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Nirvana Comes to KU

October 17, 1991


The Kansas Union has been the host to many campus events, and the Union Ballroom has had its share of well-known celebrities perform there.  These celebrities range from Knute Rockne to Admiral Byrd, from Frank Sinatra to All-Star Wrestling. But the appearance of the Seattle-based grunge rock group Nirvana continues to be one of the most memorable events for students of the last decade of the 20th Century.

Brad Roosa, KU alum, was the SUA Live Music Chair in 1991 and the student responsible for booking Nirvana to play in the ballroom. He has a great memory and a special fondness for this particular event that Student Union Activities (SUA) presented.

“When we booked the band in the Spring of 1991, for the following October play, ‘Nevermind’ was just a bunch of rough demo’s that I was able to hear, while visiting their agent, in Los Angeles. I knew, even in this rough form, that I was listening to something really special and wanted to be involved. Little did I or anyone else for that matter know that this band and that album would literally change an entire musical landscape the world over. By the time we put tickets on-sale for the ballroom, things were just starting to happen. I think we all got a glimpse of what was to come based on how quickly the tickets sold and who was buying them. The show sold out in just a few days. Which, at the time, was a record for any ballroom show. This was before the internet, buying online, phone orders, etc. If you wanted a ticket you had to come to the SUA box office to get one. But what really got our attention wasn’t how fast the tickets sold, rather, who was buying them! People who you would not expect to be buying a ticket to see a punk band out of Seattle, were coming in droves from all over. This band and that record, in that moment in time, crossed all boundaries. I think that’s when we all realized something absolutely extraordinary was happening”.

Besides watching the show and the reaction they got from KU students and Lawrence residents alike; he recollected one of his fondest memories didn’t happen in the venue, rather, behind it. The band came to Lawrence in a beat up old Ford Econoline van pulling a trailer and, as it happened, based on the growing success of the record and tour wound up being the night that Nirvana got their first tour bus. It was delivered to them right behind the Union where Artist’s would load in the shows. They literally arrived in town in a van and left in a tour bus.

Brad remembers getting to go on the tour bus after the show and how amazed even the band was with their newfound success. “It was almost like the only ones their burgeoning fame was lost on; was them. They were laughing about how surreal it all was. It was this really cool, honest and self-effacing moment that I will never forget.” He describes the October 1991 Nirvana concert as one of those “lighting in a bottle” moments you read about but never think you will be a part of. “It definitely set me on my path in the music business I have followed ever since.”

What years were you at KU? 1987 – 1993

What have you been up to since SUA? I was fortunate to spend almost six magical years at the University of Kansas. Somehow, despite my best efforts to the contrary, I managed to get a B.S. In Broadcast Journalism. In that time, I bamboozled my parents into floating a six year education that affords me neither the title of doctor nor lawyer. Good times.

Realizing there was no absolutely no money to be made in Journalism, I tried to think how I could make insane amounts of money, live in prolonged adolescence, have almost no responsibility, never wear a suit, never act like a grown up and get paid to drink, travel and eat. All roads pointed to the music business.

Forsaking the better judgement of everyone in my life, I jumped headfirst into the “biz” and have never looked back.

I was on the road for two years “paying my dues” with baby bands fortunate to be touring with some greats like Social Distortion, Rev. Horton Heat and Monster Magnet, to name a few.

In 1994, I traded a life of riding tour buses for riding a desk and went to work as a concert promoter / talent buyer with PACE Concerts, in Houston, Texas. After that Company was bought, sold, re-bought and then turned public; I realized that working for a publicly traded company was beholden to being labotomized on a daily basis with a dull knife. Talk about the hampster and the wheel. Maximum respect to those of you that seek those ‘green’ pastures………

I left there, hooked up with a legend in the music business and was a tour promoter for the three years In that time they I managed to fail upwards becoming the Senior Vice President of TMG, in Houston, Texas.

My duties were to oversee all aspects of concerts (talent acquisition and negotiation / tour management / to event production) from stadiums, to arenas, to theaters for Artists like: Pearl Jam, Justin Timberlake, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Beastie Boys, Foo Fighters, Tom Petty, George Strait and Kenny Chesney – to name a few. I then worked on two years of touring with Nickelback as their tour promoter.

From there, I joined Union Entertainment Group as an Artist Manager / Touring director and now get to to work alongside, witness and surround myself with some of the most exciting, creative and amazing people in the entertainment world and guide their careers top to bottom. Quite simply, I get paid to babysit rock stars and travel the world. Hard to call that a job.
Source Notes

[Source Notes: Notes from J.J. O’Toole-Curran, Director of Union Programs, from a discussion with Brad Roosa, SUA Live Music Chair 1991.  Brad was the student responsible for bringing KU the Nirvana concert on October 17, 1991.