For many college students, live music is more than a fun diversion. After a tough week of marathon study sessions, imposing exams and scattered shifts at part-time jobs, the typical weekend concert can act as a break from the day-to-day and provide the kind of experience that gives their hard work meaning.
Since 1951, MSC Town Hall has worked to bring quality music and entertainment to Texas A&M University while giving student performers opportunities to shine. While logistical roadblocks have kept top-tier talent from regularly performing in College Station in recent years, Aggies close to the program have ambitious plans to bring big names back to the Brazos Valley.
Facing the Music
Headquartered in the Memorial Student Center and operating under the Division of Student Affairs, Town Hall regularly coordinates between 30 and 40 on-campus events each year.
In its 70 years of operation, the program has invited marquee musical acts such as Johnny Cash, Destiny’s Child, R.E.M., George Strait, Reba McEntire and Elton John as well as non-musical performers like Kevin Hart, Steve Martin and Chris Rock. You can read more about some of these notable performances here.
Since the dawn of online piracy and digital music sales, however, artists have relied more on concert revenues and less on album sales to make a profit, spiking concert costs. “The cost of a concert is just so different now,” said Kendall Walker, Town Hall’s advisor. “It's a different production landscape, and the logistical costs limit our possibilities on campus.”
As booking fees soared and securing blockbuster shows meant taking on greater financial risk, Town Hall has more recently focused on featuring up-and-coming student performers.
Tales from Backstage
Town Hall’s current student chair, Travis Neill ’21, got involved with the program after attending a show from its Coffeehouse series, which features student artists across genres in a casual, small-venue environment. “After I spent some time with Town Hall, I learned Robert Earl Keen ’78 and Lyle Lovett ’79 both played at Coffeehouse during their time as students,” Neill said.
Except for Walker, Town Hall is completely student-run with approximately 100 Aggies managing the program any given year. “This is many students’ primary extracurricular activity at Texas A&M,” Walker said, “and the experience they get with leadership management, communication and other transferable skills through Town Hall is incredible.”
In addition to gaining hands-on practice with show business, students can find themselves in amazing circumstances working behind the scenes. “Some of the students who worked the One America Appeal concert at Reed Arena in 2017 met the former U.S. presidents,” said MSC Director Luke Altendorf, “ and others personally escorted Lady Gaga on stage.”
The Show Must Go On
After the COVID-19 pandemic canceled live music events across the globe, Town Hall slowed down but never stopped. “The students have hosted a number of virtual events, including virtual bingo nights with guests like Cullen Gillaspia '18, the former 12th Man,” Walker said. The fall 2020 semester also saw Town Hall organize outdoor performances with socially-distanced crowds in Rudder Plaza. “They did a great job of maintaining music and art at Texas A&M.”
If anything, the recent absence of large concerts has made Aggies’ hearts grow even fonder for the thrill and community that such events elicit. Before the pandemic, Town Hall was already developing plans to continue their support of local artists while creating a new space for stars to shine.
“The big project right now is the 12th Jam Music Festival,” Walker said. The first annual 12th Jam, an outdoor festival featuring performers across genres with local and student talent billed as openers, will take place outside Kyle Field on August 28. It will feature country singer Cam, indie pop wunderkind Dayglow and Australian singer-songwriter Morgan Evans, among others. Town Hall plans to hold future events at the renovated Aggie Park once construction is complete. Neill added, “We want this to be a reputable event every year so that people are excited to attend.”
Together in Spirit
Town Hall students have the experience and enthusiasm required to fulfill that vision in spades, but funding remains an obstacle. Corporate sponsorships would almost certainly supplant the cost of operating the event, while private giving would allow greater leverage for booking talent. In addition to kickstarting 12th Jam, Town Hall hopes to collaborate with the athletics department in utilizing Reed Arena and Kyle Field as grand venues for other performances.
For Walker, bringing exciting shows to town means fostering togetherness in a university that has historically been defined by its community. “Music brings people together,” she said. “When you’re sitting next to someone at a concert who you’ve never met before and you're singing at the top of your lungs to your favorite song, it creates a bond that you don't get from any other type of experience. And there’s something amazing about having that on campus. That’s what Town Hall has the opportunity to provide.”
To learn how you can help MSC Town Hall bring exhilarating music and entertainment to Aggieland, contact Reagan Chesser '96, senior director of development for the Division of Student Affairs, below.