Like many college students in the early to mid 1980s, Davidsonians were fairly obsessed with R.E.M. The weekly campus newspaper, The Davidsonian, featured reviews of every R.E.M. album and local show (see the April 22, 1983, September 21, 1984, and September 21, 1987 issues for examples), and during the Spring 1983 semester, R.E.M. played at Davidson twice.
R.E.M. played in the College’s 900 Room on February 5, 1983, and by all accounts the show was a major campus success – the room was packed to capacity and students had to be turned away. The band was had been in the area for a few weeks, recording their debut studio album Murmur at Charlotte’s Reflection Sound Studios (R.E.M. would return to Reflection the next year, to record their second album, Reckoning).
After the show, Director of the College Union, C. Shaw Smith (Class of 1939, College Union Director 1953 – 1983, and namesake of the C. Shaw Smith 900 Room) received a postcard from the physical embodiment of Davidson’s connection to R.E.M. – Bertis Downs IV, then a recent Davidson College alumnus (Class of 1978) who began giving legal advice and assisting R.E.M. with contracts as a law student at the University of Georgia, after seeing the band’s second-ever show at Athens’ Kaffee Klub in April 1980. Downs’ father, Bertis Downs III, was also a Davidson alumnus (Class of 1953).After Murmur was released in April 1983 (and reviewed in the April 22 Davidsonian), R.E.M. returned to the Davidson campus, to play a larger venue – the Love Auditorium, in New Chambers, on Friday, May 6th.
In addition to numerous student newspaper references to R.E.M.’s perfomances and albums, the Davidson College Archives & Special Collections hold a copy of the band’s contract for the May 1983 performance. There are several interesting nuggets to pull out of the contract:
Unfortunately, R.E.M. didn’t play at Davidson again after the Spring 1983 semester, but we here at Around the D can still be proud of the success alumnus Bertis Downs has found with the band. According to an interview with the Gwinett Daily Post in 2012, Downs’ love of music also fueled his Davidson activities:
At Davidson I had been on the concert committee and had a radio show. I was always interested in music but I was interested more in the business side of music: how does it work? You know, the inner-workings of the business, concerts etc.
Downs also recently wrote a reflection on Davidson College Basketball for the Davidson Journal. Downs remains an employee of R.E.M., and is a retired adjunct professor of entertainment law at the University of Georgia.