Rock Concerts at BYU

Has anyone ever attended a rock concert at BYU? You may have noticed that they dried up in the mid-1980s, and I am trying to figure out why. In the 1970s artists such as Elton John, America, Seals and Croft, and Neal Diamond performed at the Marriot Center. Most of the acts seem to have been pretty tame–Bread, the Carpenters, and John Denver do not exactly rock the house. A brief foray into hard rock was stamped out quickly under President Dallin Oaks. When Tower of Power’s 1975 performance left the BYU crowd “almost out of control,” Oaks vowed “there would be no more ‘Rock Concerts’ at BYU.”

But the concerts continued in the 1980s under President Jeffery Holland. Boston came at some point, and Billy Joel appeared in 1986. The Joel concert, as near as I can tell, was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Glen L. Pace, then a member of the Presiding Bishopric, attended the concert with his children. He left angered and appalled. Pace later recounted his experience in a BYU devotional address given in December 1987 and published the next year in the Ensign.

In the talk, Pace quoted Joel’s words to the crowd just before singing “Only the Good Die Young,” the hit song about a man trying to talk a young Catholic women into giving up her virginity. “I’m not trying to convert anyone; I just want to provide you with an alternative,” Joel supposedly said. Pace never mentioned the Piano Man by name, but his identity was obvious. In the song, Joel concludes he would rather “laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints.” Pace argued the opposite. He entitled his talk “Crying with the Saints,” a close paraphrase from the song.

I can imagine Pace filing a complaint with the BYU Board of Trustees, but I cannot verify this because the board’s minutes for this time are restricted from historical researchers. Obviously President Holland knew about Pace’s disapproval of the concert, for he was on the stand when Pace gave the address. In any case the rock concerts seem to have disappeared soon after. When I was attending BYU in the early 1990s, the only act I remember coming to the Marriot Center was Dan Folgelberg. My wife, who attended in late 90s, remembers no rock concerts at BYU. I position the decline of the concerts as a kind of covert cultural critique, a silent declaration in the Culture Wars of the time.

Did any T&S readers attend rock concerts at BYU? Any other theories about their demise, or links to similar BYU actions around the same time?

54 comments for “Rock Concerts at BYU

  1. I heard (and this may just be rumor) that Neil Diamond mocked the honor code when he appeared at BYU.

    I think Rock’s natural faux anti-authoritarian stance doesn’t mesh well with BYU. UVSC seems to have picked up the slack in this area and are doing well with their rock concerts.

  2. Ivan:

    I have a friend who attended the Neil Diamond concert. He said Diamond mocked the dress and grooming code. Diamond’s stance must be expected. His hair at the time was through the roof.

  3. If I remember correctly, the boy band the New Kids on the Block did a concert at BYU when I attended. It was very early 90s. I think there were students who protested the concert; their signs said somec, protesting that the New Kids on the Block sucked.

  4. When researching something long ago in the U of U library I came across an issue of Rolling Stone from the 1970s in which it was mentioned that according a poll taken on campus “Three Dog Night” was the most popular band amongst the zoobies of the time and this was very upsetting to the administration. Too bad the RS website doesn’t have the archive…

  5. I went to a number of concerts while at BYU. Let’s see; there was Donnie and Marie (I’m not making that up), America, Bread and Anne Murray, and probably one or two others I’m forgetting. (Oh, yeah, my friends and I went to see the Doobie Brothers, but that was at the Salt Palace. We were really wicked back then.)

    I had a friend who went to the Neil Diamond concert, which was a little before my time. I guess the Universe ran a column or a student letter to the editor or something complaining about his long hair. He read it on stage, then tore it up, to ecstatic cheers from the crowd.

  6. I went to a Heart concert in the Marriott Center in ’88 or ’89. I was there for the Cosmic Thing tour of the B-52’s in 1989. The next morning, we had Stake Conference there. Kind of surreal — the concert was amazing. I also saw the Nylons in the Wilkinson Center — but that’s fairly tame. I have heard the same stories about Neil Diamond, and remember Elder Pace’s talk very clearly — I often think of it while listening to Billy Joel.

