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UC Davis Magazine

Volume 32 · Number 1 · Fall 2014

Freeborn Hall retrospective

Freeborn Hall concert posters


Photo credit: Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis, KDVS alumni Facebook group and the Sacramento Rock and Radio Museum

Joan Baez sang to a full house of adoring fans seated on pillows. Journey introduced a “very special guest” — new lead singer Steve Perry. The Dead Kennedys played their last show on its stage. Cake received a pie, a gift from students. Steve Aoki crowd surfed on a rubber raft, and fell into the unfazed audience.

Freeborn Hall is dark now — its doors locked and the box-office windows shuttered while the campus decides whether to rebuild or to make seismic retrofits. But for more than a half-century the multipurpose auditorium was center stage of student life — and more. It also played a leading role in the region’s rock ‘n’ roll history, hosting a long-running series of big-name musical acts.

Freeborn concerts helped make UC Davis a “center of rock music promotion” in the region, according to the Sacramento Rock and Radio Museum’s website. Many of those shows were produced by students — sponsored by the Associated Students of UC Davis and other organizations.

Although Freeborn stands quiet and empty now, in the memories of many Aggies (and in online videos), the place still rocks!

“Some of the best concerts I’ve gone to were at Freeborn,” Marcelle Domingo ’08 wrote in a post on UC Davis’ Facebook page.

“What a great hall for concerts! It was small enough to see the artist up close, yet large enough to attract popular artists such as Tom Petty,” said Jeff Mason ’81, who saw Petty and the Heartbreakers perform there in 1978.

Katy True Bejarano ’65 was a freshman in 1961–62 when Freeborn Hall opened. Then, the addition to the Memorial Union complex was called simply the assembly hall (it was later renamed to honor UC Davis’ first chancellor, entomologist Stanley Freeborn).

Robert Kennedy

For many Aggies who attended UC Davis in the late 1960s, their most vivid Freeborn Hall memory was of a presidential campaign appearance by Robert F. Kennedy three weeks before his assassination.

More . . .

Joan Baez gave the inaugural concert that September. “She never cracked a smile, but her music was amazing,” said Bejarano, who also saw the Smothers Brothers, Peter Nero and Louis Armstrong perform at Freeborn. “What a lineup!”

The lineups continued to amaze other Aggies over the years. Other alumni share memories of some of their favorite Freeborn Hall shows:


“I saw the great Duke Ellington for $1, and later Glenn Yarborough and his warm-up act, a young Bill Cosby who was skinny and had hair.”

Favorite concert: Glenn Yarborough (“Baby The Rain Must Fall”).

“The first time I saw chairs in Freeborn was at commencement; prior to that, the only seating I recall is pillows — as in pillow concerts. My most memorable Freeborn pillow concert involved Joan Baez in [December 1970]. I was not a Joan Baez fan, thinking her too smug and serious. But my boyfriend bought tickets, so I went. We were about 20 feet from the stage. Joan asked that no one take photos, explaining that later she would sing a song specifically for photo takers and would smile throughout the song. After several of her trademark serious ballads, she announced it was photo time. She launched into a song titled, ‘Thank God and Greyhound You’re Gone,’ singing and smiling until every flashbulb had been expended. I left Freeborn a Joan Baez fan.”

The campus grows up

Freeborn Hall, built to replace a 1922 building, helped grow a regional audience to support the construction of the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts.

More . . .


“I saw The Motels there in September 1982. Such a great venue and tix were affordable for freshman like me.”

“My best Freeborn memory is a concert by the iconic ’80s band Oingo Boingo. We were pressing toward the stage when front man Danny Elfman pulled off his T-shirt and threw it into the crowd. Unexpectedly, it flew right at me, but when I reached up to grab it, another hand had part of it. In the thick crowd there was a brief moment of tugging before we looked at each other and simultaneously realized it was our roommate! We high-fived and went back to rocking out to the great music. Since I lived with the same three guys for my last three years at Davis, that sweaty T-shirt hung in our house for awhile, and although I can’t say much for our decorating taste at the time, the memory makes me laugh.”

“If I have to choose one favorite concert it was in 1986 when Phranc and 7 Seconds opened up for the Dead Kennedys. My date and I stayed for the first bands, but then left before the DKs, since she wanted to see a movie in 194 Chem that night. I was new to dating, so I assumed that meant compromise: We can do both events in one night, even if it means that I miss part of the show. Bummer that it was the DK’s last concert ever before they broke up. But now I have a great story to tell — thanks to UC Davis and Freeborn Hall.”


“I saw a great Counting Crows concert there in the mid-90s. No one knew who they were. I also performed in a concert there where the maestro lost his suspenders and almost his pants! One of my favorite memories!”

“I got to see Fuel rock Freeborn Hall hard! Great times and memories! Jimmy Eat World, Death Cab for Cutie, and Tegan and Sara.”

“I saw Godsmack my first week there as a student. Fuel another year. And a few years after I graduated I saw Beck there (and got to meet him too).”

“For me it has to be [Nine Inch Nails] in 2005. Who would have thought one of the biggest alternative bands from the ’90s and now would have done a rehearsal show on the UC Davis campus? Thankfully I was smart enough to take my student ID to buy tickets the day tickets went on sale. Scored a pair of tickets from the last 100 they had reserved for students only. I could have easily sold my tickets for rent money, but couldn’t because it was NIN!”

“Dance partying with Girl Talk for free and then bringing him down to Lower Freeborn Hall to record a radio drop for KDVS!”

“The first time I ever went to a concert was the [January 2011] 30 Seconds to Mars concert. And it was here at Freeborn hall. It was amazing.”

Kathleen Holder is managing editor of UC Davis Magazine.