FEATURED STORY

Before They Were Music Superstars, They Performed at Frostburg

BY TY DEMARTINO ’90

Remember that time Adam Levine sat on Frostburg State University's football field and meditated? Or the time the newly founded Joffrey Ballet danced its first-ever performance at a tiny teacher's college in Western Maryland? How about when Linda Ronstadt played Frisbee in the Upper Quad? Or when Sara Bareilles cuddled a fuzzy FSU teddy bear?

It appears every lucky FSU alum has his or her own "Gee, remember when …" story about famous acts coming to Frostburg. Some didn't realize they were with "future greatness," and memories may be a little hazy. But the truth remains – many tour buses chugged their way up the mountains of Western Maryland to perform on the stages of Frostburg State before their acts were selling out Madison Square Garden or the STAPLES Center. FSU concert organizers share the secrets of their successes and alumni recall their brushes with greatness.

In “Thee” Beginning …

This past November, when rapping sensation Megan Thee Stallion appeared as a musical guest on Saturday Night Live, current FSU students and alumni took to social media to reminisce about her sold-out show in Frostburg's Lane University Center – only one year earlier.

"We had a lot of dope artists that came to Frostburg, such as Lil DuVal, Chris Tucker, Rico Nasty, Lil Uzi Vert, Wild N' Out and Megan Thee Stallion," tweeted @_YungShaq250, also known as Sean Francis ’20.

Francis, a mass communication major now living in Washington, D.C., remembers the night vividly and the worldwide reaction to "Ms. Thee Stallion's" Frostburg show.

Megan "Thee" Stalion singing

"Once the concert was over, she uploaded a clip of her performance," he recalled. "The video hit over three million views the next day, and it went viral on all social media platforms! We were very excited when she did that."

The video in question prompted @ky_dizzle to tweet: "Frostburg. A school in the middle of nowhere got Megan Thee Stallion. … Like how?"

Well, @ky_dizzle, it's like this: Since Frostburg's early days, keen-eyed campus programmers have had a knack for being able to identify and book talent before they shoot to superstardom. Some call it intuition. Others call it networking. And sometimes, it can be a downright fluke.

“Frostburg. A school in the middle of nowhere got Megan Thee Stallion. … Like how?”

According to Bill Mandicott, assistant vice president of Student and Community Involvement, the division that oversees the University's Cultural Events Series and student programming, the trick of the trade is a little bit of all three.

"The secret to our success is simple – the sun and moon and stars align at the same time, sprinkled with a bit of old-fashioned luck," said Mandicott, who has been passionately involved in event planning for more than 40 years. Assembling a like-minded, passionate team of people committed to finding high-caliber acts also helps. He believes that passion has been alive at Frostburg since its early days.

"Look at the number of Grammy-awarded artists that graced our smaller stages – an incredible list of 'who's who' that goes back to the 1950s."

No, not The Who "who." Mandicott is referring to a dancing "who."

Flashback to Oct. 2, 1956: A fledgling dance troupe, in a borrowed station wagon, rolls into Frostburg to perform its first-ever show. That group of six dancers was the Joffrey Ballet, headed by founder and long-time artistic director Gerald Arpino. When Arpino returned to FSU in 1994 to receive the University Medallion, the school's highest honor, he recalled that inaugural performance and the wide-eyed reactions from Frostburg students.

"We found that they had never seen a pair of pointe shoes. They wanted to know how and when a dancer began," Arpino reflected. "It was revealing to us; we were preaching the gospel of dance!"

The 1950s and the 1960s also saw such acts like The Lettermen ("Put Your Head on My Shoulder"), The Coasters ("Yakety Yak"), Percy Sledge ("When a Man Loves a Woman"), The Peppermint Rainbow ("Will You Be Staying After Sunday?") and others grace Frostburg stages on their way to bigger success back in the day.

“That’ll Be the Day”

Picture this: A warm Frostburg spring day, May 1972. A young, fresh-faced singer named Linda Ronstadt is scheduled to perform with the Canadian group Lighthouse, known for its songs "Sunny Days" and "Pretty Lady." On this sunny day, this pretty lady was in the midst of a blossoming solo career, having come off a stint with the Laurel Canyon band The Stone Poneys.

Ronstadt's show was nestled between a reading by author Jack London on Tuesday and a coffee house show with Emerson's Old Timey Custard-Sucking Band on Thursday. The hefty $2.75 price of a Ronstadt concert ticket outraged some Bobcats, who thought it should be included as part of their student activity fee.

