|When the Stars Come Out|
In 1965, members of the Brown Club of Rhode Island and the Pembroke Club of Providence decided to stage a Commencement-weekend concert in honor of the University's bicentennial. They engaged actress-singer Martha Wright and the Rhode Island Philharmonic, and 2,100 people turned out on the Pembroke campus for an evening that the July 1965 issue of the BAM pronounced "an overwhelming success." Little did those first organizers know that the Pops Concert, conceived as a one-time event, would take its place alongside such staples as Campus Dance and Commencement forums in the liturgy of reunion weekend.
1996 headliner Rita Moreno
Three decades later, 4,000 people plunk down around $40 apiece (the price varies by table location) to attend the Pops Concert, now held on the main Green to accommodate the crowd. It is, by all accounts, a magical evening, and not simply because of the music. "It's the ambiance," says Teresa Gagnon Mellone '39, a member of the planning committee and a Pops Concert patron for two decades. "It's just something special, with University Hall illuminated in the background and the lanterns all over the Green."
The evening's seamless elegance, however, belies the many months of planning and haggling that bring it to fruition. For example, selecting an entertainer and negotiating a contract can be excruciating, says Stephen Nugent '69, cochair of the planning committee. Not only does the committee have to agree on a performer who will appeal to an audience that runs the gamut from teenagers to nonagenarians, but it has to work within the confines of a budget.
Ray Charles, this year's headliner, fits the bill. "We're spending more for him than we've ever spent," admits Nugent, but he deems Charles well worth the price because of his broad appeal. "It's getting harder and harder to get the kinds of artists we associate with a Pops concert," Mellone says. "The musical tastes of young people are different."
This year's spectacle will follow in the grand tradition of concerts past, when the likes of Michael Feinstein, Marvin Hamlisch, Maureen McGovern, and even Partridge Family matriarch Shirley Jones have graced the stage, accompanied by the Philharmonic. With Charles on board, the committee's big-gest worry is that rain might force the event inside Meehan Auditorium, which can accommodate only 3,300. "It hasn't rained in ten years," says a hopeful Nugent, "but then again, it's not every year that we're contending with El Niño.