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Minnesota State University, Mankato

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Dale Haefner's Music Series a Gem

Performance series has been running for 18 years.

2014-10-15
Robb Murray, Mankato Free Press, 8-18-2014

It began humbly, the product of a guy just trying to get through his master’s program.

And then it grew. What started as a couple of bands and few hundred people coming to watch has become one of the longest-running entertainment endeavors at Minnesota State University, Mankato.

Today, Dale Haefner and his performance series are celebrating 18 years of bringing regional and sometimes national acts to Mankato, many of which perform on campus.

So far for this fall, the lineup is already impressive. From communist daughter and Chastity Brown to Slaid Cleaves and April Verch, Haefner has once again compiled an intriguing and varied collection of artists.

Which shouldn’t exactly be surprising. The man has been at this for nearly two decades.

“I get a lot of nice comments from students who will say they’ve never listened to that kind of music before,” Haefner says. “This is a way of academically broadening their musical horizon.”

Haefner got the idea for a concert series when he was a student at Minnesota State Mankato. Instead of writing a thesis, he said, he opted to do what is known in academia as an “alternate plan.” He decided to plan a concert.

He approached Jane Earley, at the time the dean of the College of Arts and Humanities, who approved his plan but gave him the bad news that’s so familiar on college campuses: Sure, go for it — but we’re not going to give you any money for it.

Haefner proceeded anyway. He raised enough money on his own to hire a few bands to play for that first year. His goal was to raise enough money with gate receipts to fund a $500 scholarship, which he did.

Afterward, though, he was offered a job by the department. And as it happened, there was enough money left over to bring in a few more bands. And Haefner’s career was off and running. His contract with the department, though, is a little different than most. He actually has to earn his salary through the concert series.

Haefner’s performance series has grown since then to include 18-20 events spread out over two semesters. The events include all kinds of music. It also includes a four-day piano festival/competition, and an all-day jazz festival.

He’s remained successful at booking bigger-name acts by being strategic with his scheduling. For example, when a band that would normally command a fee of $25,000 is playing a concert nearby (such as the Twin Cities), Haefner will offer the band far less to play the next night — or the night before — in Mankato. Many bands agree, accepting the lower offer instead of not playing at all.

Such lessons have served him well, he said, and translated well to the music industry classes he teaches at Minnesota State Mankato. His primary job is to operate the performance series, but he handles a handful of classes each year as well.

Sometimes, he said, there are bumps in the road. Last year, for example, Haefner got a call from the wife of Slaid Cleaves. She’d told him Slaid had laryngitis and wouldn’t be able to make it for the show.

“I spent the next month refunding people,” Haefner said. “But he’s coming this fall, and that’ll be a good show.”

The entire version of this story can be read in a print copy of the Mankato Free Press. Call the Mankato Free Press at 625-4451 or (800) 657-4662 to find out how to purchase a print copy. The Free Press also prints select stories online at www.mankatofreepress.com.

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