Stars and Behind the Scenes Trace Rise of ‘Rock Concert’ in New Oral History
Like rock music itself, the rock concert has very humble and local origins. It all started in the late 1940s and early 1950s when radio DJs and record store owners saw them as a way to make more money from the racy new musical style that was igniting the passions of music. ‘a new class of well-paid teens. Over time, rock concerts would explode in size, scope, and cultural and financial impact. They evolved from quaint “jumps” in high school gymnasiums to a circuit of psychedelic theaters, then to sports arenas, stadiums and, finally, multi-day outdoor festivals. In 2019, before COVID-19 shattered it, the live music industry was a global juggernaut of $ 136 billion a year.
With his new book Rock concert (Grove / Atlantic Press), veteran journalist Marc Myers has mobilized an army to tell the freewheeling story of the growth of this entertainment staple. Like Legacy McNeil’s punk history classic, Please kill me and the recent one by Frank Mastropolo, Fillmore East: the place that changed rock history, Myers’ book is a tidy oral history spanning decades of fascinating facts and anecdotes. It’s narrated by some of rock’s most iconic stars including Alice Cooper, Ian Anderson, Steve Miller, Roger Walters, Angus Young, Hall & Oates and Bob Weir, as well as an A list of promoters, managers, songwriters. , producers, photographers, sound and lighting technicians, filmmakers, fashion designers, roadies and fans. These are the people who attended many landmark concerts, from the days of the proto-rock R&B scene of LA to Live Aid of 1985, the last event before the era of corporate sponsorship and prizes. tickets out of sight.
Myers goes back 3,400 years to set the stage for its history. In the preamble of the book, he presents The Hurrian Songs. This is the oldest known sheet music in the world, tablets from ancient Syria containing tunings and tablature for lyre music intended to be performed in front of a live audience – the first historical evidence of what would become the spectacular concerts today. Also notable in the deep history are two pop concert events from the Big Band era – Paul Whiteman’s 1924 performance of Gershwin. Rhapsody in blue at New York’s Aeolian Hall; and at the 1938 Carnival of Swing on Randall’s Island, the first outdoor jazz festival run by Benny “King of Swing” Goodman that drew over 20,000 black and white fans.
As stated earlier, the true genesis of the first era of rock concerts is attributed to radio DJs. In the late 1940s in Los Angeles, musician / radio host Johnny Otis began his shows at the Barrelhouse Club in Watts with the R&B stars of the day. This was followed by shows at other venues on Central Avenue, many of which were presented by original saxophonist, Big Jay McNeely, including Hunter Hancock’s popular Midnight Concerts.
The real ‘rock concert’ began in Cleveland when Rendezvous Record Store owner Leo Mintz teamed up with radio DJ Alan Freed, the man who coined the term rock ‘n’ roll, for events like his. Moondog Coronation Ball. With Freed’s move to New York City and radio giant WINS in 1954, he brought the concept of a big concert into the Big Apple, with huge shows that eventually settled at the Paramount Theater in Brooklyn. Myers also cites memories of rockabilly great Wanda Jackson to bring the frenzy around Elvis Presley’s early tours to the South to life.
The modern day rock festival dates back to George Wein, who opened his annual Newport Jazz Festival in 1954, which included a performance by bluesman-turned-rocker Chuck Berry in its 1958 edition. Wein followed that up with the first Newport Folk Festival in 1959. , whose headliners like John Baez and Peter Paul and Mary recall performing what could have been Woodstock’s forerunner, the Washington March. This event which drew over 250,000 people to Washington in 1964 to hear from political folks and, more importantly, civil rights leader Martin Luther King.
The Beatles and their manager Brian Epstein were recognized for pioneering modern stadium tours, starting with their cross-country swing in August 1964 at the Hollywood Bowl and their famous concert at Shea Stadium in 1965. From the latter. , photographer Henry Diltz tells an anecdote about him. and Lovin ‘Spoonful to be taken to the dressing room with the Beatles during the frenzied show. It was at this point that Spoonful’s lead singer John Sebastian was mistaken for the Beatle John as they sat in an audience of over 50,000. With the help of people like stage manager-turned-record producer Joe Boyd and folk star Peter Yarrow, Myers sheds light on some of the mistaken beliefs surrounding Dylan’s famous audience that set the scene ablaze at Newport Folk Fest in 1965.