  7. As an Evangelical Christian who respects the moral strength of the LDS church I am glad they do not have “Rock Concerts” at BYU anymore. I am against secular music and perfer reflecting upon God by reading Scripture and singing worship songs of praise rather than filling my mind up with the tunes of the devil and this world. Your Evangelical friend, Ed

  8. My wife and I went to the Elton John concert at BYU (well, my wife got me to go, aha…). I was there on a guest professorship at the time. Details are now vague, we are not sure about the year (first half of the eighties), but we do remember it is a great professional concert with a lot of cheering. Though not my preferred genre, I can concede that if the lyrics are OK, Mormons who like the style certainly can enjoy it. Devout Church members like the Osmonds (“Crazy Horses”!) or Randy Bachman of Bachman Turner Overdrive had the appreciation of president Kimball and other GA’s for their major effect on missionary work. On an international scale the Osmonds brought thousands of people in the Church – mainly during their Rock years. Our assessment of rock music seems more tied to the morality of the artists and the message in the lyrics. Blind condemnation of a the music style “as such” is rather narrow-minded. But I can understand there is line BYU had to draw.

  9. I remember standing in line for hours before tickets were sold for the B52’s concert all those years ago. I didn’t end up making it as my mission call came to me before I returned to Utah for the concert (and the MTC).

  10. Ah, the glory years of concerts at the Mariott Center. I camped out for tickets (with Danithew? memory fails me. I think so) for the B-52’s Cosmic Thing show — a fun concert. I wasn’t a big fan or anything. Camping out for tickets seemed like a fun thing to do. At Duke, where I am now, they’ve made an art form out of it (albeit for basketball tix, not to see Kate Pierson’s hair)..

    I attended a fireside with Pres. Hinckley at the Mariott Center the day after New Kids on the Block played there — I remember commenting that BYU was a very, very strange place indeed to have such events scheduled for back-to-back nights in the same building. (Clarification: I did not attend NKOTB. A roommate who walked past the Marriott Center that night reported that it seemed to be primarily 12 and 13 year old kids and their parents in the crowd).

    Do major acts make it to Utah at all these days? Just wondering.

  11. As for Jed’s question as to the reasons for the demise of rock concerts at BYU, I’ll ask a question of my own: Do rock acts still play in big arenas on college campuses? I’m completely out of the concert scene, but I live in an area with three major universities with good-sized basketball arenas (OK, Cameron Indoor is tiny) and it seems to me that the touring musicians usually play at venues other than on campuses here. I guess the question is, even though BYU has its own reasons for doing things, is the lack of rock concerts at BYU a part of a larger nationwide trend?

    Note that I’m talking about arenas seating over 16K people here.

  12. Doobie Brothers. I was a freshman (1980-81). The most memorable part of this event (besides the fact that BYU was hosting a band named after a marijuana cigarette) was the ticket distribution system. To prevent students from waiting in line overnight, someone decided that the location of the sales office would be announced at 9 am on Saturday and that tickets would go on sale immediately after. When I emerged from the Harold B. Lee Library after working my 4 am to 9 am shift, I saw students streaming across the campus in the direction of the Smith Fieldhouse. So I joined in the chase, got in line, and purchased my tickets. If memory serves, several people were injured in the chase, including several people who were injured by speeding cars that were patrolling the campus in preparation for the announcement.

  13. yes, other schools often host rock concerts in their athletic venues.

    no more rock concerts at byu? what’s next? banning movies w/ any t&a or alluded love-making from the international cinema?!!

  14. I recall that NKOTB protest. It was kind of a sophmoric geeky thing to do. Yet I recall several in the administration getting a little huffy about it.

    My memory of the problem of concerts was that there were a few between 89 – 91 that were very poorly attended and that they decided just to get out of it.

    Of course the real concert and one that I still kick myself for missing was Rage Against the Machine down in Springville of all places. They rarely toured so it would have been quite the concert to see.

    The Doobie Brothers were named after a joint? I thought that was their real name.

