When the snarling rock band L7 enters the Stock Pavilion’s roomy make-shift dressing room Saturday, they’ll be sharing space with decades-old agriculture trophies – UW’s award from the 1957 National Livestock and Meat contest! – that line one wall.
The band also might notice a slight stench lingering from a recent farm event at this University of Wisconsin-Madison facility.
Then, during the show, it’s possible that the roar of a train and its thundering whistle from neighboring tracks will be heard. The noisy L7 likely wouldn’t notice, but, in 1925, Irish tenor John McCormack stopped mid-song and disgustedly waited for the train to pass.
And, finally, L7’s fans will stand on the same dirt floor where UW students sat on chairs during graduation ceremonies in the 1910s.
When the concert – the Stock Pavilion’s first since 1986 – ends, L7 will join an astonishing array of performers and speakers who have appeared at the facility, dubbed “the cow barn”: Harry Truman, Marian Anderson, R.E.M., Serge Rachmaninoff, William Howard Taft, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Billy Joel, Lawrence Tibbett, Allen Ginsberg, Psychedelic Furs, New York Symphony Orchestra, Robert Kennedy . . .
Van Cliburn, Eugene Debs, English Beat, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, William Jennings Bryan, Siegel-Schwall Band, Theodore Roosevelt, Bonnie Raitt and many more.
From 1923 through the mid-’70s, the Stock Pavilion, which opened in 1909, served as an unlikely home to dozens of major classical music shows. The arena was suited for these events because of several factors: size (capacity could reach 3,000), location (it’s on campus, next to Babcock Hall’s Dairy Store) and acoustics.
Divas and dairy cows under one roof? Yep.
“It’s a wonderful building with a marvelous feel to it,” says Art Hove, author of the text to the book “University of Wisconsin: A Pictorial History.”
Artists’ impressions were mixed. Soprano Madame Galli Curci vowed never to perform in the “cow barn” again; but opera legend Anderson agreed to play there three times.
Eventually, the 1,300-seat Union Theater and the 2,200-seat downtown Madison Civic Center developed as the venues of choice among classical music fans who wanted something more than the Stock Pavilion’s concrete bleachers and tarp-covered floor.
Rock bands, though, continued to make the Stock Pavilion a tour stop. In May 1985, R.E.M. played a sold-out show here, the second-to-last major music event in the facility.
By 1986, city and UW safety officials knocked the Stock Pavilion’s capacity down from 3,000 to 1,200 (due to limited exit space), virtually ruining its financial viability as a prominent rock concert facility.
The Stock Pavilion, meanwhile, continued as it always had in its chief role: a learning center for School of Agriculture students. In fact, the building’s size was determined in 1908 by an architect who had a six-horse team driven in a circle to help decide the Pavilion’s dimensions.
Last year, the student-run Memorial Union Music and Entertainment Committee wanted to find an on-campus venue that could handle a rough-and-tumble rock show and eyed the Stock Pavilion.
Although its capacity is still 1,200, the Stock Pavilion is a concert venue again, in part because concertgoers are willing to ante up for mid-priced tickets ($13 or $14 in the case of L7) on non-mainstream acts.
The committee’s members have been working with Madison promoter Tag Evers of Tag Team Productions for more than a year to bring a show to the Stock Pavilion. (In fact, the UW was outbid by UW-Eau Claire for a Mudhoney show last fall.)
“We can’t put L7 in the Union Theater,” says Todd Zeff, a UW senior who heads the committee. “It’s not appropriate. People want to dance. The Stock Pavilion has a lot of space, good acoustics and a soft floor.”
The latter is perfect for the physical nature of the slam dance-type mosh pit that’s expected for L7. It’s a far cry from the refined – maybe too refined – atmosphere at the Civic Center.
Ralph Russo, the Music and Entertainment Committee adviser, realizes Saturday’s show will help determine whether the Stock Pavilion returns to being a rock venue.
“It’s not a fun thing for the ag school. They’re not excited about us doing shows down here,” Russo says. “At the same time, we feel strongly about making sure everything runs smoothly.”
Asked about the situation, one ag professor was more miffed by an interviewer’s description that the Stock Pavilion was “reopening” – it has never closed to livestock – than the rock show itself.
The promoters, meanwhile, believe L7 is the perfect band to reopen, er, continue the Stock Pavilion’s wide use.
“L7 is brash and a breaking-new-ground type of band,” Evers says. “Any band that comes out with an album called `Hungry for Stink’ (L7’s latest release) is perfect for the Stock Pavilion.”