September 7th, 2007
By Anna L. Mallory and Greg Esposito
The Roanoke Times
BLACKSBURG -- Making "good memories."
Dave Matthews had that goal in mind for the more than 50,000 people packed into Lane Stadium on Thursday night, and with the strumming of a guitar, a steady stadium "wave" and a few "Let's Go, Hokies" chants, it seemed he got his wish.
Matthews brought his band and joined John Mayer, Nas and Lynchburg native Phil Vassar in Blacksburg for "A Concert for Virginia Tech," a show aimed at bringing together the university community and helping it heal after the April 16 shootings.
"I figure memories are always good to have, and good ones are always the best," Matthews told the crowd at the opening of the show.
About 45,000 students, faculty, staff and first responders to the shootings received free tickets, as did 2007 graduates and victims' families. Late last week, the public was offered $65 tickets.
Those proceeds, along with money from the sale of commemorative items, Hokies United T-shirts and corporate and club sponsorships, are expected to pay the nearly $1 million cost of the four-hour concert, Tech officials said.
But the money angle meant little to attendees. Listeners inside and outside the stadium knew the concert served a purpose and that it was about more than music.
"It seems to be important to be with a large group," said town resident Jackie Rosche, as she and her husband listened from a blanket on a hill east of the stadium.
"It gives you a feeling of family," she said.
Some of the family were alumni -- clad in orange and maroon -- who came "home" to Blacksburg. Others traveled from Roanoke, Pennsylvania and New York. Some bargained for tickets as concertgoers trickled into the stadium through the middle of the show.
Shooting victims were not forgotten. A small group of people wore black T-shirts bearing the name of Caitlin Hammaren, who was killed in Norris Hall.
Tiffany Francis, a senior marketing major from Williamsburg, said the concert was the perfect way to start the school year.
Since her return to Blacksburg this fall, Francis said, a lot of students haven't been sure of how to act.
"It was, 'What's the attitude?'" she said. "Is everyone going to still be thinking about what happened?"
Some concertgoers said Saturday's football game eased the tension a bit, but others still wondered at the different stages of grief in the community.
"This is a way to tell [students], 'Let's get back to normal: Party, study and have a good time,'" Francis said.
People began lining up for the concert about 3 p.m., an hour before the gates opened. Already, more than 500 staffers working the event were at their posts throughout the stadium.
Tech sophomore Rochelle Jenkinson and her friends were among the first group of spectators in the stadium. Jenkinson turned 20 on Thursday and said the concert was a fun way to celebrate her birthday.
By about 7:30 p.m., there was little activity outside other than a few people still trying to sell tickets. Tech did not allow tailgating for the event, though some people appeared as if they had been drinking as they headed to the stadium.
Inside, the crowd had heard Vassar, Nas and about half of Mayer's set. They hoisted lighters and, as current concert etiquette requires, cellphones.
Some artists wore Virginia Tech merchandise, which the university gave them. All expressed sympathy to the Hokie Nation and victims' families.
Some of those family members had disapproved of the inclusion of rapper Nas, and political commentator Bill O'Reilly criticized the university for allowing him to perform, citing violent lyrics in some of his songs. But the grumblings were minimal.
On stage, Nas dedicated his last song of the night, "Hate Me Now," to O'Reilly.
To that, many students danced and held up one index finger in support of Nas' request for "unity." Still, some people chose to sit down during his performance in what appeared to be protest.
Tech senior Andy Baum, a member of Tech's Corps of Cadets, said the concert was a time to have fun.
"All these artists were really gracious," he said. "Music is a way to heal."