Because of Tom Matthews’ dedicated collecting, students have a permanent collection of 50 years of Geneseo’s concerts.
By Robyn Rime
Bonus track: YouTube can help you, too, relive Geneseo’s music history. See the MUSC 100 Playlist of Geneseo’s better-known performers.
In 1972, for the now-unimaginable price of $410, Aerosmith rocked the College Union Ballroom.
In 1970 — before liability concerns cracked down on room capacities — Schrader Gym packed thousands inside to hear Chicago.
And in 1974, Geneseo’s theater crew needed a crane to hoist a car onto the Wadsworth Auditorium stage for the Broadway touring production of “Grease.”
Tom Matthews has collected a lot of backstage stories like these. For 25 years as Geneseo’s student activities director (1967-1992), Matthews coordinated the details for thousands of musical performers, speakers, comedians, theatrical productions and other campus events. Fortunately, he also collected more than stories, accumulating a trove of promotional posters and miscellaneous ephemera that illustrate the dazzling, eclectic and often surprising history of music at Geneseo.
50 years of music history
The Matthews archive began humbly, he says, with a few autographed posters hung in his basement — which, he laughs, his wife eventually took down. Many items originated with the Student Association, but Matthews has continued to add materials over the years, consolidating performance information into a database and curating the collection to fill historical holes.
This fall, in conjunction with the college’s 150th anniversary, Geneseo is offering a MUSC 100 course grounded in the Matthews archive and representing more than 50 years of Geneseo musical history. The poster collection ranges from the mid-1960s through the late 2010s, says instructor Monica Hershberger, assistant professor of music, and provides a good entre into contemporary music history for the course’s non-music majors. The archive also contains an uncataloged collection of performer contracts, rescued from a trash bin by a far-seeing Matthews.
“I was blown away by the collection — it’s huge,” says music major Samantha Rompala ’23. She and another department intern spent weeks scanning hundreds of posters from thousands of performances. Since then, students in the course have begun organizing the material by decade and researching the musical history of the past half century.
A review of Matthews’ database shows a diverse array of performers. Most are little-known, such as student coffeehouse artists. But a good number are also a big deal, names famous enough then to be still famous today: Pete Seeger (December 1968), Neil Diamond (February 1970), Steve Martin (April 1976), Billy Joel (December 1976), James Taylor (October 1985), Howie Mandel (May 1991), Smash Mouth (November 1999) and Kid Cudi (April 2012).
Hershberger is captivated by the material from her own musical coming-of-age in the mid-’90s. “Growing up, the radio in our house was an NPR machine,” she says. “It wasn’t until I listened to the Top 40 at a friend’s house that I discovered pop music.” She fangirls over performers like Blues Traveler, Indigo Girls, and Sweet Honey in the Rock. “And Alanis Morrisette! She was here in December 1995, only a few months after the album ‘Jagged Little Pill ‘came out. I’m amazed we could get her.”
Bigger, better and more accessible
A wider public audience will soon have access to the Matthews collection. Students are mounting an exhibition in the Lederer Gallery this fall, with posters displayed in mock dorm room settings, each decorated to match the aesthetics of a specific decade. The posters, contracts, programs and other collection items will live in the college’s archive, and a Flickr gallery of images and a searchable open-access database are under development.
Matthews hopes to grow the collection — but there’s a hitch. The problem, everyone notes wryly, is that college students steal promotional posters, and the hotter the artist, the faster the posters disappear. “We had a huge artist like Ke$ha here (in 2011), and we don’t have a poster to show for it,” says music major and course TA Li Jensen ’22. “It’s really disappointing.”
“The collection is incomplete, and we’d like to engage alumni in adding to it, especially with autographed posters,” says Matthews. Might you be a Geneseo alum who spirited away a memento from a favorite performer?
Anyone interested in donating those materials to Geneseo should contact the college’s archivist Liz Argentieri at email@example.com or 585-245-5194.