  15. Three or four years ago BYUSA hosted the eighties pop star Tiffany. She gave here concert in the quad area outside of the Wilk. Before the concert began the BYUSA host called on someone to say a prayer. Tiffany’s long-haired guitarist, who was sporting multiple earings and a see through mesh shirt, yelled, “Prayer Rocks!!!”
    Although the prayer rocked, the rest of the concert didn’t. BYU students reinforced their stereotype of being unbelievably not cool by going crazy to “I think we’re alone now.” A couple months later I was scanning the radio dials and overheard Tiffany talking to Howard Stern about her soon to be released photo shoot in Playboy magazine. I was quite “shocked and appalled” at the lack of “shock and appall” expressed in the Daily Universe about this particular issue. While I understand that if anybody did know about Tiffany’s Playboy appearance, they wouldn’t want to publish their knowledge to the entire studentbody, but I truly regret not being able to watch that issue being hammered to death in the op-ed pages of the Daily Universe. That would have been more entertaining than a hundred New Kids, Billy Joel, or Tiffany concerts.

  16. Kevin Barney saw America at BYU & the Doobie Brothers in SLC.

    I saw America at BYU and the Chambers Brothers in SLC — “Time . . . Time . . . Time . . . Time has come today!”

    OK, OK, I know nobody asked for lyrics from the early 70s, which is when it was. I think America was already washed up.

    I’ll bet not one of you know “Time (Has Come Today)” by the Chambers Brothers. The lack of cultural literacy today is shocking.

    (Although Kaimi, Russell Alben Fox, D, & Frank McIntyre sometimes surprise me.)

  17. I remember seeing Journey at BYU in the early 1980s. I liked them so much I saw them again the next night in Salt Lake. While Journey’s shows were about the same, there was an amazing difference in the two warmup acts by Bryan Adams. At BYU he just sang; in Salt Lake he sang, spewed obscenities, sang, swore some more, sang, got downright nasty. What a difference a day makes (and a few words of caution from BYU, no doubt). I’ve always wondered what happens behind the scenes when performers break their decency agreements with BYU.

  18. When I was still in high school, I went to an Elton John concert at the Marriott Center. (I grew up in Provo.) I remember that we noticed a general authority (or maybe just somebody in a suit) and were surprised he’d be there. I looked over to where he was seated when Elton started singing “The Bitch Is Back.” His seat was empty.

    Later, I went to a Boston concert (the Third Stage tour). Being only their 3rd album, they played pretty much every song of theirs and certainly every song of theirs that I knew except “Smokin’,” and I always wondered if there was an agreement with the university about that.

    I also remember getting up very early to wait in line to get tickets to The Cars, but I never went to that concert. I don’t remember why that concert was cancelled, but I remember that being the beginning of the end of that rowdy music at the Y.

  19. In his book Mormonism and Music, BYU music prof. Michael Hicks makes the point that the same arguments waged against rock concerts (I’m amused that we’re putting Neil Diamond in that category, but that’s another issue altogether…) fall into historical rhyme with previous ecclesiastical injunctions against, say, the foxtrot. He summarizes:

    After more than a century of polemics, the futility of proscribing popular dance and musical styles became clear: each generation found its own tastes superior to those of its young. Not unline many denominational leaders, Mormon leaders almost always came to accept the muisc and dances once forbidden by their elders. Improvisation, syncopation, and other musical effects toook their place in the common language of Mormon culture, just as other musical effects had done a century earlier. As musical contexts changes, musical meanings blurred. Only the profane messages of popular lyrics were consistently fought. But even lyrics proved to be problematic; one generally found adults revealing and interpreting the textual meanings supposedly discernible only to the young.

    I would also mention that Hicks is the author of the authoritative scholarly treatment of psychedelic rock.

  20. I went to two Neil Diamond concerts at BYU. The first must have been when I was a freshman, 71-72, since it was held at the Smith Fieldhouse. It was a terrific concert, where he really connected with the audience, sang a lot of great songs, told stories about growing up in Brooklyn, and only made jokes about overdoing the jello intake.

    The second concert was at the Marriott Center, probably 75-76. There had been one of those idiotic controversies in the Daily Universe about hair, and whether someone whose hair was too long for a student should be allowed to sing at a concert there. His only comment that I remember about that was that he thought the university should be more concerned about what was in a student’s head than what was on it.

    Whatever the reason, that second concert wasn’t anywhere close to being as good as the first.

