Concert breaks tradition

Word that pop star Fergie will play Beaver Stadium this spring left Bryce Jordan “a bit surprised,” the retired Penn State president said last week.

During his tenure in Old Main, from 1983 to 1990, performers had shown keen interest in bringing outdoor concerts to the iconic football venue, Jordan said.

But “we were concerned about the damage to the turf and other kinds of damage that could have occurred,” he said in an interview from his Texas home.

Penn State at the time declined to grant stadium concert requests, though Jordan said he could not recall which performers or how many of them had expressed interest in the stadium.What a difference two decades make.

Penn State startled alumni and students alike last week, when it confirmed that Fergie will perform the first concert in the 48-year-old stadium. The Friday-night concert is slated for April 18, on the eve of the annual Blue-White football scrimmage. Concert tickets are priced at $41 a head.

Greg Myford, an associate athletic director, said the university will go to lengths to protect the field and turn it around for the Saturday scrimmage. There’s a risk of damage that arises with any concert of that scale, but “we do not have any particular concerns” beyond the normal concerns for any big event on campus, he said.The real reason Penn State agreed to host the concert, Myford said, is an opportunity for the university to win as much as $1 million in scholarship money.

“Make no mistake about it,” Myford said Saturday. “Penn State is in this competition to win that million dollars in scholarship (funds). The only way we’re able to do that is to make sure we perform in having a good turnout for the Friday-night events.”

New York-based MSL Sports and Entertainment has orchestrated the concert attraction, which will include a pep rally and other events that evening. It’s part of a national series of similar events — all planned by MSL — that together are known as the first Gridiron Bash.

Some 20 major universities are scheduled to participate in the bash that weekend.

All will compete for $1.75 million in scholarship money. The three universities that draw that most support through a combination of concert attendance and votes cast by text message and telephone will split the scholarship funds. The biggest prize — $1 million — will go to the first-place winner.

Additional money generated through parking fees, concession-stand sales and merchandise also should help support university scholarship funds, said Debbie Brandwein, a vice president at MSL.

Indeed, Myford said, a contract guarantees some compensation for Penn State.That money “allows the university to recover a large share of the expenses associated with putting on the event. That obviously makes it more appealing to us,” he said.

Myford said some of the money could help support the Penn State athletics budget and fuel some scholarships.He also said the concert could open the door to more performing acts inside the stadium. But “I think a lot it depends on how it goes,” he said. “Like most other things, if you try something once and it works, there’s generally a tendency to be willing to do it again.”

The athletic department may find support for future stadium attractions from Old Main itself.University President Graham Spanier, in an e-mail exchange last week, noted that Penn State is using portions of Beaver Stadium more often for meetings, entertaining and community functions. A November talk by FBI Director Robert Mueller was held in the stadium’s upscale Mount Nittany Club.

“I believe that the university should be open to more creative uses of Beaver Stadium given that it is a tremendous facility with lots of potential,” Spanier wrote in an e-mail.

Several university sources indicated that football coach Joe Paterno may have been reluctant in earlier years to embrace concert proposals for the 107,000-seat stadium. But a formal attempt to reach Paterno last week was not successful.He has about a year remaining on his current coaching contract.

At the Bryce Jordan Center, marketing director Bernie Punt said concert promoters have looked at the stadium as recently as the past five years.

He said scheduling conflicts in those recent years prevented any stadium concerts from materializing sooner.Fergie, a vocalist in the popular band Black Eyed Peas, is expected to appear solo at the stadium. Several of her recent songs, including “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Glamorous” and “Clumsy,” have become explosive hits.

Myford said MSL approached Penn State to seek university participation in the Gridiron Bash. Fergie, a Grammy Award nominee, was on a short list of available performers, he said.

“We made it clear to them that we wanted to bring someone to Penn State who not only would be well-known and have a broad appeal from a music standpoint,” but also would stir a response from the student body, Myford said.

Adam Smeltz can be reached at 231-4631.