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Boomboxes: Musical Memories of the 1980s

Music in the 80s, or as one alum reminds us: back when MTV played videos.

U2 performing on stage.

What do JJ Watt, the UW Marching Band, and Pink Floyd have in common? They’ve all been met with resounding applause on the field at Camp Randall Stadium. That’s right: Camp Randall used to play host to rock concerts. Bands such as The Grateful Dead, U2, and Public Enemy tore up the field (figuratively and, perhaps, literally) from the early 1970s to the late 1990s. We believe that Madison has one of the greatest music scenes in the country, and your responses to our call for musical memories affirmed that belief loudly and clearly.

In this update, Badger grads of the ’80s share their musical memories of campus.

Tony Collins ‘80

Arlington, VA

One of Jamaica's leading bands, Burning Spear, played the Library Mall on a perfect spring afternoon. The interaction between band and crowd were memorable.

Tim Ernst ‘80

Walnut Creek, CA

As a senior I wanted to try out for the Wisconsin Marching Band. I was not a particularly talented musician, but I played in the marching band in high school and had sporadically played my saxophone during the intervening three years. Try-outs consisted of a week of marching formations at Camp Randall and then a solo audition before Mike Leckrone himself. At the audition I played my scales and a song, and then Professor Leckrone and I talked about music, California (my home) and the spirit of Wisconsin. I did not make the band, but have always treasured my week of marching at Camp Randall and my 15 minutes with Professor Leckrone, truly one of the people who make Wisconsin such a special place.

Stephen Turow ‘83

Bethesda, MD

“I’d Hate to Wake Up Sober in Nebraska” by the Free Hot Lunch Band.

Erik Petrovskis '83

Grand Rapids, MI

Piper Road Spring Band was a bluegrass favorite at the Union my freshman year. I can still hear the refrain, "Kettle Moraine, Kettle, Moraine...left my heart in the Kettle Moraine..." I got to know the fiddler, Al Byla, over the years and enjoyed many of their shows.

Scott Hanna ‘84


I attended UW from 1981-1984, so my musical Badger memory was MTV. It was a new cable start-up channel, and we had it on all the time. It seemed like it was always playing in the background. They pretty much rotated playing the same videos, but we loved it. People say "That's when MTV played videos", but that's what made it great. When I hear those songs today, they bring me back to my Badger days, some of the happiest days in my life (with the exception of studying for exams) and the music from that era always brings a smile to my face. Thank you, MTV. I can still hear your jingle that was played in between videos in my head.

Curt Andrus ‘85

Lewisville, TX

My favorite musical memory is not a specific event. It’s more of a place in time. I attended UW from 1981-85. During that time, The Plaza had, arguably, the best jukebox in the city. This was a time before the Internet, and a jukebox was a thin slice of the full array of music available to the masses. Whoever stocked The Plaza’s jukebox always did an excellent job of offering a good mix of rock & roll, new wave, and punk, with a couple of oldies thrown in to round out the card. Whether we were stopping in for a quick visit, or spending the whole evening there, we knew The Plaza and its music, wouldn’t disappoint.

Collin Brinkman ‘85

Edina, MN

Rock Lobster and Shout played at just about every party in the fall of 1981 when I started my four-year journey at UW. Those two songs and remembering WIBA’s “Block Party Weekend” spinning all of the hot pop songs every Friday afternoon as we relaxed from the week’s classes are great music memories. Oh, and also taking a “Big Bands” class from Mike Leckrone and him coming to class in his “Bix Lives” t-shirt is also a great musical memory.

Timothy Fisher ‘87

Charlotte, NC

It was 1987. Of course, it was the Terrace. Wisconsin Union had fortuitously booked the Indigo Girls right before their single "Closer to Fine" went to the top of the charts! A great night by the lake!

Linda Vilter Carlson '87

Wauwatosa, WI

I was in the UW Marching Band spring semester my freshman year (1984) and was asked to a "Screw your Roommate" dance by a guy also in the UW Marching Band. I didn't know who he was so it was essentially a blind date. I went and had a good time. Fall of that year he marched in Rank 1 and I marched in Rank 2 so every time we "flipped" we watched each other march. This was before the artificial turf practice field so we often got VERY dirty and muddy if it had rained. [Mark Carlson ’87 and I] have been married for almost 26 years and now have a son marching in Rank 1 of the UW Marching Band! I have always said that if my husband could fall in love with me at band practice when I was hot, sweaty, and dirty that it was true love! There are actually many "band" couples as a result of the amount of time spent practicing and the love of music that we all share.

Aaron DeWeese ‘87

Springfield, IL

Regarding fond campus music memories of UW-Madison, many musicians and fans living in Madison circa 1985-2000 know O’Cayz Corral, located on E. Wilson St., was the “CBGB’s of the Midwest,” with now legendary bands such as Nirvana, The Replacements, Camper Van Beethoven, Big Black, The Smashing Pumpkins and The White Stripes all playing shows at the venerable venue before they were big. Local favorites, Spooner, Ivory Library, The Appliances-FSB, The White Sisters, The Weeds and Funeral Party gigged at O’Cayz Corral on a regular basis. My band Blanche Mobile/Table played there several times during the mid-to-late 80s. Our band lived and practiced in a house just around the corner from O’Cayz on Blair Street. On gig nights, we just carted our gear down the block to the show. O’Cazy Corral was a wonderfully supportive music scene. Tragically, the club burned down early morning, January 1, 2001. Facebook has an O’Cazy Corral page with tons of cool pix and gig posters. Also, during that same time, local music legend, Butch Vig, was recording local and national bands at his seminal Smart Studio. A documentary on Smart Studios is in production.

Mike Bormett ‘87

Verona, WI

I played drums in a campus band, Actors in Motion, from 1984-86, and we won the annual "Battle of the Bands" contest at Memorial Union in spring 1986. Getting to play in the Rathskeller, which we did 3 times, was always one of our big thrills.

Debi Griffith, '88, MS'91, MA'07

Phoenix, OR

The Violent Femmes always seemed to be on Library Mall when I was an undergrad, over by the Cookie Man cart. Imagine my surprise when I moved to Chicago, and heard them on the radio!

Bart Chapek ‘89

Cadott, WI

I recall going to see Pink Floyd twice at Camp Randall stadium. A friend of mine lived just west of the stadium, so we had pre-concert parties there with all our friends and cranked up all of our favorite Pink Floyd songs, along with drinking a couple kegs of cheap beer. It was awesome seeing that band at Camp Randall, except my buddy who had the parties never went — he never had tickets!

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