Bleachers is coming to Calvin for SAO’s first arena concert since 2014


Photo by Kerry Wade

Bleachers’ lead singer Jack Antonoff performed with the band fun. at Calvin in 2012. Calvin asked fun. not to bring along LGBTQ+ advocacy organization The Ally Coalition — a group that will be present with Bleachers on Sept. 17, according to Antonoff’s Twitter.

Earlier this year, the indie pop band Bleachers appeared on “Saturday Night Live” and performed sold out shows at iconic venues like Radio City Music Hall in New York City. This Saturday, they’ll be performing at Calvin University’s Van Noord Arena with alternative pop opener Isaac Dunbar.

“I texted my group chat the second I saw the announcement,” said junior Molly Reimers, a pre-med psychology major and Bleachers fan. “There was a lot of all-caps, a lot of kindly used expletives of surprise.” 

She’s not alone. Many students have echoed Reimers’ excitement and surprise at such a high profile act coming to campus through the Student Activities Office. The band has over two million monthly Spotify listeners and its frontman, Jack Antonoff, has collaborated closely with pop stars like Taylor Swift and Lorde. The show will be SAO’s first arena concert since indie band The National performed at Van Noord in 2014. 

So how did Calvin book Bleachers in the first place? “Part of it is we asked,” said SAO director Jack Droppers. Another part of it, according to Droppers, is that over the years SAO –– and particularly its longtime former director Ken Heffner –– has built relationships with agencies in the music industry. One of those — who represented Drew and Ellie Holcomb when they performed at Calvin in 2020 — also happened to be the college agency for Bleachers. 

Droppers is not at liberty to say how much SAO is paying Bleachers, but he did confirm this is a financially riskier show. The office has to make back everything it pays artists through ticket sales and arrive at net zero by the end of the year. So far, they’re only about halfway to selling out of the thousand total student tickets available, though more have been sold than an average SAO concert. 

While SAO has a track record of booking well-known and up-and-coming artists, putting on a show this big is no small feat. It will be a coordinated effort between SAO, event services, building services, campus safety and arena staff, according to Droppers. 

Most artists who come to Calvin have a team of one or two people, or nobody besides the band. But Bleachers has a team of 25. “The nice thing about having the Van Noord is there’s tons of locker rooms that me and my staff will fill with couches and try and make feel like green rooms at fancier clubs,” Droppers said, “and not like a Calvin lacrosse locker room.” 

Antonoff performed at Calvin in 2012 as the guitarist for the band, fun., one of SAO’s biggest concerts to date. At the post-concert interview SAO often does with artists, Antonoff expressed that he initially didn’t want to come to Calvin because the college had requested that the band not set up booths from their LGBTQ+ advocacy organization, The Ally Coalition, according to Chimes reporting from 2012. Antonoff ultimately decided to perform anyway. “To be in a place where there is some opposition to us made it clear that there was possibly more impact to be had,” Antonoff was quoted as saying.

Now, Antonoff is returning at a particularly fraught time for the university and its relationship to LGBTQ+ issues. A Twitter user replied to Bleachers’ announcement of their show at Calvin to ask if the Ally Coalition, who Antonoff still works with as a founding member, would be present at the concert. “Calvin has a pretty bad history with how it’s treated it’s LGBTQ+ student population. Would love to see you guys do some good there!” the user wrote. 

Antonoff responded from his personal account, stating that he “will make sure TAC has a full presence there.” It’s unclear exactly what this presence will look like. Droppers said he hadn’t heard anything about it from the Bleachers team. 

Regardless of what kind of message the band brings, SAO student worker and senior Adrian Van Stee said the office has always brought in artists that encourage audience members to think critically. He hopes that this concert will introduce more students to the office’s work. “I really think it’s one of the best parts about Calvin, a part where Calvin punches above its weight,” he said. 

Reimers is particularly looking forward to seeing Bleachers’ upbeat music live in a general admission section packed with other students. For Droppers, this social aspect is part of the reason he wanted Bleachers to come to Calvin. “There’s this focus on sort of this group experience,” he said of the band’s music and approach to concerts. Tickets are on sale, $15 for students and $40 for the general public, at the Calvin box office website. Those having issues getting theirs at the student price can DM SAO on Instagram @calvinsao or email Jack Droppers at [email protected].