Hello again from the Duke University Union records!  When last we met, I told you about a mysterious memorandum concerning CORE and the fact that it was not known to suffer from any communist infiltration.  Now, I have an equally interesting tale, involving an unlikely cast of characters: President Keith Brodie, Coach K, and Nirvana.

This undated paper was in a folder titled simply “Concerts Lost.”  It details the negotiations that apparently took place before it was decided not to book the willing-to-play Nirvana at Duke.

Notes about possible Nirvana concert, 1991? From the Duke University Union Records.

Notes about possible Nirvana concert, 1991? From the Duke University Union Records. (Click to enlarge.)

While the document more or less speaks for itself, I will highlight two of my favorite excerpts:

“Even [President] Brodie is unable to make Krzyzewski move practice.”

“If we could talk them into one of the other dates, Brodie would buy tix for senior class.”

Buried deep within the record is a notation that helps us to date the document as being from 1991: “talked to Brodie today; he’s excited about Nirvana because that’s one of the bands they tried for last year.”  This is a key clue in dating the record for the following reasons:

  1. In May, 1990, Nirvana played both in Chapel Hill (at Cat’s Cradle) and Charlotte.  Because of the proximity, it would be reasonable that Duke would have also tried to get a date on their first major headliner tour.
  2. Nevermind, Nirvana’s first major label success album was released in the fall of 1991.  Based on the fact that Durham is not located in suburban Seattle, it seems like a safe bet that they were relatively unknown in the area until they started to play the college circuit in 1990, and then they were catapulted into the spotlight with the release of the international hit album Nevermind.

Nirvana, of course was a band that was riddled with both controversy and tragedy.  Frontman Kurt Cobain famously battled a heroin addiction and, in 1994, committed suicide.  However, Nirvana is also largely credited with expanding the grunge—and later, alternative—rock genre beyond the Pacific Northwest.

Unfortunately, the story of Nirvana at Duke is found only in records of the Duke University Union, in a folder entitled “Concerts Lost.”  A final note about this record: Duke won the 1991-1992 seasons National Championship for men’s basketball.  Apparently those unmoveable practices paid off that year.

Post contributed by Maureen McCormick Harlow, Drill Intern for the Duke University Archives.




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4 Responses to Nevermind: The Concert That Wasn’t

  1. This is probably about a potential date in the fall of 1993, when Nirvana was one of the biggest bands in America. They played a show at William and Mary on November 7, 1993 – that’s likely where they went instead of Duke.

    Nirvana played the Cat’s Cradle in October 1991, on a club tour that was booked before they unexpectedly became hugely popular. They wouldn’t have been trying to book shows in basketball arenas before “Nevermind” came out.

  2. Selden Smith says:

    Fun stuff. Duke didn’t play NCSU on Nov 10 during the early 90′s. In 1993 they met on 11/13, and there were other matches 11/7 and 11/12. Brodie had retired by that fall, so maybe this discussion was in the Spring, when VB schedules might have been preliminary anyway. None of the other early 90′s meetings were later than 10/27.
    It appears VP Dickerson’s first academic year was ’92-’93, so ’92 or after makes sense.

  3. Lance Wittie says:

    I’m always interested in reading about anything related to the music industry in the 90′s — especially Nirvana, like most others.

    Believing what Richard said above me, considering he has his facts straight, it’s a real shame that Nirvana never played at Duke — it would have been a memorable moment for many.

    Lance’s Recent Post: Cinavia PS3 Fix

  4. Laura Eastwood says:

    The dates at the top – Thurs Oct 1, 8, 28, 29 – in 1992, the 1st, 8th, and 29th were Thursdays. Perhaps “28″ was written in error and was meant to be the 22nd, also a Thursday.

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