TALES FROM BACK­STAGE

Bernie Punt set to re­tire from Bryce Jor­dan Cen­ter

Centre Daily Times - - Front Page - BY BRET PALLOTTO bpal­[email protected]­tredaily.com

When Paul McCart­ney’s han­dler asks what your venue can do that no other build­ing has done be­fore, an­swer­ing can be an in­tim­i­dat­ing task.

But Bernie Punt — the Bryce Jor­dan Cen­ter’s direc­tor of mar­ket­ing and sales for the past 23 years — de­liv­ered an on-the-spot an­swer that McCart­ney’s team thought was bril­liant.

Punt re­called the story Thurs­day as he and his sig­na­ture curly, dirty blond hair walked through the bow­els of the BJC — eight days be­fore he re­tires.

“This was prob­a­bly the most na­tional pub­lic­ity we got,” Punt said of the Oc­to­ber 2015 con­cert. “This sold out im­me­di­ately, but I was ner­vous about it be­cause it was a re­ally ex­pen­sive ticket. I was told by the pro­moter, ‘Paul sells out.’ ”

Punt even­tu­ally in­ter­viewed for four hours with McCart­ney’s man­ager and pro­duc­tion team after they flew in from Eng­land. That’s when McCart­ney’s han­dler took time to re­mind Punt “who you’re dealing with.”

As Punt tells the story, McCart­ney’s han­dler re­minded Punt about one of McCart­ney’s con­certs in Brazil in front of about 200,000 peo­ple. The show was one of the largest crowds McCart­ney ever per­formed in front of and his han­dler thought it was “the great­est thing ever.”

But after the show, McCart­ney said he’d no­ticed two empty seats in the crowd and told his han­dler it bet­ter not hap­pen again, Punt was told.

“And he goes, ‘That’s who you’re dealing with,’ ” Punt said. “So I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m not in­tim­i­dated at all.’ ”

So what was Punt’s mas­ter plan to bring McCart­ney to Happy Val­ley? Hot air bal­loons.

The strat­egy was to launch four hot air bal­loons at the same time in State Col­lege, Al­toona, Wil­liamsport and Har­ris­burg with each con­tain­ing a clue that, when pieced to­gether, would let Penn­syl­va­nia know McCart­ney was

com­ing.

“They’re like, ‘It’s ... bril­liant. We’ve never done any­thing like that,’ ” Punt said.

The team then called McCart­ney to get his thoughts on the plan, came back and said, “Paul likes it.”

Two days later, Punt and the BJC got the show. It sold out within an hour. The bal­loons, by the way, never took flight be­cause Punt said there were too many vari­ables.

That story was one of sev­eral Punt told as he rem­i­nisced on his Hall of Fame ca­reer.

PEARL JAM

If a ma­jor tour wants to visit the BJC, but Penn State’s Ca­reer Day is al­ready sched­uled, Ca­reer Day takes prece­dence.

Aca­demic events, in­clud­ing Thon, are the top pri­or­ity, fol­lowed by bas­ket­ball. Tours are the “low­est on the hi­er­ar­chy” when it comes to sched­ul­ing, Punt said.

While not un­com­mon, it has forced Punt to say “no” — some­thing he never wants to say — on var­i­ous oc­ca­sions, in­clud­ing to Pearl Jam.

The BJC’s re­la­tion­ship with the rock band started out very well. State Col­lege was the last stop for the band on the first leg of its 2003 tour.

As vo­cal­ist Ed­die Ved­der closed out the 23 songs on the set list, he de­cided the band would make it “one of the long­est ever shows they had.” Three en­cores and 18 songs later, the show ended at about 1 a.m. and was the long­est of their ca­reer at that point.

“We had a chance. Pearl Jam wanted to come back like a year or two year later, maybe three or four years later, they wanted to come back and close an­other tour out here,” Punt said. “And we al­ready had some­thing booked. We had to tell ‘em no. They’ve never been back. It just kills you.”

