IN the dim light of Ritchie Coliseum at the University of Maryland, Richard Izkowitz peers intently at the student workers scrambling through a maze of klieg lights, snaking cables and amplifiers on a 40-foot-long platform stage.
It is 2:30 p.m. And exactly six hours before the new wave band U2 takes the stage before a howling crowd of 2,200. As the lights go up, Izkowitz, a 20-year-old junior, and his fellow officers of Student Entertainment Enterprises flop down on the bleachers backstage with plastic cups of Coke and allow themselves a grin of satisfaction.
"It's nice to sit back when the lights go up and say to yourself, 'We did okay again,' " said Izkowitz, technical director of the group. "That is the glamor part, but the rest is real hard work."
The U2 sell-out concert last month was only one of almost two dozen that Entertainment Enterprises, staffed and funded by students, has brought to Maryland this semester. This month the group also put on The Roches, a Celtic folk music festival and host Dave Edmunds.
"These are no 'Hey Mickey (Rooney), Hey Judy (Garland), let's put on a show!' productions, either," says Michael A. Jaworek, 30, the group's faculty adviser. In fact, between student fees and revenues from shows, Student Entertainment Enterprises' budget totaled more than $500,000 this year, allowing it to bring Dan Fogelberg, Adam Ant, Ozzie Osbourne, The Fabulous Thunderbirds and NRBQ, among others, to campus this year. The students either promote the show or, like the U2 concert, help a professional promoter keep things running smoothly.
The student concert promoters are by no means unique. Professional agents say student groups now promote 20 percent to 30 percent of all rock concerts in the country--an industry estimated to gross $1 billion a year.
"Student groups are taken very seriously," said John Huie, a vice president of Frontier Booking International in New York City who represents such groups as The Police, The Go-Go's and The English Beat. "Almost all colleges have some budget for programming and most of them are interested in putting on concerts with the most popular band at the moment."
Agents say it is only natural that students spend their time and money getting performers to come to their campuses.
"These students are more sophisticated today than they ever have been," said Jaworek, before the U2 concert, watching the crowd pushing against the shoulder high partition in front of the stage. "But popular music speaks to them in a language they can understand. They can play it, dance to it, understand it. There is this heady feeling to be part of the glamor surrounding the music industry."
But there is work as well. Izkowitz, unassuming in his down vest, jeans and running shoes, can rattle off the technical requirements of each amplifier, light and microphone with a professional ease that leaves the uninitiated lost at the first outlet.
A dozen students help U2's technical crew unload its equipment, set it up and take it down after the show, a process that can start at 8 a.m. and end at 2 a.m.
"It's just like the song, we're the first to come and the last to leave, working for that minimum wage," says Izkowitz.
The students also arrange to sell beer and colas to the audience, take the tickets and design the promotional posters that are tacked up around campus and just as quickly pulled down to decorate dormitory rooms. The security force is made up of a disciplined group of fraternity brothers in red T-shirts with the SEE logo who precede every request with a genial "I don't mean to hassle you, but . . ."
Concert director Jenny Simpson, a senior with spikey blond hair and designer jeans, spends most of her time on the telephone booking acts through New York agents. Some agents say they are amazed by her ability to negotiate for top-notch groups at minimal costs. Senior Pete LaForce, 26, the group's self-assured director, keeps the money coming from the student government.
"You get such incredible organizations that you can hardly believe they're still just students," says Huie, who agrees with several agents that the University of Maryland--along with the University of Pennsylvania, State University of New York at Stony Brook, The University of Michigan and The University of Massachusetts--has one of the most professional student concert groups in the country.
Locally, American University and George Washington University have produced successful concerts. American spent $20,000 for an annual spring concert that featured The Divinyls, Marshall Crenshaw and the Psychedelic Furs.
Professionals in the industry say students have always helped bring performers and bands to campus, but said sophisticated student groups have grown just as the industry has grown.
"Around 1973-74 this industry was more or less born," said Huie. "It got very technical and expensive very quickly and the students just caught on and have kept up for the most part."
School administrators also had a hand in creating student concert committees. At Maryland, for example, small student groups, such as fraternities, brought performers to campus but in a haphazard way.
"They lost lots and lots of money which the university ended up having to pay," says Drury Bagwell, Maryland's assistant vice chancellor for student affairs. A decade ago Maryland, and many other universities, set up student concert committees, funded by student fees and monitored by the administration.
"It gets to be a real art," says Simpson. "If you make a mistake and take a bath on a concert, that could limit the number of groups you can bring to campus or the number of free concerts you can offer students." She said Maryland, which charges up to $12.50 a ticket for a concert, lost a substantial amount of money on only one show this semester.
However professional students may be, agents say there are difficulties when dealing with colleges. Most notably, students are wrapped in a maze of legal requirements set up by the board of trustees or the state where the school is located. It often take days and even weeks to close a deal.
"It's hard to convince people to deal with a bureaucratic tangle," says Phil Ernst, a 26-year-old booking agent for American Talent International, representing the Stray Cats, Ozzie Osbourne and the Blue Oyster Cult among others. However, Ernst conceded that sometimes students pull through with determination and enthusiasm where a wary professional promoter might fear to tread.
"My family and friends are always saying, 'Oh that's a nice hobby but you're just fooling around,' " Izkowitz lamented during a break at Ritchie. "It will be nice when they see I can actually make a good living out of this."