Students bring expertise behind scenes at ‘Freedom...

Students bring expertise behind scenes at ‘Freedom Sings’ (+VIDEO)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The experience MTSU students gain while working behind the scenes at events like the Newseum Institute’s “Freedom Sings” celebration at Nashville’s Bluebird Café Tuesday night is much more than camera angles and lighting.

They also develop even more of the professionalism demanded by an industry that survives on speed, efficiency, ratings and the idiosyncrasies of the people in front of the lens.

“Events like this give me an opportunity to do professional projects,” explained MTSU senior Phillip Dixon, director of the university’s TV coverage of the 15th anniversary of the program celebrating free speech and music.

“This is something I can put on my resume and go out and say, ‘I directed this project.’ It gives me an edge that other people might not have. It’s another great opportunity to begin my career.”

Ken Paulson, dean of MTSU’s College of Mass Communication and president of the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center, said that Dixon and his classmates’ experience is precisely why the college’s Department of Electronic Media Communication is producing such successful students.

“It’s a hallmark of our EMC program that our students learn very quickly to work at a professional level,” Paulson explained while Dixon gave instructions to crew members a few feet away.

“We want to provide our students with a sound, multifaceted educational foundation that’s also a real plus when they leave school already knowing the tools of the trade.”

MTSU senior Kelsey Greer designed the commemorative poster for “Freedom Sings at the Bluebird,” the special event marking the program’s 15th anniversary.

Freedom Sings, the signature program of the First Amendment Center, features prominent recording artists playing music that has been banned or censored, or has sounded a call for social change. It was launched at the Bluebird in 1999 and has toured U.S. college campuses since then, supplemented by CDs, a documentary and teachers’ guide.

The two 15th anniversary “Freedom Sings” shows at the Bluebird included performances by Grammy winners Janis Ian, Ashley Cleveland and Don Henry, Bill Lloyd, Kim Richey, Gretchen Peters, Webb Wilder, Will Kimbrough, Jonell Mosser, Lari White, Joseph Wooten, Dez Dickerson and more. The backing band included Dave Pomeroy, Craig Krampf, Danny Flowers, E-Street Band member Garry Tallent and Lloyd.

MTSU crews work regularly with ESPN3 and Sinclair Broadcasting Corp. to produce sports and other events and have gained a strong reputation for their work on projects with PBS affiliates.

The students, identifiable only by the “MT MASS COMMUNICATION CREW” scrawled in white across the back or on the breasts of their black shirts, scurry behind the scenes to set up and operate audio and video equipment at events like Tuesday night’s “Freedom Sings” performances and Monday’s Barry Gibb performance-lecture on the MTSU campus.

As unconcerned about working alongside a multi-Grammy winner as they’d be next to a professor or fellow student, they walk into a venue and immediately launch into technical jargon with longtime industry pros without missing a beat.

“You guys are great!” renowned bassist Pomeroy announced at one point during the sound check in the Bluebird’s infamous tight quarters.

“Do y’all have any more cameras to bring in? Any more cables? Something I can trip over?”

Pomeroy grinned at a passing student, who laughed at the musician while carrying a tripod to another, better angle.

“Oh, we have fun,” said Mike Forbes, the EMC department’s assistant director of technical systems, as he watched the last-minute preparations for the shows. “It’s serious work, but it’s fun.”

You can see more photos from the “Freedom Sings” 15th anniversary event at the MTSU Facebook page at You also can learn more about a special proclamation by Nashville Mayor Karl Dean here.

— Gina E. Fann (

An MTSU electronic media communication student moves in close for footage from Tuesday night’s “Freedom Sings” 15th anniversary celebration at Nashville’s Bluebird Café. (MTSU photos by J. Intintoli)

Ken Paulson, left, dean of MTSU’s College of Mass Communication and president of the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center, explains the “Freedom Sings” project to the audience at the 15th anniversary celebration’s early show at Nashville’s Bluebird Café.

MTSU electronic media communication students prepare to tape the 15th anniversary “Freedom Sings” celebration Tuesday night in a corner of Nashville’s Bluebird Café alongside the venue’s sound and light board.