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The Bryce Jordan Center Celebrates Twenty Years

By Alex Robinson, Doug Leeson, and Maggie Wrobel

The Bryce Jordan Center, named after Penn State’s 14th president, celebrates its 20-year anniversary this year. In the two decades it has been open, the BJC has seen versatile musicians, Big Ten basketball games, the world’s largest student-run philanthropy, and everything in between. The arena has come a long way from its first event ever, when the men’s basketball team defeated Minnesota 76-71 on January 11, 1996.

Here are the 20 greatest performers — musicians and bands, teams, and everything else — the BJC has hosted through its first 20 years.

Concerts

Elton John — November 4, 1997; September 26, 1998, January 16, 2002; March 27, 2011 12,818

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John’s 2011 show. Photo: Bryce Jordan Center

Sir Elton John has played in the BJC four times, and has brought a unique experience each time. In 1997, John played in front of 15,352 people as part of the first leg of the “Big Picture” Tour. John returned in 1998 on the second leg of the “Big Picture” Tour, but gave fans a completely different show. He played ten songs not played in 1997, including hits like “Crocodile Rock,” “Circle of Life,” and “Rocket Man,” while also leaving out nine songs played the year before.

John returned to the BJC in 2002 with Billy Joel as part of their joint “Face to Face” Tour. There was only one star dressing room in the BJC and concert organizers were scrambling to find a solution, but Joel immediately gave up the room to John. Finally, Sir Elton returned almost ten years later in 2011 to a sold-out State College crowd of 12,818 and played an electric 26-song set on his “Greatest Hits” Tour, and brought out special guest Leon Russell to play a small set from their joint album “The Union.”

Billy Joel — November 1, 1998; January 16, 2002; December 5, 2014

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Joel’s 2014 show. Photo by Dana Lipshutz/Onward State.

After playing in Eisenhower Auditorium just two years earlier in 1996, Joel kicked off his fall 1998 tour — and helped bring a loaded 1998 BJC event schedule into the home stretch — in front of a packed house of 15,772 fans, the most ever in the BJC for a non-sporting event. There were many rumors that Joel would “retire from touring” after the tour, but luckily for the State College faithful, they didn’t come to fruition as the Piano Man came back four years later as part of the Face to Face Tour with Elton John. The Daily Collegian reported that Joel played his little-known song “This is the Time” because of a special request from Sue Paterno.

Finally, in 2014, Joel played a full setlist, closing out with electric versions of “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant” and “Piano Man” before coming back on stage for another hit-riddled encore. Our Zach Berger wrote, “There’s no doubt that Joel is one of the best musicians still alive in 2014, and he more than proved that on Friday night at the Bryce Jordan Center. Hopefully he doesn’t take 12 more years to come back.”

Backstreet Boys — February 11-12, 2000; *NSYNC — November 5, 2000

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The Backstreet Boys. Photo: Bryce Jordan Center.

Pop music fans throughout Pennsylvania enjoyed this doubleheader of boy bands in 2000. The Backstreet Boys graced the stage of the BJC on two consecutive nights in early February, playing hits in front of two sold-out crowds totaling more than 31,000 fans. The crowd was crazy enough, the band recorded the music video for its hit single “The One” during the shows. You can watch a full BJC performance here.

To follow up, *NSYNC took its talents to State College as part of their “No Strings Attached” Tour just a few months after the Boys. Despite the fact that the band broke up less than 18 months later, at least fans can say they saw the one and only Justin Timberlake in the flesh in Happy Valley.

Bruce Springsteen — February 28, 2000; May 8, 2009; November 1, 2012

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Springsteen in 2009. Photo: Bryce Jordan Center

Springsteen has been to Happy Valley six times in his long and storied career, and played the BJC three times. He visited Happy Valley for his first tour with the E-Street Band in 2000 as part of its “Reunion” Tour, where they kicked off the third leg of their first tour together since 1988. The band stayed in State College for nearly a week leading up to the show to rehearse for their ensuing tour. They returned to Penn State in 2009 and played a 32-song set.

In 2012, he made his most recent visit just days after Hurricane Sandy hit the lead man’s home state of New Jersey. After opening with his song “Lion’s Den” as a nod to the Nittany Lions, he dedicated many more songs to the victims of the storm. “We’re a band that you can’t separate from the Jersey Shore,” Springsteen said. They will play the BJC for a fourth time on April 18.

Red Hot Chili Peppers — April 5, 2000; September 14, 2003

Red Hot Chili Peppers
Photo: Bryce Jordan Center

The Red Hot Chili Peppers came to the BJC twice in less than four years at the height of their popularity, but perhaps even more impressive than its performance was the band’s knack for picking openers that would eventually become rock and roll staples. The band came in 2000 as part of its “Californication” Tour, and brought the Foo Fighters and Muse to open the show. In 2003 during its “By the Way” Tour, Queens of the Stone Age (along with the band French Toast) opened up for the group.

