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Remembering the most unbelievable and unexpected musical performances in Bryan-College Station history, from Elvis to Lady Gaga.

By Bailey Payne ’19

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Texas A&M is not known for music; yet historically speaking, you might be surprised.“

So Robert Earl Keen ’78 writes in the forward for the 2017 book, “Live from Aggieland: Legendary Performances in the Brazos Valley,” a celebration and exploration of some of the most striking performances to grace Bryan-College Station published by the Texas A&M University Press.

Author Rob Clark ’95 covered the music beat for The Eagle, a local newspaper, for years before a deep dive into Cushing Memorial Library and Archives inspired him to write the book. “I stumbled across clippings from The Eagle and The Battalion about a Johnny Cash concert in 1965,” Clark recalled. “I was fascinated because I had no idea it had happened.”

Clark’s book and local media coverage help community members remember the melodic moments that brought them together.

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IN THE WILLIE WAY

Willie Nelson at Texas World Speedway

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A storm encroached upon College Station unlike any it had seen before, as hippies and country folk alike descended on the outskirts of town for Willie Nelson’s second annual Fourth of July Picnic at Texas World Speedway.

The three-day festival’s lineup was stacked with acts like Leon Russell, Waylon Jennings and Nelson himself. The picnic went off mostly without incident, except on the first day when a parking lot fire engulfed more than a dozen cars, including one owned by a teenaged Robert Earl Keen ’78.

The King Before His Reign

Elvis Presley at G. Rollie White Coliseum

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A year before he appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and broke into the national mainstream, Elvis Presley was a flamboyant rockabilly up-and-comer from northern Mississippi. He had made some buzz on the Louisiana Hayride radio program by the time he played in Aggieland in 1955, but he was still far from pop royalty.

Arriving at the newly-christened G. Rollie White Coliseum in a white Cadillac and flamingo pink jacket, Presley awed students with a signature hip-gyrating performance. At one point, the singer spit his gum onto the stage floor and reportedly angered some of the cadets. The soon-to-be King of Rock and Roll promptly apologized before finishing his set and bidding Aggieland good night.

The Man in Black

Johnny Cash at Lakeview Amusement Club

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Gen. James Earl Rudder ’32 put his foot down: Johnny Cash was not playing on campus. MSC Town Hall, a student organization focused on planning concerts, had invited The Man in Black to play the night of Bonfire at the height of his career. But after police officers arrested Cash on drug charges, Rudder’s administration barred the show from campus.

While many students understood the administration’s position, an independent student task force successfully moved the show to the nearby Lakeview Amusement Club in Bryan, where Cash played to a raucous crowd of 1,000. Though he didn’t mention the controversy directly, he dedicated the song “Dirty Old Egg-Sucking Dog” to “the man who changed our location.”

It Was Loud

The Ramones at The Parthenon

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By 1988, The Ramones had seen, done and played it all. From 1974 to 1996, the New York punk icons reportedly played 2,263 concerts, averaging nearly 103 shows per year. One of those shows happened at The Parthenon, a College Station venue that current residents now know as The Tap.

Attendees had one word to describe the event: loud. “It was like a locomotive coming through the club,” one concertgoer said. After the adrenaline-pumping set, bassist Dee Dee Ramone approached the show’s promoter, Bill Allen, backstage and asked for help blowing up a pumpkin with two M-80 firecrackers outside. Allen gleefully accepted, and The Ramones left Aggieland with a bang.

He Showed Up in Boots

Garth Brooks at Reed Arena

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Garth Brooks was perhaps the biggest name in music in 1998, so he shocked the Aggie community when he picked the newly-opened Reed Arena as the last stop on his world tour. Fans lined up around the block at the Reed box office and bought out tickets for all three shows in hours.

In Clark’s review of the show for The Eagle, he describes the energy in the arena when the crowd recognized “Friends in Low Places,” Brooks’ biggest hit. “The simple four-note beginning sparked the loudest local roar since the Aggie football team beat Nebraska” earlier that year, he wrote.

One Night, Five Presidents and a Million Reasons

Lady Gaga at Reed Arena

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It was already a historic night before Lady Gaga showed up. In the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, all five living former U.S. presidents at the time—Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama—had formed the nonprofit One America Appeal and planned a concert at Reed Arena to raise funds for recovery efforts.

The concert featured performances from Alabama, Sam Moore, Yolanda Adams, Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen ’78. Rumors of Lady Gaga’s surprise appearance swirled around town beforehand, and cheers erupted as the 11-time Grammy winner emerged to play an austere set of ballads on a white Steinway piano. The world-famous pop provocateur sang to heal as much as she did to entertain, and Aggies left the arena overwhelmed in the best sense of the word.

OTHER NOTABLE PERFORMANCES

Nat “King” Cole, 1956
Johnny Mathis, 1967
Simon and Garfunkel, 1967
Elton John, 1972
John Denver, 1972
B.B. King, 1972
Journey, 1976
Steve Martin, 1978
Bob Hope, 1980
Charley Pride, 1982
Lionel Richie, 1982
Cheap Trick, 1983
Iggy Pop, 1987
R.E.M, 1987, 1989
Reba McEntire, 1990, 1992
Digital Underground, 1992
No Doubt, 1992
Fugazi, 1993
Green Day, 1993
Chris Rock, 1994
They Might Be Giants, 1995
Shania Twain, 1998
The Chicks, 1998
(Formerly Dixie Chicks)
Yellowcard, 2006
Soulja Boy, 2007
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