  21. I camped out for B-52’s tickets and vaguely remember that they didn’t play “Monster” in Provo, but played it the next night in SLC. I think I remember them laughing about that on KJQ, or was it X-96.

  22. I wasn’t aware that Boston came to BYU. When I was a freshman, 76-77, the second floor of S Hall in Deseret Towers was dominated by the playing of two albums: the first Boston album, and Dreamboat Annie by Heart. Ah, them was the days…

  23. Some terrific stories here. It does seem as though the acts tamed down after 1986. The B-52s are and NKOTB are a far cry from Boston.

    Kevin Ashworth: Can you tell us when Boston and the Cars came to town? If they came after 86, that would attenuate my Billy Joel Theory. But even if they did appear after, they might have been booked before Joel came to town, making the theory plausible anyway.

    I am still looking for someone who attended the Billy Joel concert. The approximate date will help me see if there was any backlash in local newspapers.

  24. i think one of the biggest reasons that there are no longer concerts at the marriot center is the relatively new mckay center at uvsc. it is not bound by most of the rules that a church-owned venue would be, and serves the same market.

  25. Long ago I recommended to BYU USA a musical group whom, I thought, uniquely met BYU’s mission statement: a jewish hard rock group named Black Shabbat. Nothing came of it. They broke up and formed
    zed zed rosh. Maybe I’ll pass that name along. Also Abba might be good.

    jim s.

  26. I am still looking for someone who attended the Billy Joel concert. The approximate date will help me see if there was any backlash in local newspapers.

    Billy Joel played at BYU in November 1986, according to Patricia Holland. She related an interesting Billy Joel dream at a BYU devotional in September 1987.

    A Weird Dream

  27. “I am still looking for someone who attended the Billy Joel concert. The approximate date will help me see if there was any backlash in local newspapers.”

    If possible, you ought to check out one of the editorials written in the Daily Universe after the concert. It called the BYU audience on the carpet for cheering Billy Joel on when he played “Only the Good Die Young”–a song that apparently, according to the contract, was not to be played. If I remember right there were other things in the contract that were not followed as well.

  28. Journey at BYU in the early 1980s. I liked them so much I saw them again the next night in Salt Lake. While Journey’s shows were about the same, there was an amazing difference in the two warmup acts by Bryan Adams. At BYU he just sang and I enjoyed it.

    The Dirt Band performed in the same time (with Paul Yarrow as warm up), Barry Manelow (spelling, anyway) and America.

    I’ll note that they give performers guidelines and hints. Barry M didn’t believe his. (Tag line “How many of you have had a love affair?” Crowd is silent, goes cold. Gentle BM smile, delivers his killer line “Ok, how many of you have had an unhappy love affair?” crowd is flat. BM “Guess they were right when they said this kind of joke wouldn’t work with this crowd” [or some such line])

  29. Keith talks about contracts and their violation (Joel); Ethesis talks about guidelines, hinting at their violation (Manilow); Colleen talks about the G-rated version in Provo, the R-rated in SLC (Bryan Adams); Kneight says the Provo show leaves out the controversial (B-52s)–all of this suggests artists have a sense of their conservative audience, either by contract, coaching, heresay, or experience.

    Do others remember artists tailoring the performances to a Provo crowd? Are there polygamy jokes, Donny and Marie jokes, big family jokes? Someone somewhere mentioned Neil Diamond joking around…

    Does any remember any other “transgressive” actions in any other concerts similiar to Joel’s singing a “forbidden” song?

  30. Did Neil Diamond (the quintessential pop-star) sing “Red Red Wine�? That would have been great.

    In a disparate venue, I had some friend that went to see Nine Inch Nails with Marylyn Manson up in Salt Lake in ’94. Some of them left early due to the blaspheme, which after their description I lauded them for. So I wonder where the line is (for me that is). I have to admit that I have a soft spot for “The Lemon Song� and “Red Red Wine�, which I wouldn’t leave a concert or write to the Daily Universe over. So what would I do that over? Marylyn Manson I guess…

  31. J. Stapley –

    Well, I had a sister who went to a Marylin Manson concert in SLC and she said she left when he burned a Book of Mormon on stage.

