BYU has been slowly welcoming musical acts back to campus with Andy Grammer in 2014 along with other local Provo bands, including The National Parks. Artists like these bring small crowds to campus and usually sell out, but there are no more than a couple hundred tickets available. But many students want acts that allow for a more interactive student experience.
“I would like bands like Phoenix to come to the Marriott center. Something with a fun atmosphere that would liven up our weekends in Provo, ” said Ashton Strauss, a BYU student from Park City.
Between 1973 and 1987, BYU welcomed over 40 major artists that had No. 1 radio hits, including Elton John, Billy Joel, Journey, The Cars, Boston and Barry Manilow.
Tickets sold fast, at only $5 to $6. The 19,000-seat Marriott Center was occasionally filled to capacity, reported a March 1979 Billboard article.
These artists were even willing to modify their acts to fit in with BYU standards, agreeing to abide by no-smoking and no-drinking contracts and keep their dress and profanity in line, according to the article.
Quint Randle, a communications professor and a current member of the band Joshua Creek, said he would love to “expand the idea of what would be appropriate for campus.” He referenced James Taylor’s performance with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and said if that was possible, then both BYU and Taylor should have no problem with the musician playing a concert on campus.
“I’d like to see bigger groups come to campus and more tickets,” said BYU student Briana Warner, who attended the Andy Grammar concert in 2014. “When Andy Grammer was here, he was just at the Wilkinson Center, so not many people could go. Top hit artists at the Marriott Center would be so cool.”
The brief stint of rock concerts on campus continued until the late 1980s while Elder Jeffery R. Holland was president of BYU.
According to BYU alum Elliot Mason and Randle, both of whom attended BYU during these concerts, Billy Joel made a comment before his 1986 performance in the Marriott Center about “Only the Good Die Young” that triggered the downfall of BYU concerts.
“I’m not trying to convert anyone; I just want to provide you with an alternative,” Joel told the audience, according to a 2013 Universe article.
Others who attended BYU during this period attribute the death of big-name concerts on campus to Elton John’s and Neil Diamond’s performances, where the singers used expletive language.
Communications professor Steve Thomsen recalled that many students during his time at BYU sent complaints to the university regarding the length of Diamond’s hair. Diamond heard about these complaints, and Thomsen remembered Diamond saying, “You invite me here, and then insult me?”
“The church leaders’ assessment of rock music was tied to the morality of the artist and the message of the lyrics, and rightfully so, but the blanket assessment that led to no more concerts was too broad for all artists of that genre,” Mason said. Mason attended BYU from 1981 to 1985 during the peak of these shows and attended many of them. Mason felt when Elder Holland was in charge of the university, he was a “no-nonsense guy who just decided that was it.”
“The closest thing that we have to these concerts now is the Stadium of Fire,” Randle said, referring to both The Beach Boys’ performance as well as Journey this past year.
University spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said the Marriott Center no longer holds concerts because “there are many more facilities in Utah and Salt Lake counties that have the facilities to host concerts. Many in the entertainment business prefer those facilities for several reasons, such as the staff available to load and unload equipment.”
Jenkins also said the Marriott Center is booked constantly for sports and other events.
One day, larger-scale concerts may be welcomed back to BYU’s Marriott Center or its other facilities on campus, but for now it seems that the venues outside of campus will hold the bigger names.
At this year’s BYU spectacular, musician and student David Archuleta drew a sold out show, prompting a second wave of tickets. Events such as this show that there’s still a large demand for big shows at BYU, and students can only hope that big-name artists are welcomed back to campus for events like the BYU Spectacular.