Braden Auditorium holds an autograph collection that reads like a roll call of the biggest pop stars of the last half century. It just happens to be hidden away in a couple of small, backstage rooms.

Many of the hundreds of stars who have performed at the 38-year-old concert venue have marked their appearances by signing the cinder-block walls inside the star dressing rooms. The graffiti are as diverse as the acts. A large drawing of a red chili pepper, courtesy of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, shares space on the same walls that feature the classic tags of Bob Hope and Johnny Cash and the brash cursive of a pre-Purple Rain Prince.

The practice is not unique—it’s common for stars to sign their dressing rooms—but the names are a testament to the auditorium’s rich history.

“When it opened they were really booking top of the line entertainment,” said Bone Student Center Associate Director Barb Dallinger ’81, M.S. ’01.

As Braden Auditorium’s booking coordinator from 2003 to 2007 and from January 2012 to the present, Dallinger has rubbed elbows with her fair share of stars, including Whoopi Goldberg, B.B. King, and Jeff Foxworthy. But her point is well taken.

Before the days of the U.S. Cellular Coliseum and the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts, Braden Auditorium was the only game in town for major acts crossing the Illinois prairie, notwithstanding the occasional show at Horton Field House, or later at Redbird Arena.

“If you wanted to go to an event, you had to go to Braden,” Dallinger said.

Frank Zappa, the Grateful Dead, Barry Manilow, a Rush/Kiss double bill, and Muddy Waters were among the early visitors to what was then called Union Auditorium. Peter Gabriel, the British rock star, even recorded some of the music for his 1982 live album, Plays Live, inside Braden Auditorium.

The beat kept going through the 1990s and early 2000s when the venue hosted young acts in their prime—Pearl Jam in ’91, Cypress Hill with Rage Against the Machine in ’93, Beck in ’97, Brad Paisley in ’05—and legends, such as Bob Dylan in ’90, Aretha Franklin in ’95, Bruce Springsteen in ’96, and George Jones in ’05.

Braden Auditorium has also pulled in cultural heavyweights such as composer Marvin Hamlisch and the State Ballet Theatre of Russia. And a long list of musicals have taken advantage of the venue’s stage, which at 72 feet wide with 38-foot-wide wings can accommodate the largest Broadway shows.

“You name it. We can do it,” Dallinger said.

Despite the big stage and the 3,457-seat capacity, the venue is surprisingly intimate; instead of expanding far outward, its three seating levels seemingly rise to the ceiling, putting the balcony closer to the stage than one would expect in such a large auditorium.

“We are very blessed with an amazing venue,” Dallinger said. “They walk in in that back door, and you can see their mouths drop.”

On tap this fall at Braden Auditorium are concerts by alternative rockers The All-American Rejects and Boys Like Girls on October 12 and Australian-born singer/songwriter Rick Springfield of “Jessie’s Girl” fame on November 3. The Twin Cities Ballet will perform The Nutcracker on December 1 and 2.

Tickets can be purchased at the Braden Box Office or For more information, call the Braden Box Office at (309) 438-5444 or visit the Bone Student Center website.

Q & A: Friendly stars and unusual requests

Barb Dallinger and B.B. King

Braden Auditorium booking coordinator Barb Dallinger hangs out with blues legend B.B. King before his 2006 performances at the auditorium. (Photo courtesy of the Bone Student Center)

Five more questions for Barb Dallinger:

Why has Braden Auditorium’s schedule been so light the last few years?

Competition with other venues and economics have been the main factors, according to Dallinger. Nowadays, lesser-known acts expect $12,000-$20,000 and the big boys demand upward of a half a million dollars for a couple of hours of entertainment. “That’s why the tickets are pricey to go see some of these people,” Dallinger said.

What performers do people most want you to book?

In the past, students have requested pop star John Mayer and Maroon 5. Twin City natives want more Broadway and Barry Manilow, who first appeared at Braden Auditorium in 1975. And Dallinger, a fan of Broadway shows, would like to bring The Lion King.

What have been a few of the more unusual riders that performers have requested?