The Foo Fighters, Muse, and Queens of the Stone Age have combined to sell more than 30 million albums, and have won 12 Grammys after receiving 38 nominations.

Bon Jovi — February 8, 2003; February 9, 2011; February 23, 2013

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Bon Jovi in 2011. Photo: Bryce Jordan Center

Bon Jovi has been to the BJC three times — all three in February, and all three in front of sold-out crowds. The band’s 2003 performance on the “Bounce” Tour was stellar, but its most notable was in 2011 because of the controversy the band’s presence caused between the arena’s management and the athletic department.

Bon Jovi played its inaugural show of the “Bon Jovi Live” Tour in Happy Valley, and commandeered the entire BJC for a week leading up to the concert to rehearse and work out and problems with the show. Head coach Ed DeChellis claimed forced the basketball team to practice at the IM building, playing on crooked rims and an uneven floor. The team would go on to make the NCAA Tournament, but DeChellis left his alma mater after the season to coach at Navy.

The band played again in 2013, and the anticipation for the event was so great the BJC was renamed the Bon Jovi Center. The band performed in front of a sold-out crowd as part of its “Because We Can” Tour, incorporating a high-tech stage with a moving pillars as the back drop. One of the most memorable moments happened hours before the concert, when guitarist Richie Sambora tweeted that the band was “comin up to Penn State to kick some ass.”

Prince — April 18, 2004

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Photo: Bryce Jordan Center

Just weeks after being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, The Purple One played to a sold-out BJC crowd of 10,913 adoring fans as part of his “Musicology” Tour. The Prince of Funk played a stunning, career-spanning 28-song set, and even pleased the crowd with a cover of Sam and Dave’s “Soul Man.” He played just a single song for an encore, but kept it simple with “Purple Rain.”

Kanye West — October 28, 2005; February 13, 2014

Kanye West in 2014. Photo: Noel Purcell/OS

Kanye West came to the BJC as an up-and-coming artist in 2005 as part of his “Touch The Sky” Tour, but ‘Ye outdid himself more than 8 years later when he brought the first show of the second leg of his “Yeezus” tour right here to Happy Valley. Fans braved a snowstorm that cancelled classes early, and out of appreciation, West ended up extending his setlist, playing more than 10 extra songs seemingly on a whim. The show has gone down as one of West’s best live performances ever. Onward State writer Noel Purcell put it perfectly: “Yeezy season approached, Yeezus walked with us, that effervescent smile shining, and for a night, everything was right in the world.”

Taylor Swift — August 29, 2009

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Photo: Penn State

T-Swift came, saw, and conquered Penn State. She set a then-record for a BJC sellout, as tickets for her show were gone in less than 12 minutes. The 19-year-old played as part of her debut “Fearless” Tour, and played 17 songs — more than she usually plays at concerts currently. The show was also a homecoming of sorts for Swift’s tour manager Jennifer Webb, who worked at the BJC as a marketing intern 10 years before going on tour.

Jay Z — October 9, 2009; January 31, 2014

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Jay Z in 2014. Photo: Bobby Chen/OS

Jay Z kicked off his “Blueprint 3” Tour at the BJC. The road crew spent five days rehearsing and preparing for elaborate show, but on the night of the performance, Jay Z was almost late to take the stage. The hip-hop legend and superstitious baseball fan was unable to rip himself away from a 2009 American League Divisional Series game as his beloved New York Yankees were heading to extra innings with the Minnesota Twins. Fortunately for the audience, Jay Z decided the show must go on and he stopped watching the game to put on an unforgettable performance for the crowd at the BJC. Everything worked out in the end, as Beyoncé was backstage to support him and the Yankees went on to win the World Series. Hova returned to Happy Valley in 2014 to close out his “Magna Carter World Tour” in front of a sold-out crowd.

Sir Paul McCartney — October 15, 2015

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Photo: Bryce Jordan Center

Sir Paul McCartney is the most recent high-profile artist to come to the BJC, and also the most influential artist the arena has ever seen. He played for more than three hours, performing 38 of his greatest songs in front of a sold-out audience. McCartney sang a few songs from his most recent albums, but his first ever show in Central Pennsylvania closed out to a set of songs no musician can rival, full of Beatles hits such as “Hey Jude” and “Helter Skelter” plus Wings’ “Live and Let Die” and more.

Sports

Michael Jordan’s Return To Basketball — October 22, 2001

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Photo: Bryce Jordan Center

After retiring from the NBA to pursue a career in professional baseball, Michael Jordan returned to the sport that made him famous at Penn State. The Washington Wizards preseason game against the Philadelphia 76ers was the first event to take place in the BJC after the attacks of September 11, 2001. More than 15,000 fans came to show support for their teams and their country. The arena was full of American flags, and more than 50 media credentials were issued for the game (which is practically unheard of for an NBA exhibition game).

