The anniversary season boasts a lineup of Emmy-nominated and Grammy-winning speakers and performers with a special Lubbock Lights tribute to Mac Davis.
This year marks the 15th anniversary of the Presidential Lecture and Performance Series (PLPS). Hosted by Texas Tech University's Office of the President, the series brings world-renowned artists to the Lubbock community every year.
“I think universities have a fundamental role in enriching the lives of those in the surrounding communities as well as the lives of their students,” said Lawrence Schovanec, president of Texas Tech. “Given the participation we've seen from non-campus members, I think that speaks to the importance and success of this series.”
Created in 2006 by then-Texas Tech President Jon Whitmore, the series' mission is to enhance the intellectual and cultural landscape; of not only Texas Tech, but also of Lubbock and the South Plains as well. It was important to Whitmore that the series be a celebration of inclusion and diversity on campus and throughout the community.
“Since the beginning, we prioritized having a diverse group of artists who would appeal to diverse audiences,” said Jo Moore, who served as director of the PLPS for 12 years until her retirement in 2020. “The series has only grown since that time. We have continued to build on this foundation as we've brought in artists with different points of view from all over the world.”
The first performance of the series was by Taylor 2, the apprentice group to the Paul Taylor Dance Company, in September of 2006. Since that time, the series has welcomed dancers, singer/song writers, musicians, poets, authors, comedians and other artists. Among these have been Pulitzer- and Tony-winning playwright, Tony Kushner, Grammy-winning humorist Garrison Keillor, U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins and Emmy-winning journalist Cokie Roberts. Since its inception, the series has hosted more than 60 artists.
It's important to note however, this is not the first program of its kind at Texas Tech.
A production called Nightlife used to be a popular performance series on campus. Founded in the 1930s, the performances were self-funded and hosted guests such as
James Earl Jones, Jane Goodall, Spike Lee and Isaac Stern. Nightlife continued for many decades but eventually stopped running. When the PLPS started in 2006, it was not necessarily intended to replace Nightlife, but to continue with the mission of bringing world-class artists to Lubbock who might not otherwise visit.
However, Lubbock is not the same city as it was in 2006.
With a flourishing arts community and new venues such as the Buddy Holly Hall of Performing Arts and Sciences, more performers are coming to Lubbock than ever before. With this in mind, it is important to the PLPS team to offer unique experiences that do not compete with local arts organizations.
“I consider PLPS its own presenting category in Lubbock,” said Dóri Bosnyák, lead administrator for the PLPS. “In our community, we must consider each arts organization's event schedule to ensure we don't offer too many choices for a given evening. We do not want to divide audiences and pull them in too many directions. However, given our audience, venue size and programming, we do not feel the PLPS is competing directly with any other organizations in town, but rather, complementing them.”
Lubbock undeniably has a thriving local music scene, as it has for many years. While the PLPS brings in musicians, it also brings in many other types of artists – providing a platform that otherwise might not exist in Lubbock. The goal is to offer something unique to the community, not duplicate experiences already offered.
While the series boasts world-class entertainment, the PLPS team does not consider that to be the series' key mission. Rather, community outreach is at the heart of the program.
“We not only entertain but educate,” Bosnyák said. “A big part of the PLPS is the community outreach; so much so that we only bring in artists who agree to this.”
While the shows in the Allen Theatre are outstanding, many of these smaller performances and classes stand out in people's memories years later.
“The outreach classes were my favorite thing to attend,” Moore said. “You got to hear from the artists in a much more intimate context and hear the questions students asked. It was fabulous.”
The goal of the outreach is to involve as many colleges and departments on campus as possible. The PLPS hosts artists who have a wide appeal to many different disciplines. In addition, guest artists also spend time with other groups in the community as part of the visiting artists program.
Examples of such events have been Sammy Miller & The Congregation providing a performance to jazz students at Coronado High School, Lyle Lovett doing a Q&A with students at Lubbock High School and Ballet Lubbock students receiving masterclass instruction from professional dance companies.
Another essential component of the series is Lubbock Lights.
Started in 2015 and brought under the umbrella of the PLPS in 2018, Lubbock Lights is a Texas Tech-sponsored event that celebrates West Texas' musical heritage. Founded by Andy Wilkinson and former Texas Tech President Duane Nellis, the event shows appreciation to Lubbock artists who have made significant impacts to the world of music. It also brings awareness to new generations about the importance of music that originated in Lubbock and its surrounding areas.
Usually an intimate acoustic setting, this season's event will be a bit bigger. On April 7, 2022, Lubbock Lights will pay tribute to the life and music of Mac Davis.