Dallinger refused to name names, but one starlet asked for six new sleeveless T-shirts and six pairs of new socks. The requests were denied. Another asked for a brand of water that is sold only in Colorado. When she received Evian instead, she threw the bottles out of her dressing one at a time while saying, “This is not the water I asked for.”

Who have been the friendliest stars you have met?

While most of the performers have been very nice, B.B. King, Whoopi Goldberg, Jeff Foxworthy, and Larry the Cable Guy hold special places in Dallinger’s memory. Once Goldberg gave her $100 to buy beer and pizza for a group of students who had to stand in the rain all day watching her tour bus. When Dallinger said she couldn’t buy beer for students, Goldberg replied, “Just give them the money. They’ll know what to do with it.”

What’s planned for the future?

Braden Auditorium is turning 40 next school year, and staff is gathering archival materials and planning events to mark the anniversary. What would be an appropriate birthday present for the venerable concert hall? “It needs some love and a checkbook,” Dallinger said.

Writer’s note: I first visited Normal in 1997 for a Beck concert during his Odelay tour. I don’t remember much about the trip other than eating my first head-sized burrito at La Bamba’s before the show and being mesmerized when Beck, alone on stage, wailed on harmonica during the blues foot-stomper “One Foot in the Grave.”

So what was your favorite concert at Braden Auditorium? Share your memories in the Comments below.

Kevin Bersett can be reached at


39 thoughts on “Looking back at Braden’s biggest concerts

  1. Chad T says:

    Cypress Hill and Rage against the Machine were awesome!!!! I also really enjoyed Lenny Kravitz and George Clinton and the Parliament Funkadelic at Braden.

  2. Dan G. says:

    Harry Connick Jr. and his band a few years ago. Bring him back again!

  3. Jeff Boyer says:

    Lenny Kravitz electrified the audience and still is one of my favorite memories of my time at ISU.

  4. Paul Y says:

    James Taylor and Red Skelton were awesone!

  5. Raj Upadhyaya says:

    I saw Lenny Kravitz, .38 Special and Jethrow Tull at Braden. It was an awesome venue!

  6. Leslie says:

    Frank Zappa was amazing!

  7. David says:

    James Taylor was like a get together in someones house it was so intimate. Al DiMiola was incredible. Jars of Clay is one that sticks out for me as their touring bass player at the time was a very good friend of mine.

  8. APantagraphReader says:

    in 1993….Extreme and Saigon Kick.

  9. Ruth Sowers says:

    Doing the lighting for Dan Fogelberg had to be one of the coolest events of my life.
    Harry Chapin, PDQ Bach, Chuck Mangione, Pittsburg Ballet Theatre, Evita, and Hal Holbrook, were just a few of the great events. Dancing on the stage in our productions of Carousel and Anything Goes. I had the best student job in the world!
    It wasn’t Braden back then, it was the University Union and Auditorium – still have the shirts 🙂 “Back in the day” we were considered the biggest road house outside of Chicago.

  10. jim '89 says:

    As a student at ISU (’89 grad), I was a member of the ISU Entertainment Committee in 1987 and 1988. It was our job to research possible performers at Braden, establish ticket prices for each show, and then work the theatre the day of the shows. I was able to meet quite a few performers and have some cool shots of the autographs on the walls of the dressing room. It was an awesome experience! Redbire Arena was completed the day of my graduation ceremony (which was held in the arena) but I never got a chance to see a show in Redbird Arena 🙁

  11. Sheila Hufeld says:

    Going to hear the jazz great Stephane Grapelli despite me having a really bad cold. He was incredibly awesome!

  12. Donald Lawson '80 says:

    The Commodores, The Bar-Kays, Phoebe Snow, Average White Band (all circa 1977-79). Each show was incredible!

  13. Lin Hinds '72 says:

    We have seen a LOT of shows at Braden, but the one that stands out the most for me is John Tesh. Because Braden doesn’t have a center aisle, he came off the stage and climbed over seats with a hand held piano keyboard!

  14. Jim says:

    John Hartford and Ricky Skaggs – great show.

  15. james d dykes says:

    as a former ISU stationary engineer, I recall the wall mentioned. It was white plaster. Many of the names were washed off by an uniformed custodian in the mid-70’s about the same time Michelle LeGrand was performing.I was in the dressing room and saw the wall.