    I haven’t really tried to confirm if that actually happened or not, as I could care less about what Marylin Manson does or does not do.

  32. I was about 13 when I heard Gordon Lightfoot perform in the Marriot Center (’73 or so). I remember him commenting about the acoustics in such a big room and joking about not knowing what he was going to do during intermission.

  33. I attended a Chicago concert at the Marriott Center in early 1996. It definitely was a tame concert. Horn sections ROCK!!

  34. I just realized, that with the Freedom Festival, there are still rock concerts done at BYU – at the LaVel Edwards stadium.

    Yeah, lately its been Country acts headlining the FF, but Huey Lewis and the News played there in 1998.

  35. Ted Nugent played at this year’s Freedom Festival. Of course he was playing the national anthem and not Cat Scratch Fever…

  36. Ethesis talks about guidelines, hinting at their violation (Manilow); more like tourist guides than rules, if that makes sense, a “this will work, this won’t with this crowd” sort of thing.

    Imagine Paul Yarrow. He walks out. The crowd sighs with pity. He launches into his traditional start “Stewball was a racehorse” and tells the audience to sing along. He gets to “He never drank water, he only drank wine” (actually, I’m paraphrasing, perhaps). The audience goes completely, stone cold, silent.

    A performer needs a warning about his crowd. (Yarrow eventually got things going and got encores as an opening act and seemed embarassed by them. Worse, a member of the band he was opening for came out and joined him in an encore. The band had played BYU before, and knew what the crowds were like. Sure enough, they erupted for the Dirt Band, so it was ok).

  37. My recollection is that Linda Ronstadt played at BYU in the late 70s — about ’79 I believe — and her contract specified that she must wear a bra on stage. We know this because on her next tour through Utah, when I saw her in ’80 or possibly 81, she did not play at BYU, but played at the University of Utah, where she laced the concert with multiple disparaging (and extremely amusing) comments about BYU and her previous experience there, including the terms of her BYU performance contract. As you can imagine, the U crowd loved it (they also loved her appearing to perform clad in only, so far as one could tell, a Ute football jersey).

  38. Wow, what a great thread.

    I never attended BYU and have only been to Utah once in my life, for about a day or two…but I did meet my husband at a Cure concert.

    Clark were you joking about the Doobie Brothers? Cuz that’s one of the funniest things I’ve seen you write.

  39. The beauty of “rock concerts”, are likely in the eye of the beholder. I too attended the second Neil Diamond concert referenced by Mark B. I also believe his recollection of the “controversy” about Neil’s hair is accurate. I would hardly categorize Neil’s comments as “mocking” the dress code. Many at students at BYU in the early 70’s took themselves and the University much too seriously, in terms of the self created controversies such as Neil Diamond’s hair. There were many other self created and self important controversies (anyone remember the Seventh Street Press, or the coed student who couldn’t get into the testing center wearing blue jeans, but was admitted after removing them, and wearing only a raincoat?) ; however, these are probably the topic of another thread. There were also several other good “rock” concerts I attended as already mentioned in this thread, including Linda Ronstadt, The Beach Boys, America and others. None of them, at least in my opinion, were the least bit offensive. As I recall, even Steve Martin (in his early days as a stand up comic) also played as a warm up act at one concert. I can’t remember now who the main act was (maybe the Carpenters)–but Steve was pretty funny, with his “cat juggling” routine. He was much more tame at his BYU appearance than his comedy albums at the time.

    As for the concerts’ demise? Who knows. Perhaps too many were/are still focused on the “letter” of the law, and forget the spirit of the law. Most of the groups Jed mentioned to open this thread were good groups, with good music. They weren’t perfect people…but then again neither were any of the BYU students back then…or probably now as well. We had fun. We enjoyed good music. Too bad that may no longer be the case at BYU regarding “rock” concerts.


  40. Hey, Rob Briggs: I totally know ‘Time (Has Come Today).’ And I ain’t even that old. =)

    So… I was at the Y for grad school from 1993-95, and the only concert I recall was the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Not being a big fan of the country scene, I took an immediate pass on that one. I had to catch my rock on the alt-rock radio scene, which I found to be remarkably good in Utah (of all places). I find Boston’s to be roughly its equal.

