A peek behind the scenes at The Bryce Jordan Center

June 05, 2003

By Chris Koleno Public Information University Park, Pa. -- The Bryce Jordan Center on Penn State's University Park campus plays host to dozens of concert events a year and draws hundreds of thousands of fans to the area. But what takes place on the stage during these events is only half the story. Each celebrity that performs at the venue commonly referred to simply as "Penn State," comes with his or her own unique personality, quirks and demands. A NASA-certified solar blanket (Bush), 54 varieties of soap and a gallon of peanut butter (David Copperfield), and The London Times (Tori Amos) are among the oddest requests by artists performing at The Bryce Jordan Center, according to Bernie Punt, director of sales and marketing for the center on the Penn State University Park campus. "The London Times arrived a day late and NASA was unable to release the blanket, but that gives you some idea how far we go to try and fill the performers' requests," Punt said. With illegal downloading taking its toll on CD sales, artists are becoming increasingly reliant on tours for revenue. The Jordan Center has become a sought-after stop for many of these performers. Initially projected to pull in five to 10 concert events per year, the center has averaged 36 touring events annually since its construction in 1996. Cited as a venue away from it all, the center offers all the amenities and professionalism of larger venues, but with a staff that provides the friendly smiles not often found at the larger venues. "That's one thing the artists talk about, how friendly everyone is," said Punt. In 1996, the willingness to go the extra mile led one Jordan Center employee to give up his personal Jeep when country music superstar Tim McGraw, who was touring with Faith Hill, asked if anyone had an off-road vehicle. After acquiring use of the vehicle, McGraw quietly asked Hill if she wanted to tag along. During a VH1 program on Faith Hill's life, the Jordan Center staff's role in this romance was brought to light. When asked when her romance with McGraw began Hill pointed to a nice spring day and a Jeep ride around Central Pennsylvania. She continued by saying she has a photograph that she carries with her everywhere. She pulled out a Polaroid of her and McGraw in a Jeep and looming in the background, The Bryce Jordan Center. McGraw and Hill are now married and have three daughters. The photo Hill pulled out during that VH1 program was taken by Jamie Brown, the owner of the 1978 CJ5. "I think it's pretty neat," Brown said when asked about lending his Jeep to McGraw. Brown was unaware of the significance of this Jeep ride until a friend pointed out a People Magazine article and a mention of it. Special little touches are a part of the family-like atmosphere that leads to the center's success. Before McGraw's second concert at the Jordan Center, T-shirts were made for him and Hill with the Penn State and Jordan Center logos on either side and the saying "Where it All Began." At his most recent concert at the center, following his father Tug McGraw's surgery, McGraw was given T-shirts that read "You Gotta Believe," the slogan the elder McGraw created for the New York Mets while he played on the team. Faith Hill again turned her sights to Central Pennsylvania when deciding what to get McGraw for his birthday this year — she bought the Jeep from their ride together in 1996. Jamie Brown said that Hill planned to present McGraw, on tour in Utah at the time of his birthday, with the Jeep's glove box door. The two of them had signed the glove box for Brown in 1996. Not only do the employees get to meet celebrities, but also the stars themselves go beyond the walls of the Jordan Center to mingle among the local Penn State population. Punt describes performer Garth Brooks as "a large hyperactive child in a man's body." On various occasions Brooks would anonymously wander among his fans, bike around campus and play football with the Nittany Lions. In 1996 Brooks, a country music superstar, performed at five consecutive sold-out concerts at the center. Following one of these concerts, Brooks decided he wanted to learn how to "check hard" from Joe Battista and the Penn State Icers. Checking is an ice hockey term for the art of using your hip or shoulder to slow or stop your opponent, above the knee and below the neck. Brooks must have been a quick study, because the following week the Jordan Center staff received a call. Ray Bourque, an all-star player for Boston Bruins at the time, had been "checked hard" by Garth Brooks. When asked where he had learned to check like that, Brooks replied, "Penn State." Learning all the right hockey moves isn't the only service available to the performers while at Penn State. The Jordan Center staff works closely with the athletic department to provide the artists with last-minute weight room time, sideline football tickets and workouts with the Lady Lion Basketball team, among others. But the impact of the Jordan Center goes beyond the campus and has a positive affect on local businesses. While in town the performers have been sighted at local bars, restaurants and hotels. These businesses are excited to play host not only to the artist, but also to the fans the artists draw. "It's wonderful, terrific for the community. We are really lucky to have world-class, famous acts. It's a fabulous opportunity," said Maggie Pat Biddle, general manager of The Atherton Hotel. "The Bryce Jordan Center always helps The Atherton. We fill a considerable number of rooms with Bryce Jordan Center guests," Biddle continued. Bernie Punt shares Biddle's enthusiasm for the positive effects of the Jordan Center. Part of his job there is to satisfy the needs of the fans by bringing in the performers they want to see. However, one artist gave him "the greatest thrill ever in my life" by taking that one step further. Punt was given the task of selecting two fans to leave their assigned seats and take their place in the front row of the concert. He selected a couple who had arrived one and a half hours early to take their place in seats that were as far from the stage area as possible. Punt walked up to the couple and asked to see their tickets. After showing him their tickets, they were promptly told that they were in the wrong seats as he simultaneously exchanged their nose-bleed tickets with two front-row, floor seats. The couple's emotions ranged from overwhelming excitement, arms pumping and screaming to crying. Their excitement continued throughout the duration of the concert from the front row. But it's not all fun and games for some performers. Many are more than willing to give back when possible. On one occasion Reba McEntire met with a 21-year-old terminally ill cancer patient and her fiancé while at the center. The girl was extremely weak and in a wheelchair, but mustered up the strength to get up and give McEntire a hug. So moved was Reba that she later called back to the Jordan Center and inquired about the girl, who had passed away two days after that concert. Owen Hart, a former World Wrestling Entertainment wrestler who was tragically killed during a performance, was one person of whom Punt made special mention. "He would meet with 50 or more terminal or handicapped kids when he came to town. He was a father and since he couldn't be with his kids all the time, he sought out kids who needed him." Maybe Punt sums up what goes on behind the scenes of The Bryce Jordan Center best. "I should write a book," he said.

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Last Updated October 26, 2015