  16. Steve H. says:

    The Psychodelic Furs; Larry Bud Melman & Emo Phillips

  17. Bruce says:

    Harry Chapin was the first pop/rock show there. Slept outside overnight for 6th row tickets. Even went backstage and got autographs. Great memories.

  18. Betsy '74 / ''76 says:

    I don’t remember the year, but I got a single, last minute seat for classical guitarist Carlos Montoya. I sat in the 4th row right in front of him and I could hear the music straight from the strings of his guitar. It was like he was playing to me (yes, and hundreds of my closest friends!).

  19. Renie Dunn-Finch says:

    Dan Fogekberg, Carole King.

  20. John Will says:

    I was on the ENtertainment Committee from 1982-1983 as chairman of the Hospitality . My job was the dressing room food, drink and set up as well as transportation and all meals for band and crew. I had the pleasure of working with some great fellow EC members and also was in the dressing room when Prince , Kenny Loggins, James Taylor, His brother Livingston signed the wall. We had a partnership with Jam productions and did many great shows. Garbriel , James Taylor, Rick James, Prince with the Time, 38 special, Blue Oyster cult, GO Go’s with the flock of seagulls, Chick Corea, Pat Metheny, John Prine with Steve Goodman, UFO with Foghat, John Mellencamp with Heart, Triumph, Marshall Tucker with the Outlaws and many more. Lots of fond memories. John Will 1983

  21. Tim F 84 -88 says:

    Doc Sevrensen, The Outfield (played for 50 minutes), Eddie Money, Larry Bud Melman and Emo, Lisa Lisa and Expose, Tony Bennett and P. Furs

  22. Cecelia (Roth) Kendall says:

    William Shatner’s one man show was terrific. I saw Barry Manilow twice in the ’70’s and both were great experiences. Gordon Lightfoot was rude to the audience (told us to stop clapping), Glen Campbell was fun, biggest pleasant surprise was Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul and Mary) – he was not the headliner but for those of us lucky enough to catch his act he was a true entertainer. Thanks for the memories.

  23. Michael C. Krickmire says:

    Back in the late 1970’s my wife and I got to perform on that wonderful stage as graduate students in the ISU School of Theatre. At that time the Schools of Theatre and Music used the facility once a year for a production of a musical and an opera. It was an unbelievable feeling to perform on that stage, and one that we will never forget!

  24. Roar Schaad says:

    The Chicago Symphony Orchestra gave several concerts in in this hall as well as the Kirov Orchestra of St Petersburg (Russia) that I will not forget. I had the great pleasure of meeting Frank Zappa, Vincent Price and Graham Chapman after their performances and they were kind enough to give me their autographs. I had the great task of recording the music department and guest concerts in this hall over my 33 years as music instruction specialist in the ISU music department. This hall was a landmark.

  25. Scott T. '98 says:

    I remember seeing Bush in the late 90’s? It was a show I will never forget.

  26. Kent Shelor says:

    Stevie Ray Vaughn – absolutely amazing!!

  27. Steve Guertler says:

    Who could forget the great comedians of the early 80’s-Bill Cosby, Rich Little, and the ALMIGHTY Gallagher! Braden will always be a great place for a show or concert.

  28. Pat Beals says:

    Fogelberg, Carole King, Bread (and opening band Jelly), Fleetwood Mac, Harry Chapin, Foghat, REO Speedwagon, Ozark Mt. Daredevils, Shawn Phillips, McKendree Spring, Arlo Guthrie, Papa John Creach, Rush, Head East, and I am sure there are others I cannot recall offhand that I saw in Braden. ISU was a concert hot spot when I went there in the mid to late 70s, and I recall seeing James Gang, Grand Funk Railroad, Black Oak Arkansas, The Beach Boys, and The Grateful Dead in Horton, too. Throw in seeing acts like Bonnie Koloc, Heartsfield, Thin Lizzy, REO, and The Charlie Daniels Band at The Rites of Spring, and you may understand why I may have forgotten a few…lol…great article and memories about the daze at ISU.

  29. Pat Beals says:

    I also saw Celtic basketball legend Bill Russell give an address at Braden.

