first thing I'd do is cancel traffic reports, and I'd hire people to do parking reports instead,'" he said. "And I don't see the purchase of Rice's station doing anything to help that. I haven't heard anything that's ever mentioned about being able to do more on-campus type things on the radio.

"To me, it's like a nonprofit corporate grab," he said. "It doesn't benefit anything outside of the school of music and promoting their concerts. I'm not saying it's bad, I'm just saying it hurts the campus to not have a radio station. Whether they play music or not is secondary to me."

KUHF may make UH look good, but if it's going to continue solely promoting the Blaffer Gallery, the concerts at Moores, the rest of the campus will be doomed. Enjoy trekking to downtown, kiddos, because unless a promoter who knows what he or she is doing comes to UH or Rice, pitches a fantastic way to promote live, on-campus entertainment and is savvy enough to come through on his or her word, we're stuck in the situation we're in.

Come back tomorrow for the story of one St. Thomas student's difficulties bringing live music to his school.

Follow Rocks Off on Facebook and on Twitter @HPRocksOff.

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