Twenty-five hundred students and their friends chatter in Nelson Field House, then the lights suddenly dim. An excited whisper ripples through the crowd, accented by an occasional scream. Dark shadows creep between musical instruments on stage and the noise in the audience grows. Suddenly, the lights flash back on, the crowd shrieks and bass rumbles through the speakers as the artist takes the stage.
While the anticipation may seem unbearable for the spectators, the reward is great for members of BU’s Concert Committee, who began setting up for the 8 p.m. concert 12 hours earlier. “What most people don’t realize is the amount of work that goes into putting on events,” says Jimmy Gilliland, director of student activities at BU.
“It’s a lengthy process between selecting an act, developing promotional tactics, organizing Nelson Field House, taking care of the artist’s requests and selling merchandise,” adds Devin Simmons, a senior public relations major from Flourtown and member of the Concert Committee.
Long List of Variables
Concerts can be a little trickier to plan than other activities due to the number of aspects that must be considered, such as artists’ availabilities and styles of music. Members of the Concert Committee investigate which acts are touring and willing to play college campuses, and then they discuss who students would most want to see. Once the committee makes an offer to an artist, all they can do is wait for a response.
Unfortunately, chance does not always work in the committee’s favor. When the committee sought to bring R&B singer-songwriter Alicia Keyes to BU in 2002, her sudden fame got in the way. “She just exploded,” Gilliland remembers.
But although some artists get “too big” to visit college campuses, the Concert Committee successfully booked famous performers such as the rock acts O.A.R. (above), Jimmy Eat World, Paramore, David Cook and Breaking Benjamin and even comic actor Adam Sandler “before he was making million-dollar movies,” Gilliland adds.
“The best thing to do is to get the act right before they get big,” he explains. “Kid Cudi came here in fall 2010, but we couldn’t get him now.”
Program Board, Too
As director of student activities, Gilliland advises the Program Board and Concert Committee, two student groups that plan campus events. He often meets with students — both in groups and individually — to fine-tune existing programs and help create new ones. While he does some of the background work, such as reviewing contracts, checking work orders and aiding in publicity, Gilliland says events are student-driven.
The Program Board is responsible for many well-known activities around campus, including the late-night party, Midnight Pizza. They collaborate with other organizations for events such as the History Club’s History Bingo and performances like the LGBTA-sponsored appearance by comedian Renee Santos.
Learning Life Skills
Part of what drew Gilliland to his position, which he has held since 1983, was the ability to help students get involved on campus and reap the rewards of their work, something he enjoyed while attending the College of Steubenville in Ohio. As a student, he was involved in Greek life, played intramural sports and served as both a resident assistant and president of the student government association.
“I see the benefits in learning outside the classroom, as well,” he says. “It’s important to provide a fun social environment for students. You learn a lot of life skills in co-curricular activities.”
Despite his title of “director,” Gilliland sees himself as a support system for students rather than their leader. “It would be easier for me to do everything, but students grow by being challenged,” he explains. “When someone has an idea, my job is to say, ‘Hmm, what do we need to do to make this happen?’ ”
Tricia Forgit, a senior speech pathology major from Dingmans Ferry, has benefited from this philosophy. “I was big on the idea that ‘if you want something done right, you do it yourself,’ ” she says. “Program Board allowed me to let go and actually let other people help me with projects.”
Several of BU’s most popular activities were originally students’ ideas — bus trips to major cities like New York and Baltimore and social events like “Midnight Breakfast” which evolved into Midnight Pizza when a student suggested a menu change.
Gilliland admits two of his favorite annual events are collaborations between the town and the university — the BU Homecoming Parade and the Renaissance Jamboree, a festival held each April. Both allow him to become more involved in the advanced planning than he would be with most student activities.
Ultimately, however, Gilliland prefers to step back and act as a mentor for students. “What’s great about college students is they’re always full of creativity and enthusiasm and trying to learn about themselves,” says Gilliland. “It’s fun to be there for that time of growth and development.” •
Christine Heller is a freelance writer based in Bloomsburg.