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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Flagel, student organizers differ on Dylan concert proposal

Published: November 16, 2012
Section: Front Page, News

Senior Vice President for Students and Enrollment Andrew Flagel leaked to the Justice last week that it would cost approximately $300,000 to book Bob Dylan for Brandeis’ potential Folk Festival in April. While declining to give specific costs for the rest of the project, the benefits, he said, might still exceed the cost of the expenditure.

“We thought it would be in our best interest to not discuss money as students because we would not be dealing with it,” said Jesse Manning ’13, one of the student organizers of the event. “We made a conscious effort, both at the presentation and just in general, to not disclose any financials.”

Flagel, who has been “consistently impressed” with the students organizing the event, says the booking price of Dylan is one factor, “I think the price listed, which was not in my understanding, a final number, is one consideration in the business model.”

Previously, Manning had not given a specific cost for the headliner, but Flagel told the Justice last week that the university has offered $300,000 for Dylan’s booking price. While Dylan has yet to be officially engaged for the venture, the offer submitted by a former consultant to Dylan’s agent was slightly lower.

Manning explained he and the other student organizers were reticent to give specific costs, both because they were not involved in university finances beyond the business plan they presented to the administration and because dollar amounts were “out of context” for the student body.

While a few students expressed reticence in online comments to spend $300,000 on a concert rather than other services they felt were more pressing, Pilger explained that the money was not a general fund. If it were not used for Dylan, it would not be used at all.

“It’s not like we’re have $300,000 of fluid cash for student events. We came up with a project that needed that money,” Pilger said.

“It’s about scope,” said Alex Pilger ’13, who with Manning spearheaded the Folkfest project. In a town hall meeting last week, the organizers had ensured that the university stood to profit from the venture, the cost of tickets to non-Brandeis students covering all of the incurred costs, including Bob Dylan as the headline act.

“It’s not that we didn’t want to tell the student body,” says Manning. “We didn’t think it was in the best interest of the forums we were going through.” Organizers Manning, Pilger and Mikey Zonenashvili ’13 felt that the number would alarm people who were not familiar with booking bands or the entire budget of the project.

“It’s just hard for people who aren’t looking at the whole budget,” Manning said.

“I think that the number scares a lot of people,” Pilger explained. “I think a lot of people see the number and they go ‘Oh my god,’ but I think it’s not fair, without knowing the rest of the budget, it would be ridiculous for us to explain the rest of the budget to people as well, it’s just too intricate. But I would be hard-pressed to say that people wouldn’t be scared by it.”

“I believe most students don’t object to exploring campus opportunities if the external revenue from those programs can cover some or all of the related costs and we are still in the midst of reviewing whether that is true in this proposal,” Flagel said.

Student response, however, seems undeterred by the announcement of Dylan’s price, according to Manning. “Even the reaction we’ve received thus far has been positive,” he said.

Brandeis’ 50th Anniversary Folk Festival would bring Bob Dylan back to campus half a century after his last concert here in 1963, just two weeks before the release of his second album. If approved by the university, it would bring Dylan as well as other bands to the campus for an entire day of acts, headlined by Dylan. The following day would be Brandeis’ annual Springfest.

The plan would bring approximately 4,000 people not from the Brandeis community to campus at $100 a ticket. Brandeis students would have free entry to the event.

The size of the outside audience is one of the largest concerns for the administration. According to Flagel, the revenue and press the university receives from the event might just outweigh the risks of the larger audience. What Manning and the other organizers addressed as a logistical obstacle, which proper space and amenities had to be provided for, Flagel sees as one of the benefits of the might-be folk festival.

“Bob Dylan plays a wide variety of campuses and while this would be an anniversary of an important recording, it seems unlikely to make much in the way of news,” Flagel said. “Bringing major concerts that bring large external audiences to campus, however, has potential to be a longer term benefit to our campus life, if we can manage the logistical issues and financial risk.”