MICHAEL JOR­DAN AND 9/11

The Philadel­phia 76ers used to prac­tice at the BJC and would also host ex­hi­bi­tion games. That in­cluded the 2001 sea­son when Michael Jor­dan came out of a three-year re­tire­ment and joined the Wash­ing­ton Wizards, who were sched­uled to visit.

Punt and the BJC ul­ti­mately launched the mar­ket­ing cam­paign for that event on Sept. 10, 2001.

“The next day I’m like, ‘We’re gonna sell this thing out. I’m so ex­cited,’ ” Punt said. “And on the morn­ing of 9/11, we start sell­ing tick­ets. And then all of the sud­den, our ticket sales started slow­ing down. One busi­ness man­ager goes, ‘Have you seen what’s go­ing on?’ And I re­mem­ber walk­ing into his of­fice and watch­ing the se­cond air­plane go into the build­ing. That’s when the whole world stopped.”

Shortly after, one of the game’s pro­mot­ers called Punt and asked how the sales were.

“I was like, ‘What? How can — what? Do you see what’s go­ing on?’ All of the sud­den I heard her, ‘Oh my God,’ ” Punt said. “It was like, ‘We’re not dealing with bas­ket­ball right now.’ ”

As 11 a.m. ap­proached, a ca­reer fair was set to be­gin and both the stu­dents and busi­nesses were pre­pared to pro­ceed. That in­cluded a few pro­fes­sion­als who worked at the World Trade Cen­ter and trav­eled the day prior.

“There were like empty ta­bles and they were just cry­ing. All their col­leagues, they were dis­cov­er­ing they’re gone. That photo in­vokes that mem­ory of that day and then see­ing the ca­reer fair and the im­pact that 9/11 had on sports and en­ter­tain­ment from that day for­ward,” Punt said, point­ing to a photo of Jor­dan drib­bling in front of a sold-out BJC crowd on Oct. 22, 2001.

BILLY JOEL AND EL­TON JOHN

The BJC has one “re­ally big” star dress­ing room. It’s lav­ish, has nice fur­ni­ture, plants, the works. The other star dress­ing room, how­ever, is a locker room with pipe and drape.

“There’s a big dif­fer­ence be­tween the two,” Punt said.

So when Billy Joel and El­ton John vis­ited dur­ing their Face to Face tour, he was tasked with de­cid­ing which artist got which room. Nor­mally, it’s set­tled with a coin flip.

That didn’t hap­pen. “Billy walks in, looks at the locker and goes, ‘Yeah, rented fur­ni­ture, yeah, yeah.’ He walks in and goes into the other dress­ing room and he goes, ‘Oh, this is El­ton. This is all El­ton. He’ll love this. I’ll take the locker room,’ ” Punt said. “It made our lives a lot eas­ier.”

TAY­LOR SWIFT

Teach­ing in­tro­duc­tory facility man­age­ment classes at Penn State is what Punt is go­ing to miss the most. He’s been do­ing it for the last 16 or 17 years and would oc­ca­sion­ally se­lect a few to be interns.

He’d in­tro­duce stu­dents to the “world of en­ter­tain­ment mar­ket­ing,” al­low them to gar­ner ex­pe­ri­ence and net­work be­fore they had to launch their own ca­reer.

One of those for­mer interns is Tay­lor Swift’s tour man­ager, who he worked with to bring the Read­ing-born singer to State Col­lege in 2009.

“That was a very special night when she re­turned,” Punt said.

‘WALK­ING WITH DI­NOSAURS’

Punt was a mar­ket­ing con­sul­tant for the na­tional tour of “Walk­ing With Di­nosaurs: The Live Ex­pe­ri­ence” — an in­ter­ac­tive show with an­i­ma­tronic di­nosaurs that cost $20 mil­lion to pro­duce.

