Sly and the Family Stone, Aerosmith, Frampton among Those who came to campus

Above, students working for Dome Productions brought rock’s biggest acts of the 1970s to Allendale. All photos and images courtesy of Grand Valley’s Special Collections of the University Library.

“Thank you for letting me be myself,” musician Sly Stone said with a wry smile, gazing out over a crowd of 4,500 assembled in the Dome, as the pre-cursor of the GVSU Fieldhouse was known back in the day. It was Sunday, October 20, 1974, and Sly referred to the fact that he was almost an hour late in taking the stage. True to form, his band instantly launched into a blistering performance of hits including “Everyday People,” “Dance to the Music” and “Stand.” At that moment, one more chapter in the Grand Valley story was being written.

There is no other campus story in the 1970s like that of the Dome concerts. The story is an epic — about students and acts, musicians who performed, fans who heard them and how we remember their place in campus history. Mainly, though, it’s an epic about the music. The music would come to epitomize campus life as nothing else ever has. When everything was done, good and bad, the music withstood it all.

When Sly was done with his magic that night, the crowd cheered and he left campus for a Holiday Inn on the north end of Grand Rapids. Then Jeff Brown, ’73, and Jim Barry, ’78, breathed a collective sigh of relief, knowing that they had pulled off yet another concert in a string of performances that were a cornerstone of student life. Eventually the list would include concerts from Aerosmith, REO Speedwagon, Santana, the Eagles, Frank Zappa, Genesis, Peter Frampton and more than 50 other acts ranging from rock to bluegrass. At the front end was Brown, a Grand Valley grad turned campus employee who was hired by Campus Activities and charged with bringing music and entertainment to campus. He dealt with promoters and acts and set the groundwork for the great tale. “I looked at the whole process as a learning lab for students,” he said. “It was my job to bring in these acts, but it was the student volunteers who made it all happen.”

Grand Valley students enjoy a concert in the Dome (left). The Motor City Madman, Ted Nugent, takes the stage (right).

Barry took an active role in those lab experiments. He became involved with concerts before he even set foot in his first class as a freshman in 1973. He would eventually take his place as the man behind the man behind the stage, and was responsible for procurement and construction of staging, lighting, getting the bands in and out of the Dome and anything else it took to make the music a reality.

“I had booked all the acts for my high school dances so I jumped into things at Grand Valley,” he said. “I was almost a music fan first and a student second back in those early days.”

Both Brown and Barry are quick to point out that they were only two in a team of hundreds of Grand Valley students who are part of the story. Brown can recall a few standing-room-only organizational meetings in Lake Huron Hall’s large lecture room.

“People on campus were just excited to be involved. They would volunteer to do just about any task if it meant they could be in on music somehow,” Brown said. “It didn’t hurt that you could get a free ticket and one for a friend if you helped out.”

One of those students was Tom Syrek ’79. “Those were great times. I used to get concert posters and decorate my dorm room with them,” Syrek said. “After a while, I received work-study to do carpentry work building stages on Jim’s crew.”

Syrek’s story is shared by many alumni from the mid- to late-’70s. Students worked> the ticket booth, stage setup, crowd control, parking, concessions, band hospitality and promotions.

Live music was a different experience in the ’70s. Large stadium venues and huge ticket prices weren’t as much as a blip on the radar. “Bands were touring campuses, doing 4,000- to 5,000-person gigs. You could get in to see them for four to six bucks and they put on some amazing shows,” Brown said.

By some estimates, as many as 50,000 people came to concerts during the heyday of Dome Productions.

Sam Decoucy of Grand Rapids remembered visiting campus for the Lou Reed and Dr. John show in 1974. “It was Sunday night, it was a cold November, and I had never been to the campus before,” Decoucy said. “Once I got into the Dome, Lou Reed came out tossing glitter all over the place and Dr. John later ran out and started dancing on the piano. It was an amazing show. I almost get lost in the memories to this day.”

The Dome Productions epic is more than just stories of concerts. Barry, for example, remembers driving his rusty old Chevy Vega to the airport one day to pick up Muddy Waters. And Brown reminisces about the time when Grand Valley was the site of the closing show for the Eagles’ U.S. tour. That band’s roadies thought it would be fun to play a joke on the tour manager by spiriting away a briefcase containing the receipts from the entire tour.

“I can remember more than a few calls from the guy that night and early the next morning,” said Brown.

The list of memories goes on and on.

In the end, both outside and inside forces closed Grand Valley’s musical tale. The Dome roof became unstable and was eventually condemned. The concert industry began shifting away from college campuses to larger venues. Musicians still come to campus, but it is understandable that the magic isn’t quite the same.

The concerts changed student life far more than anyone could have expected, and something was created that still lays claim on the times: memories from alumni who were there. They will long outlast the bands who made them.

Richard Williams earned master’s of business administration and master’s of public administration degrees from Grand Valley. In 2005, he graduated from Michigan State College of Law and worked as a staff attorney and development director for Legal Aid.

Do you have an old concert poster from Dome Productions in your archives? The university’s Special Collections would like to add to its collection of rock history; contact University Archivist Nancy Richard at (616) 331-8726 or richanar@gvsu.edu.

Page last modified July 22, 2011