    BYU could create some terrific concert experiences if they were willing to take the time and effort to focus on specific artists. “Blind Boys of Alabama” are incredible, religious, and extremely positive. (I know it isn’t rock, but it is popular music, at least in some circles — and their Christmas CD is swell). “Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals” could put on a terrific show, if they were willing to tailor a set to exclude reefer references. Harper has some very spiritual and uplifting (even, gasp, ROCKING stuff). I think that a BYU concert by a religious R&B group would be hilarious… “Mary Mary” comes to mind.

  41. I think we should “grow our own” music. Clean lyrics, non-headbanger stuff, but ranging from reverent to powerful rhythms. Creative music that is not boxed into the hardened categories that the music industry tries to foist on us. The LDS music scene is still in infancy and has not yet found an identity that can compete with the world.

  42. Great Scot: I couldn’t agree more. Mormon pop is mimicry. Hymnody too. We need our own tradition.

  43. The image of someone leaving a Marilyn Manson concert in a huff only when he desecrates a copy of the Book of Mormon is amusing. I mean, the rest of his act would have been okay with you? You bought the ticket thinking he would affirm your beliefs? Ivan, you should ask your sister to post what she was thinking.

  44. Jed, your response in #47 cracked me up because by addressing “Great Scot” your comment came out looking like an exclamation. I thought for a moment that my grandfather was posting here. But then I read on to a sentence that I don’t think could ever form in his mind: “Mormon pop is mimicry,” so I knew it wasn’t him. Also, he doesn’t like the internet, and is dead.

  45. Just listen to great LDS groups like SweetHaven (named after Popeye’s hometown, of course) and you’ll realize that there is some great young talent coming down the pike.

  46. Don’t worry, GST. Times and Seasons next expansion is going to include a couple of dead bloggers. We feel it will really widen our appeal. Maybe you’re Grandfather will start participating then.

    Faculty critics vetoed the appearance of Dizzy Gilespie in 1948. Duke Ellington was canceled because the BYU prez had been scared of the group’s music and race and the reaction “up in Salt Lake.” In 1923, church youth leaders had concluded that jazz was little more than “rank” faking and should not be tolerated by intelligent people.

    Ernie W. tried to keep lame music like Andy Williams, etc. but nobody was attending their stupid concerts.

    Riders attached to contracts stipulated that they avoid songs dealing with CIVIL RIGHTS, sexual immorality and birth control, and not condone disrespect for family, country…and required female entertainers to wear brassieres..

    After TOWER OF POWER President Oaks vowed that “there would be no more ‘rock concerts’ at BYU
    It was loud and the audence went wild, even dancing in the isles!

    ******I personally attended INXS and Michael Hutchens (sp?) made some crack about how they’d been warned that this was a conservative audience and certain rules were to be followed. Then he threw a cup of beer at us.

  48. I remember seeing the Beach Boys at the Marriott Center in 1982. Mike Love was wearing a flower lei, and made a lame joke about getting “lei-ed” which went over flat with the audience.

  49. This is a great string. I was at the B-52’s concert at the Marriot Center in January 1990. We also camped out for the tickes the night before they went on sale. Someone had a TV plugged in and we were watching Saturday Night Live, the Best of Eddie Murphy. Mr. Robinsons Neighborhood, is the one sketch I still remember seeing.

    My friends, Terry, his brother Todd, Mark, Mike and I were the first people in line, we bought the first 40 tickets for all our friends. We were front row center for the entire concert. They played “strobe light”, and I do remember Fred did change a few of the lyrics, he even threw in a reference to Sundance. They put on a great show.

    The Highlight of the show was during Rock Lobster, when our friends Ron and Brian, who had been hiding under the stage for nearly the whole show, burst on stage from behind the band and started dancing. Ron danced for a few seconds with Fred and Kate and then did a stage dive out into the audience. Brian danced around until he was taken off stage by the security gaurds. We heard they really roughed him up.

    Aftrer the show we picked up a few things from the stage, I got Kate Pierson’s straw she used to drink her water. It still had her lipstick on it. Then we went to their hotel and waited for them to show up, we got autographs and told them how cool they were. And that’s sums up my concert experience Freshman Year at BYU.

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