Founder’s Day 2015: An Interview with Bart Lazar

Before the International House Founder’s Day Concert, Global Voices Metcalf Intern Patrick Reilly sat down with Bart Lazar (A.B. ’82) to discuss his time at UChicago and work in intellectual property law. Mr. Lazar's generous contribution to International House made the Founder's Day Concert with Eddy Clearwater possible. During the interview, he shared the story of how, as an undergrad, he brought U2 to I-House on their first US tour. Here’s what he had to say.

Global Voices: How were you able to bring U2 to campus as an undergrad?

Bart Lazar: (laughs) That's gonna be on my UChicago tombstone. There's a short story and a long story. The long story is that we didn't have a whole lot of money to put on concerts at the University, but I was very involved in music at the time, as I am now. We would read the British Music papers—pre-Internet, so Melody Maker, or New Music Express—and listen to records and see what was happening. I started on the Major Activities Board when I was a freshman…and we were very lucky in bringing several bands to the University. At the time, we didn't have Mandel Hall, so we didn't have our major theater, and we were looking for alternative venues. So we did shows in Ida Noyes Gym. We did The Ramones and The B-52s in Ida Noyes Gym. [My senior year,] there was a band from Europe that was coming to the United States. They had a lot of buzz in Europe, and I knew they'd be really successful.

Over the three years that I'd been doing booking for the Major Activities Board, I'd developed relationships with booking agents in New York. We [had] started off going through middlemen, [but] then I developed a relationship [with] this guy, George Cavato, at Premier Talent, who I booked the Ramones and the B-52’s through. He was willing to give me first shot at a top band from Europe, and I presented that band to the Board. It was low-priced, $2,500. I knew they would be successful, [but] the Board worried about whether an unproven band from Europe would be successful in the United States…They were basically relying on the views of New Music Express and my word. And so the Board passed on that band, and that band was The Pretenders. And about six weeks later, The Pretenders hit United States, their first album was very popular, at least at the college level…And the people on the Board were going, "Can we still get The Pretenders?" and I was saying, "No, that's the whole point." When you are booking on the first tour, you have to do it a little bit sight unheard, and take a little bit of risk. Now, by the second tour, I don't know how much they would have cost, but we certainly couldn't get in on that tour.

So the next time around, same booking agent, another band from Europe that I thought would probably be successful, but I probably didn't think they were gonna be as successful as The Pretenders. But I presented the same situation to the group, and they listened to me that time, and that was U2. [Their] first album hadn't been released in the United States, this was the first tour, [and] they charged us $1,500. It was so low that we weren't even risking that much. We were able to put them on in I-House, charge a dollar admission, and include free beer...That's the long story of how U2 came to the University of Chicago.