As MTSU's Murphy Center celebrates 50 years, we're looking back at the incredible concerts the venue hosted

Olivia Newton John at MTSU
Posted at 5:50 PM, Dec 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-14 20:09:09-05

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WTVF) — Chances are, if you've lived in Middle Tennessee long enough, you've attended a basketball game or graduation ceremony inside Murphy Center. This week, the iconic arena on Middle Tennessee State University's campus turned 50 years old.

It's easy to get all swept up in what you think the Charles "Bubber" Murphy Center was designed for. And sure, there's been a lot of great basketball played there.

"Conference championships, NCAA tournament play during the heyday," said Ed Arning, a former Sports Information Director for MTSU.

But before 1996, the arena was also the place to catch the biggest names in concert.

"Kenny Rogers hit the stage here," said Arning.

"Elton John, The Who, The Eagles, The Pointer Sisters," said Jim Simpson, the original Ticket Office Manager for the Murphy Center.

The list of artists includes Bruce Springsteen, Diana Ross, Garth Brooks, Chicago, John Denver, Charlie Daniels, Linda Ronstadt, The Who, Steve Miller Band, Electric Light Orchestra, Boston, Jimmy Buffett, Kenny Rogers, ZZ Top, Stevie Wonder, Barry Manilow, and many more.

"They realized that, gosh, this is a great concert venue," said Simpson.

The reason why they chose Murphy Center was pretty simple.

"Before Nashville built the Bridgestone Arena, we were the marquee arena in the entire region so every major concert came to this campus," said Arning.

It was even a venue fit for the King.

"Elvis Presley played five dates here in two years. I think that was probably the most excitement they’re been around the arena," said Simpson.

Elvis also recorded his live album entitled "Dixieland Rocks" during his performances in 1975.

Arning was in the house when Olivia Newton-John came to campus.

"She just really brought the house down," he said.

Newton-John was especially a crowd favorite when she made a wardrobe change that included donning an MTSU sweatshirt.

"The arena erupted and said, 'wow!'" Arning said.

The Murphy Center has undergone a few wardrobe changes of its own, as the venue celebrates 50 years on campus.

"New basketball floor, new seating," said Simpson.

But the mission still remains the same — provide a seat to the biggest events around so that it's easy to get swept up in the moment.

"It will be here for 50 more years I’m convinced," said Simpson.

"The numbers of people that have gotten to know MTSU through this building is a mind-boggling number," said Arning.

MTSU is celebrating the Murphy Center all year long, but will officially mark the building's birthday Thursday, during a basketball game against the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga.

The very first basketball game played in the Glass House was MTSU vs. Vanderbilt in 1972.

Members of both teams have been invited back to the venue to celebrate the big milestone.

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