  30. Pat Beals says:

    I also recall seeing Corky Siegel at Capen Auditorium and I believe I paid $1.50 for the ticket. Does anyone recall that? The Lazy J Saloon in Bloomington also had some great acts during my time at ISU. Recall seeing Heartsfield, Duke Tomatoe, Luther Allison, and Grinderswitch there for sure. Possibly also shows by Buckacre, Pork and The Havana Ducks, and Jim Schwall there, too? Does anyone remember? Also, I know I saw a Jim Schwall Band show at Tobin’s Pizza when it was moved there at the last minute due to some complication at the original venue…does anyone recollect that? The B-N area was great for music in that era! And I think I also saw America at Braden, too.

  31. Pat Beals says:

    Found some more interesting info. about shows in B-N area…old ticket stubs…check these out….Carole King ’76 $7, Dead ’78 $8, Beach Boys ‘7? $5, REO ’74 $5, Lobo & If @ IWU ’73 $2.50, Grinderswitch $2, America ’75 $5.50, Kansas & Cheap Trick ’77 $6, Fogelberg/Koloc ’75 $6, Heartsfield $6.50, Boston/Starcastle ’76 $6, Harry Chapin ’76 $6, Foghat/Montrose ’74 $7, Papa John Creach ’76 $?, Aerosmith ’75 $5, Ozark Mt. Daredevils ’75 $5, Fleetwood Mac ‘7? $5, Schwall ’76 $?, Bread ‘7? $6, Edgar Winter ’74 $3, Shawin Phillips ’76 $3, Corky Siegel ’79 $3.50, Jean-Luc Ponty ’78 $6.75, Harry Chapin ’78 $6.50, Black Oak ’73 $?, Luther Allison ‘7? $?, The Tubes/Utopia ’85 $13.50..had some more, but couldn’t decipher much from them as far as dates and cost…a blast from the past….

  32. Janine Moberg says:

    I remember seeing Paul Young in ’85 and then INXS a few years later. I snuck a camera in to INXS since I had third row seats so I have some very great pictures. I also graduated on that stage in ’91. Brings back memories.

  33. Cathy L. '85 says:

    James Taylor, Phil Collins, Pat Metheny, Arlo Guthrie, but my favorite memory was Peter Gabriel in ’82. Adrien Belew was in the seated in the 14th row and I am pretty sure Gabriel walked on the audience’s hands out to Belew’s bald head, touched it with his palm then walked backwards back over the crowd to the stage during I Have the Touch. Ticket:$12.50 Accuracy of story: Uncertain. Intimate Braden: priceless.

  34. Dave Olson 84' says:

    It was a few brain cells ago but don’t forget the Red Rocker!! Sammy Hagar played Braden in the early 80’s!!

  35. Jim Kelleher says:

    In the mid 70’s, John Dean gave a talk on Watergate. Truman Capote gave a talk on his book and he was dressed to the hilt with a broad hat and cape!. ELO, Joe Walsh, Foghat/Montrose, Kansas, Head East, Rush, Gordon Lightfoot, Leo Sayer…all good memories.

  36. …………………….long live braden and the memory of the best technical director and friend …ANDY GORDON “DREW” lives in our hearts forever.

    1. Paula Gordon Garrett says:

      He touched so many, Buzz.

  37. Larry Bracco says:

    Wow…Just stumble on this post. I was also on the EC from ’74-78, and then was the ran the Union Board as a Grad Student for a year after that. I could write a book, with everything we saw, did, shouldn’t have done… A truly amazing experience. The Grateful Dead was my favorite…but Fleetwood Mac were right behind them…then there was Yes, J. Geils, Boston, ELP, ZZ Top (drove them to O’Hare after the show) ELO, Marshall Tucker…unbelievable. So were the afterparties at our house, when many times the bands would show up (Boston, Outlaws)…

    So much great music…too bad I didn’t have an iPhone back then.

  38. Jim Mitchell says:

    I remember seeing Dan Fogelberg, probably ’75, where he pulled out a trunk and Tim Weisberg popped out. Then at the end of the concert, he brought his soon-to-be first wife, Maggie, out and had a lyric sheet with “Silent Night” on it passed out. We all sang the song together. A night I will never forget.