CEDAR FALLS - The Dome is rockin' again.
On July 14, Fleetwood Mac will take the UNI-Dome stage for the first time in 22 years.
It will be a landmark day for the Dome as well. The last legendary act to take the stage was Pink Floyd, 17 years ago.
Though the Dome has had its ups and downs in booking major acts, the landmark bubble seems to be hitting its stride once again.
"It's really an initiative of the university and the athletic department to bring in bigger concerts to improve the quality of life for Cedar Valley residents and a way to get the arena up and running," says Heather Tousignant, director of operations for athletic facilities. The university plans to break ground on a new arena Homecoming weekend, with a projected finish date of September 2006. The arena would hold some of the smaller shows now taking place in the Dome, and free up more dates to bring in live music.
"Having big concerts is something we want to get back into," says Tousignant. "We have a great history in it and want to get back into it."
The Dome has seen its share of rock stars and supergroups over the years, including Chicago, the Grateful Dead, Ray Charles, The Who and even the Rolling Stones.
But, the Dome came within a few notes of never having rock 'n' roll reverberate off its sloped roof. Dr. Robert Stansbury, vice-president of administrative services at University of Northern Iowa when the Dome opened in 1976, dashed student hopes of ever hearing their favorite groups on a UNI stage.
"I cannot conceive of a rock-type concert in the UNI-Dome," he said in a Feb. 24, 1976, Northern Iowa article. Though he believed each proposed event should be considered separately, Stansbury voiced concerns of damaging the artificial turf of the football field and illegal drug use.
He wasn't the only one. UNI faculty and students debated the issue for months, bringing up issues of high concert costs and poor acoustics in the "Great Pumpkin," as the Dome was nicknamed. Even after Harry Chapin performed during the Dome's Grand Opening Weekend in September 1976, the debate continued. Chapin was a folk artist - just a man and his guitar - and some questioned whether unplugged events were all the Dome could handle.
Soon, all the potential problems smoothed out, hosting rock group Chicago just one month after the Chapin concert.
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Julie Bright, senior associate athletic director, has been with UNI since the Dome opened and worked behind the scenes in many of the concerts. She remembers some of the unique acts that passed through and the situations surrounding them.
Steve Martin, who visited in 1978 at the beginning of his career, was the "most unusual" type of act to be seen on the Dome stage and for Bright to listen to behind the scenes.
"We called it a concert, but usually for most concerts, it was loud and crazy and really exciting, but (at the Martin show) you would walk out to use the restroom and it was absolutely quiet," says Bright. "We had a nice crowd, but since it was a singular actor talking, they had to listen carefully for all the jokes. It was eerie."
In March of 1980, ZZ Top canceled a planned show, due to some of the members falling ill, but, says Bright, "it fell pretty closely on the heels of what ticket sales were," which was around 1,700. "It was the only act we refunded on."
The Rolling Stones had the most unique tickets at a Dome event in 1981. They were "a special red aluminum foil ticket with a big tongue," according to Bright. It was the first time the university didn't print its own tickets, which was usually done for inventory control.
And it was Fleetwood Mac's first visit to UNI in 1979 that secured the Dome's historical concert venue status.
"That was the first major concert that put us on the map. It firmly established us as a major concert hall," says Bright. The monumental show was done for a flat fee, instead of a certain percentage of ticket sales, and the band made out like a bandit. More than 25,500 people attended the 1979 show, setting an attendance record that still stands today.
Gail Briddle, UNI library assistant and 1981 graduate, remembers the first Fleetwood Mac show as her first big concert experience.
"I was overwhelmed. It was absolutely packed," says Briddle. "I've never seen that many people in the Dome."
She says she doesn't plan on attending the July show, but she sees why the group is still as popular as in 1979.
"My boyfriend's parents are in their late 50s, and they said, 'If we could go, that would be great.' I think it's drawing all ages," says Briddle.