Music
1:03 pm
Tue October 8, 2013

How Austin's Anderson High School Got Phoenix to Play Their Gym

When you were in high school, wouldn’t you have loved to have a cool band play in your gym? I remember trying to get the band Karp to play my high school in the 1990s, but the teacher who sponsored the student council balked once he heard what they sound like. Instead, they spent the money on a Top 40 video dance party with fog machines. 

But last night, Anderson High School in Austin ISD did what my high school could never do: They hosted a secret show for the French dance-rockers Phoenix. (While considerably more accessible than any post-hardcore band, it's a remarkable achievement nonetheless.)

“Seriously how the hell does Anderson book Phoenix to play a gig at their school and Pflugerville gets Granger Smith #injustice,” tweeted one envious teen.

“Phoenix at Anderson? Lucky bastards,” said another.

Indeed. So, how did it happen?

The PBS television series “Live From the Artists Den” was looking for a typical, old Texas high school gymnasium to shoot a Phoenix performance, and they reached out over the summer to Donna Houser, the principal at Anderson High School.

“We have probably the smallest gymnasium in all of Texas for a 5A high school,” Houser says. “It’s an old, old gym, was built in 1973. It really has never been renovated. We have smaller seating capacity than Murchison Middle School down the road.” 

Houser was unfamiliar with Phoenix, and researched their music online to see if they had “appropriate lyrics for high school.” She came to conclusion that Phoenix is a “great band” and said they’d be happy to host them.

But not all 2,000 or so Anderson High School students would be able to attend, given the small size of the gym and the need for TV crews and equipment. So Houser created an attendance contest, giving students a chance to enter to win tickets if they didn’t miss class and weren’t tardy.

The only catch was that she could not reveal who the artist was until a week before the performance. “I can’t tell you what it is,” she told her students, “but if you have perfect attendance and no tardies, there’s going to be a really great prize at the end of this.”

A total of 450 students made it into the show and had a fantastic time, judging by the Tweets and Instagram posts.

“They were out of their minds,” Houser said. “They were so excited. I could have filled that thing six times with kids and people in the community.”