The fi­nal State Col­lege show was Easter Sun­day, 2008. Punt mem­o­rized vir­tu­ally ev­ery line of the 90-minute show be­cause of his in­volve­ment from the be­gin­ning, but “some­thing was off” dur­ing that fi­nal show.

One scene was sup­posed to have a young di­nosaur bat­tle an el­der and emerge vic­to­ri­ous. That didn’t hap­pen, though, be­cause the young di­nosaur lost power.

The Aus­tralian pa­le­on­tol­o­gist tried to stall and joke about the sit­u­a­tion, but no­body else knew it wasn’t part of the script ex­cept for Punt.

After the show moved past the mishap, it reached its crescendo — three ve­loci­rap­tors at­tack­ing a baby Tyran­nosaurus rex be­fore the mother sur­prises the crowd and saves her baby.

But, like the young di­nosaur ear­lier, the mother lost power.

The pa­le­on­tol­o­gist de­cided he had enough of the mishaps and went back stage to find out what was hap­pen­ing. The prob­lem was he didn’t turn off his mi­cro­phone.

A string of F-bombs erupted into the crowd — on Easter Sun­day.

“These par­ents, louder than the di­nosaur, grab­bing their kids, march­ing to the box of­fice, they want their money back,” Punt said.

After Punt’s boss told him to “do some­thing,” he ran back­stage and told the pa­le­on­tol­o­gist his mi­cro­phone was still on, to no avail.

“He goes, ‘I don’t un­der­stand with you Amer­i­cans. It’s just a word,’ ” Punt said, im­i­tat­ing an Aus­tralian ac­cent.

THE END OF A CA­REER

Punt takes things per­son­ally. He knows it’s part of the ter­ri­tory, but he also knows it can catch up with you.

“Imag­ine do­ing the best you think you can do and the client that you’re work­ing with is never com­pletely happy. That can wear you down,” Punt said. “What re­v­erses it is the ex­cite­ment when you get a show and an­nounc­ing it — ev­ery­body gets ex­cited.”

And when the show ar­rives or the artist comes out, he can’t wait for the split-se­cond be­fore they come out onto the stage and there’s an elec­tric­ity in the air.

“That’s my drug. That’s what’s cool,” Punt said. “I still get charged on that — think­ing about it.”

That in­cludes “Paw Pa­trol” — his last show.

“I wanted to hear — we had three shows — and that last show, I gotta hear it. I gotta stand off to the side,” Punt said. “And you hear all the lit­tle kids for their first live per­for­mance and you hear, ‘Mommy! Daddy!’ And I’m just like, ‘That’s it. That’s awe­some.’ ”

Bret Pallotto: 814-231-4648, @BretPal­lot­toCDT

ABBY DREY [email protected]­tredaily.com

Walk­ing in a hall at Bryce Jor­dan Cen­ter filled with pho­tos of past shows, Bernie Punt shares a tale of a Paul McCart­ney show. Punt is set to re­tire after work­ing at the cen­ter for 23 years. His plan to bring McCart­ney to Happy Val­ley in 2015 in­volved hot air bal­loons, but they never took flight.

COUR­TESY PHOTO

Bernie Punt, who is re­tir­ing as the BJC direc­tor of mar­ket­ing and sales, talks with Greg All­man in Septem­ber 1998.

ABBY DREY

On Thurs­day, Bernie Punt shares a story about Tay­lor Swift com­ing to per­form in the Bryce Jor­dan Cen­ter as he walks down a hall of the build­ing filled with pho­tos from past shows. The Read­ing-born singer came to State Col­lege in 2009.

Cen­tre Daily Times file

Bernie Punt walks through a cor­ri­dor at the Bryce Jor­dan Cen­ter in April 2010.

Cen­tre Daily Times file

Bernie Punt talks with An­drew Silsby, left, Stan­ley Okoye and Justin Jacobs be­fore per­form­ing artist Drake’s con­cert at the Bryce Jor­dan Cen­ter in April 2010.

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