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“Many of us are spread very thin”: M-Shop sees lowest number of concerts in decades

Liam Brennan
Graph indicating the number of performances at The Maintenance Shop from 1974 to present day.

From spring 1974 to fall 2013, the Maintenance Shop, also known as the M-Shop, averaged 29 shows a semester. Spring 2013 was the last semester that had over 29 shows.

This semester, the M-Shop hosted nine shows.

The M-Shop is currently Ames’ oldest continuously operating nightclub and will be turning 50 years old in January.  

Dan Rice, the manager of the M-Shop from 1980 to 1984, co-produced an Iowa Public Broadcasting Service program that documented the blues at the M-Shop. 

He curated the artists for the series and got future Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees Muddy Waters and Albert King to play at the venue.

Rice said because of the reputation of the M-Shop, The Rolling Stones considered playing at the venue at one point. 

“I got a call from their agent. They knew about the blues at the Maintenance Shop,” Rice said. 

Rice said he was extremely selective in the acts he would bring and would deny 90% of musicians who called. 

“We were looking for professionals,” Rice said.

Rice said when he joined the M-Shop in 1980, he would try and put on an event every single day.

“We never had a day where nothing was going on. We had something in the Maintenance Shop every single day,” Rice said.

Darren Hushak, the M-Shop’s head audio engineer from 2010 to 2014, said the quality of the bands was important to the student directors he worked with.  

“It was very well thought out. We lived and breathed music,” Hushak said. 

Hushak said that many of his peers at the M-Shop went on to have careers in live music.

Jim Brockpahler, the M-Shop’s advisor since 2011, said despite the decrease in concerts, the quality of shows has remained consistent.

“It’s been more like 10 to 12 [concerts], but I feel like we’re doing those strongly,” Brockpahler said.

Behind the Curtain

Brockpahler said the venue was his main focus when he started.  In spring 2012, Brockpahler and the Student Union Board hosted 41 shows. There have been 39 concerts in the last four semesters combined. Over the last 10 years, the number of shows has dropped 54%.

“I think there was maybe a little bit more of a push to be doing concerts; that was my sole responsibility. Back when we were doing that many shows… we had more advisors,” Brockpahler said. 

As staff left, more responsibilities were added to his job description.

“Many of us are spread very thin,” Brockpahler said.

According to Brockpahler, his current role with the Memorial Union includes responsibilities to CyBowl, multicultural awareness, Cyclone Cinema, special events and ISU AfterDark, along with his responsibilities to the M-Shop.

After Hushak graduated in 2014, he came back to the university in 2015 and became the audio-visual coordinator for the Memorial Union.

Hushak said a situation similar to Brockpahler’s forced him to leave in 2018.

“Part of the reason I left is because there was just so much to do all the time, and stuff kept getting piled on top of me,” Hushak said.

Hushak also said that when he was doing the job that he had signed up for, “everything was good.”

“Five percent of your job is other duties as assigned … Two years into it, my other duties as assigned are 50% of my job,” Hushak said.

Hushak said that understaffing was constantly an issue during his time as a Memorial Union employee.

“In the three years that I was there at the Memorial Union, I think we were fully staffed for maybe a month of that,” Hushak said.

Outside of 2020, 2023 had the lowest number of shows in the M-Shop’s history.

Sam Petri, a senior in marketing and outgoing M-Shop co-director, said he did the best with what he and his co-director had.

“We did as much as we could to help promote shows and get bodies in here,” Petri said.

Petri said the Student Union Board aims for 10 to 15 concerts a semester.

“If we had the budget and the stars aligned with dates for bands to come in here, [we would have] probably 20 [shows a semester]. That’s probably never gonna happen,” Petri said.

Brockpahler, who advises Petri, said the student directors play a big role in how many concerts are booked.

“It depends on how the dates work out and, quite frankly, the students involved and their capacity to take on shows. I really feel like the capacity of the students has changed,” Brockpahler said. 

Brockpahler said students put on shows more frequently when he started out.

“The student teams at the time, that’s just what we did. You had Thursday, Friday, Saturday shows,” Brockpahler said. 

Brockpahler said in the future, the M-Shop would add shows where it made sense and where students could handle it. However, he also said there has not been a push to bring in more shows.

“I don’t think that there is a charge per se to ramp it up and bring in more and more shows,” Brockpahler said.

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    Sarah Eggleton-Dessel | Dec 8, 2023 at 9:03 pm

    I was there in Dan Rice’s tenure and it was literally THE happening place during that time. I saw Muddy Waters and CoCo Taylor there, participated in the M Shop Players the year they performed HAIR and saw every local band that were going in the area in the early 80’s. It was the literally soundtrack to many of our student loves and lives of that time. I hope it has many, many more years left…