Myers then takes readers through the era of rock theater. This section chronicles the rise of Fillmore’s West and East, the Boston Tea Party, the Avalon, the Great Ballroom of Detroit, the Philly’s Electric Factory and more, as well as the many innovations they have made in lighting. and staging and the role that emerging FM radio has played in their success. . There are more details on how the Bay Area Beat Poets and their “Happenings” helped usher in the hippies, leading to events like the Human Be-In and the first modern rock festival in 1967, Monterey. Pop, another offshoot of a jazz festival that opened in 1958. It comes with big ideas from both Monterey Pop filmmaker DA Pennebaker and Steve Miller, who was inspired by Hendrix’s musicality but discouraged by his antics of guitar and The Who.
Monterey Pop then drove to the 1968 Miami Pop Festival, where we meet Michael Lang, a failed headshop entrepreneur who would later play a key role in Woodstock. Myers also reports information on some festivals you may have never heard of, including the Skyriver Festival in Washington, which was hosted by dropping a piano from a helicopter, as well as Atlantic City Pop, which featured 29 acts on three days and drew 120,000 spectators, with no advertising, two weeks before Woodstock ’69. The author spends a lot of time clarifying the history of Woodstock Fest and some legends about how the crowd narrowly escaped mass electrocution during the torrential downpour and the importance of the 1970 film in cementing it in the history of all the other rock festivals. There are fond first-hand memories of future blonde Chris Stein about her experiences at Woodstock. There are also revealing details of Abbey route cover photographer Ethan Russell on his time with the Rolling Stones during their disastrous attempt to counterfeit Woodstock, Altamont in December 1969.
After Woodstock everything changed and intensified and sort of became more stereotypical – less fun but a lot more profitable. Myers then traces the passage to sports arenas and stadiums. There is a big discussion here about the group’s branding with Nick Fasciano, the man who created the Coca-Cola inspired logo and album cover for Chicago rock / jazzers and with the famous Rolling Stones ‘lip logo’ creator, John Pasche. Now tech and entertainment are at the forefront, with stars like Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson, Alice Cooper, Roger Waters and Bob Weir in need of dazzling props, lasers, confetti cannons, guitar packs. wireless and must create and transport their own custom. the staging, the lighting and the sound systems – all to make an impact on an audience that could now be at a football field.
Fashionistas will appreciate memorabilia from famous designer Norma Kamali. She’s the woman who dressed everyone from Robert Plant, Keith Richards, Sly Stone and The New York Dolls in their glamorous looks. Also noteworthy is the discussion of the charity rock concert, with an intriguing backstory on George Harrison’s 1971 Concert for Bangladesh, No Nukes in 1979, the various Farm Aid and Live Aid events of 1985.
Deadheads will enjoy the chapter titled “Maximus Concert”. In this, Myers chronicles the real superfans of rock concerts, those of the Grateful Dead. These all-in enthusiasts would follow the band to all of their touring sites, including Watkins Glen in July 1973, which drew over 600,000 people to hear from The Dead, The Allman Brothers and The Band. Also included is a discussion of Wattstax, the August 1972 concert / film / album created by the Memphis-based soul label that drew 90,000 spectators at the Colosseum in Los Angeles. The former head of the Al Bell label describes the many obstacles overcome and how this massive event unfolded peacefully, without a police presence, with a security team led by none other than actor Melvin Van Peebles. The author also touches on the ABC-TV California Jam mega-broadcast event, featuring Deep Purple, ELP, and Black Sabbath.
The death knell for this era of rock came with a few final factors. The first is the rise of solitary listening with the introduction of the Sony Walkman in 1979. This was followed by the rise of MTV and the emphasis on visuals. Finally, the computerized ticket office only served to rapidly increase the price of admission for music lovers. As previously mentioned, Myers wraps it all up with Live Aid, the August 1985 event spanning stages in London and Philadelphia, with a TV audience of 1.5 billion. This was the final event where ticket prices were within everyone’s reach ($ 35.00), before everything was scaled up with the help (or evil?) Of a massive corporate sponsorship. This is an event famed artist director and Live Aid eyewitness Shep Gordon has called “the end of innocence”.
As you can see from this review, Myers is a music journalist who digs deep and tells a story clearly. If you like this book, check out his regular contributions to music and culture at The Wall Street Journal and its award-winning site, JazzWax.com.