Lady Lions Beat Purdue In Front Of Record Crowd — February 29, 2004

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Photo: Penn State Athletics

Before making the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight, the highlight of the 2003-04 Lady Lions season was a 1:30 matchup on a Sunday afternoon with Purdue. Though the Boilermakers got revenge two weeks later in the Big Ten Tournament Finals, Penn State pulled out a 69-60 win at home in front of 15,407 and won the conference regular-season title.

Penn State was 23-4 and Purdue was 24-3 entering the game, and their highest scorers went shot-for-shot in an instant classic. The Lady Lions’ Kelly Mazzante dropped 24 points and the Boilermakers’ Shereka Wright had 21. It was, and still is, the largest crowd for a Penn State women’s basketball home game.

Talor Battle’s Game-Winner Over No. 23 Illinois — March 5, 2009

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Photo: Steve Manuel

ESPN picked the right game to broadcast nationally. No. 23 Illinois traveled to the Bryce Jordan Center to take on noted non-basketball school Penn State, which was headed by the program’s leading scorer, Talor Battle.

In front of a crowd of 13,901, Battle took a missed free throw end-to-end and sank a buzzer-beating layup that sent the packed crowd into a frenzy and the Fighting Illini home with a 64-63 loss. The Nittany Lions would go on to win the NIT later that year. 

Men’s Hoops Stuns No. 4 Michigan — February 27, 2013

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Photo: Ryan Beckler/OS

Pat Chambers’ second year at the helm of the Nittany Lion basketball program started off far from what he hoped. After losing star point guard Tim Frazier to a torn Achilles in non-conference play, his team started off the Big Ten season 0-14. With No. 4 Michigan coming to town, another disappointing loss seemed to be on the horizon.

Nope. Jermaine Marshall had a career game, scoring a game-high 25 points with the help of the young D.J. Newbill and Ross Travis and the Nittany Lions won 84-78 on Senior Night. Chambers thanked Bill O’Brien after the game for hyping up his team and said, “This is Penn State Basketball baby. Get a good picture of it, because that’s what it’s gonna be.”

Penn State Wrestles Pitt In Front Of 16,000 — December 9, 2013

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Photo: Mark Selders/Penn State Athletics

The Bryce Jordan Center saw its largest crowd for a sporting event in late 2013 as the Pennsylvania rivals met for a 28-9 Nittany Lion victory in front of 15,996 fans. The event was just two years ago, so many of the wrestlers involved are still with the program today. One who has moved on is Matt Brown, who was No. 3 at 174 at the time and won a National Championship this past year.

This was the highest attendance for an NCAA wrestling match until this past November, when Iowa wrestled Oklahoma State in a football stadium with 42,000 onlookers. Anomalies like that aside, Penn State and Pitt’s record should stand for an indoor match for a long time.

Everything Else

THON — 2007-present

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THON 2015’s total reveal. Photo: Alex Bauer/OS

The largest student-run philanthropy in the world was first held in the BJC in 2007 after spending its original years in Rec Hall, the White Building, and the HUB. Due to the popularity and success of THON, it had to be moved to the BJC to accommodate the large amount of students wanting to attend. THON is now one of Penn State’s most recognized contributions to the community, and has raised more than $127 million to the Four Diamonds Fund since its inception.

Will Ferrell — February 11, 2008

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Photo: Bryce Jordan Center

As part of the Funny or Die tour, Will Ferrell came to the BJC dressed as Ron Burgundy — among other outfits — and interviewed two star football players, Derrick Williams and Sean Lee. He joked with them about what it was like to be coached by Joe Paterno, even asking, “Did Joe ever bite you?” Not only did Will Ferrell make an appearance, but a star-studded lineup of Zach Galifianakis, Demetri Martin, Nick Swardson, and Andrew Daly also performed to the sold-out audience.

Kevin Hart — April 29, 2012; March 29, 2015

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Photo: Bryce Jordan Center

Kevin Hart has been to the BJC twice. The first time he was just starting off as a comedian, and still performed to a nearly sold-out audience going to see his “Laugh At My Pain” Tour. The second time Hart came, as part of his “What Now” tour, he sold out the entire arena. It’s reported that head football coach James Franklin invited Hart to any home football game he wanted to attend, to which Hart responded, “I’ll take you up on that, Coach.” (We’re still holding out on that promise.)

***

Needless to say, the Bryce Jordan Center has seen revolutionary performances in its first twenty years. Here’s to the next twenty (and many more).

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Posts from the all-student staff of Onward State.

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