“Mac Davis went to Lubbock High School,” said Lloyd Maines, music director for Lubbock Lights. “He wrote some amazing songs and had an incredible career. I only met him once, but I could tell that even with his extremely successful accolades, he never forgot where he was from. He had some Lubbock in his soul, just like the rest of us.”
This year's programs
The 15th anniversary season boasts an impressive lineup of guest artists.
Oct. 7 – Fran Lebowitz
In a cultural landscape filled with endless pundits and talking heads, Fran Lebowitz stands out as one of the nation's most insightful social commentators. The recently Emmy-nominated author, journalist and social observer offers her acerbic views on current events and the media as well as pet peeves including tourists, baggage-claim areas, after-shave lotion, adults who roller skate, children who speak French or anyone who is unduly tan. The New York Times Book Review calls Lebowitz an “important humorist in the classic tradition.” Purveyor of urban cool and unapologetically opinionated, Lebowitz is a cultural satirist who stars in the 2021 Emmy-nominated, limited Netflix documentary series, “Pretend It's a City.” Once named one of the year's most stylish women by Vanity Fair in 2007, she remains a style icon. Lebowitz lives in New York City, as she does not believe that she would be allowed to live anywhere else.
Nov. 3 – m-pact a cappella pop-jazz ensemble
Hailed as “one of the best pop-jazz vocal groups in the world” by the San Francisco Chronicle, m-pact is respected worldwide as a cutting-edge trailblazer in the realm of vocal music. Emerging from an age of auto-tune and overproduction, this Los Angeles-based sextet has cultivated a new generation of ears hungry for the fresh, raw power of nature's “first instrument” – the human voice. Touring renowned fine arts halls and jazz festivals across four continents, m-pact has performed with pop superstars Sheryl Crow, Boyz II Men, Kenny G, Liza Minnelli, Babyface, Rick Springfield and Jackson Browne, as well as jazz legends including Ray Charles, Natalie Cole, Bobby McFerrin and Take 6. Over the last 12 years, their signature sound has been used in both TV themes and animated Disney feature films and is enjoyed on syndicated radio worldwide.
Feb. 25, 2022 – Ranky Tanky
The Grammy-winning jazz, gospel, funk and rhythm and blues group released their eponymous debut on Oct. 20, 2017. By December of that year, the group had been profiled on National Public Radio's (NPR) Fresh Air with Terry Gross and their album soared to the No. 1 position on the Billboard, iTunes and Amazon Jazz charts. “Gullah” comes from West African language and means “a people blessed by God.” “Ranky Tanky” translates loosely as “work it” or “get funky!” In this spirit, the Charleston, South Carolina-based quintet performs timeless music of Gullah culture born in the southeastern Sea Island region of the U.S. From playful game songs to ecstatic shouts, from heartbreaking spirituals to delicate lullabies, the musical roots of Charleston are “rank” and fertile ground from which these contemporary artists are grateful to have grown. The soulful songs of the Gullah culture are brought to life by this band of native South Carolinians who mix the low country traditions with large doses of jazz, gospel, funk and R&B.
April 7, 2022 – Lubbock Lights: Celebrating the Life & Music of Mac Davis
Lubbock native and country-pop singer, songwriter and actor Mac Davis was a true Lubbock Light. His early career saw success through Nancy Sinatra's Boot's Publishing, Inc. and achieved international recognition when Elvis Presley recorded his songs “Memories” and “In the Ghetto.” Davis also pursued his own successful solo career producing many hits including “Baby, Don't Get Hooked on Me,” “Stop and Smell the Roses,” and “It's Hard to Be Humble;” but a local fan favorite is “Texas in My Rear View Mirror.” He was a Grammy-nominated artist and named the Academy of Country Music Entertainer of the Year in 1974. As an actor, he hosted “The Mac Davis Show” on NBC, appeared on “The Muppet Show” and was cast in numerous films. His debut film cast him in a co-starring role opposite Nick Nolte in “North Dallas Forty.” This event celebrates Mac Davis's music and legacy through an evening of conversation and listening to some of his best-known tunes. Hosted by Kenny Maines, it will feature many local musicians covering songs to honor Mac Davis's contributions to the world of entertainment.
The season's shows will be held at the Allen Theatre on Texas Tech's campus. For information on tickets, follow this link and use Select-a-Seat or visit the PLPS website. Those who purchase season tickets will receive a complimentary Presidential Lecture & Performance Season tumbler. Follow the PLPS on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for more information and updates.