Of course, Ronstadt's ticket prices would later soar, along with her career, having such hits as "You're No Good," "Blue Bayou," "When Will I Be Loved" and a sweet song for that cute cartoon mouse Fievel, "Somewhere Out There." She would eventually be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014.

Linda Ronstadt

Alum Evelyn Lucic Medcalf ’74 recalled not being able to get a ticket to the Ronstadt concert because it sold out too quickly. Medcalf did, however, score one even better. She recalls spying on the 26-year-old Ronstadt living the life of an average Frostburg college student.

"I watched her the day before the concert playing Frisbee in the quad with several students and dogs running around," Medcalf remembered.

Gosh, if only Medcalf had the ability to tweet that moment back then.

From there, the 1970s, '80s, '90s and '00s saw young acts at Frostburg like Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam ("Head to Toe"), Jimmie's Chicken Shack ("High"), The Roots ("You Got Me," The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon house band), The Fugees with Lauryn Hill ("Killing Me Softly With His Song") and A Tribe Called Quest ("Can I Kick It?"). But, arguably, Frostburg's biggest "get" came in 2004 when an up-and-coming band performed what seemed like minutes before being launched into superstardom, accompanied by an unknown female singer who was "not" about to write the world a "Love Song."

“This Love”

It's safe to say that Jill King ’05 loves producing. Whether it's in her current position as executive producer/showrunner for The Mix on FOXSOUL or as a senior producer for The Real, Steve Harvey and Rachael Ray shows, King's passion for production was nurtured at FSU as a member of the University Programming Council. While she booked groups like Head Automatica and The Starting Line, she remembers snagging an up-and-coming band called Maroon 5 to perform at Frostburg's spring concert. Their most recent single, "This Love," was already playing 24/7 on radio stations, and they were about to be international sensations.

But the story gets better. Another unknown female singer called King and ... we'll let King tell the story:

April 24, 2004: "I remember when [Maroon 5] first arrived on the bus early in the day. It was really warm outside, so Adam went to meditate on the football field by himself. I hung out with their tour manager and Jesse [Carmichael], the keyboard player. I remember we had some really great conversations and they taught me a lot about the music business," King said.

Maroon 5

The band received the "full Frostburg experience" when the warm, meditating-worthy weather suddenly moved faster than a certain lead singer of The Rolling Stones.

"Right before the concert, it started snowing in April!" King recalled. "So Maroon 5 was exposed to Frostburg's crazy weather."

“I was blown away. ... A Rolling Stone writer was covering Maroon 5's rise to success, and they were doing it at my school. It was incredible!”

Speaking of rolling stones, King remembers a near run-in with a writer from the music magazine by that name. "I ran a very tight ship," she said. "The band had gotten so popular that it was very important to keep backstage safe and secure." So when she saw an uncredentialed guy wandering backstage with a notepad, King and Frostburg security were about to toss him until Maroon 5 management confirmed that he was a Rolling Stone magazine reporter doing a cover story on the band (June 10, 2004, for those who are curious. Frostburg coverage starts in paragraph seven).

"I was blown away," King said. "A Rolling Stone writer was covering Maroon 5's rise to success, and they were doing it at my school. It was incredible!"

To top off that experience, King had received a message weeks before the concert from a manager of a little-known singer named Sara Bareilles. He asked if Bareilles could open for Maroon 5 and sent King a link to her music.

"I wrote back and told them I didn't have much of a budget but offered what I could because when I heard her music, I knew she was amazing," King said.

And Bareilles amazed audiences that night, despite her nerves.

"I remember Sara telling me she was super nervous. I got her a 'Someone at Frostburg Loves You' bear and she put it on her keyboard," King said.

During the opening set, Levine stood next to King backstage.

"He leaned in and said, 'Who is this girl?' And I told him her name, and he said he wanted to meet her after the show." One year later, Bareilles would sign with a label and go on to win a Grammy, as did Maroon 5.

"I've crossed paths with her a few times throughout the years, and she still remembers opening for Maroon 5 at Frostburg," King said.

Memories

But when the concert stages go dark and the tour buses roll out of Frostburg, the memories and that special sense of community are all that remain (along with the photos and tweets), according to Mandicott.

"Our primary goal in making these incredible performances – these lifetime memories – happen is really about building community and creating experiences that bring us together," he added.

Francis couldn't agree more about getting to see Megan Thee Stallion perform up close and personal on his college campus.

"It was one of my most memorable moments at Frostburg State University."

What are YOUR concert memories at Frostburg State? Share them with us at alumni@frostburg.edu.