August 30 – Texas Said If NY Can Do It, So Can We

Everything’s bigger in Texas? Well, not always, despite what the Lone Star residents would like to think, but it usually is pretty big anyway. Case in point, this day in 1969 when it held its own version of Woodstock – the Texas International Pop Festival. It didn’t quite rival the upstate New York event of a couple of weeks earlier in crowd size, number of star acts or historical importance, but it was still a pretty big deal.

The event was probably not actually inspired by Woodstock as much as by another 1969 live music event, the Atlanta International Pop Festival at the start of the summer. In attendance there was Angus Wynne III, part of the family who owned the Six Flags amusement parks. He wanted to do something similar in his Dallas area, and quickly put together a pretty good three-day event.

They held it in an open field beside the Dallas Motor Speedway, close to a large campground. They advertised free camping at the camp, which had a little lake as a bonus for over-heated revelers, and brought in a good lineup of mixed musical talent, which went on stage at 4PM Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Grand Funk Railroad opened up each of the three nights, and B.B. King was also on stage for each night, apparently doing not only the same songs but offering up the same patter and jokes. He mistakenly thought each day had its own new audience, but in fact people came for the long weekend and were essentially all the same bodies for each night. And there were a lot of those bodies… no official attendance was released but most estimate it to be around 125 000, perhaps a little more.

Besides Grand Funk and B.B., they got to see Chicago on two nights (then billed as Chicago Transit Authority), local Johnny Winter, Nazz featuring a young Todd Rundgren, Janis Joplin and quite a few more. The first night Sam & Dave were the final act, the Sunday it was Santana, and the final show Tony Joe White. Also, perhaps suspiciously in light of future events, also on the bill were both Spirit and Led Zeppelin. Many will recall that Zep got sued by Spirit (or families of the members of) for plagiarizing a Spirit song to come up with the melody for “Stairway to Heaven”. Though Zep prevailed, few could really deny that there did seem something borrowed there, and despite some claims that Page and Plant never heard of, or anything by Spirit, they showed up on the same stage only hours apart.

The campground had a free stage as well, for secondary acts or main ones warming up and on there was poet Hugh Romney… who B.B. King listened to and nicknamed “Wavy Gravy” that day.

The event seemed to come out well, and as at Woodstock, no violent crimes were committed and people seemed to have a good time although once again weather wasn’t the fans friend. In Woodstock of course, cold rain dampened spirits and created a quagmire of mud; in Texas the opposite was the problem. Dallas is still very hot in late August (normal high still well above 90F) and standing out on an open field for hours isn’t a great idea. One person died of heatstroke.

Although it played second fiddle to Woodstock, it is perhaps surprising so little is recorded of, or about the show. There is a bootleg tape of some popularity going around with Zeppelin’s set, which is said to be of high quality, but there didn’t seem to be any sort of official release of footage or recordings. If you search online though, you will come across a DVD of the event, which seems to also be bootleg. It has about 19 tracks, although some – bizarrely – are studio recordings of acts who didn’t play the show like Linda Ronstadt, and some of the footage of the concert seems to have been dubbed in later with studio music. But you will get an idea of the scope of the concert and see things like an opening welcome from the local police chief, Chicago doing “I’m A Man”, Tony Joe White performing his one hit “Polk Salad Annie” and an apparently good segment of Led Zeppelin doing “Dazed and Confused.”

The event was a one-off, and now the site is a commuter rail station (Hebron St.) which has a plaque commemorating it. However, it did set a trend perhaps as later on Dallas would host annual one-day, big name artist concerts dubbed “Texxas Jam.” they were held annually from 1978-88, almost always in Dallas but occasionally in Houston instead. Headliners there included, through the years, Fleetwood Mac, Eagles, Heart, Foreigner, Journey, Rush, Aerosmith and Van Halen among others.

August 30 – John Said If George Can Do It, So Can I

Call it playing catch-up or call it being a terrific humanitarian…likely both were true, and about 30 000 New Yorkers were all the better off for it this day in 1972. That was the day John Lennon held two concerts, an afternoon and an evening one, at Madison Square Garden. The concerts were quickly arranged benefit shows, and although no one knew it at the time, they’d be the last full concerts Lennon would ever give. He was the only one of the Beatles who never toured as such after the Fab Four split up.

Lennon decided to do the shows to raise money for the Willowbrook School after seeing a TV news story about it. Willowbrook was a state-run school for mentally disabled kids and none other than Geraldo Rivera, an up-and-coming newsman at the time, brought to light stories of both abuse of the children and poor conditions at the school caused by disrepair. Lennon and Yoko Ono felt moved to act, and so the concerts were arranged, with all proceeds going to the school. They brought in Stevie Wonder, Roberta Flack and Sha Na Na to play on the bill as well; in a surprisingly magnanimous move, Lennon also invited Paul McCartney, who declined.

The idea was wonderful, but it was also highly reminiscent of a double concert George Harrison had done the year before to raise funds for Bangladeshi relief at the same venue. As even the Beatles Bible point out, “the success of George Harrison’s ‘Concert for Bangladesh’ the previous year may well have influenced his decision.” No doubt it irked him a little to see Harrison come to the Big Apple – John’s adopted hometown – and become a hero, not to mention score a hit record, with a charity event that was exactly the type of thing they’d expect Lennon and Ono to do.

Whether a bit of jealousy played a role or not, it was hard to argue with Lennon’s gesture. They sold tickets at between $5 and $10 (depending on seat location) and both shows sold out quickly. ABC filmed it and turned it into a TV special, paying $350 000 to the cause for the rights.

Lennon and his wife brought in session drummer Jim Keltner, and the Elephant’s Memory Band (a group of session musicians from the New York area who often backed Lennon at the time) to play, with John playing rhythm guitar himself. They rehearsed for three days. After Rivera welcomed them to stage for the afternoon show, it was apparent to some that a bit more practice might have helped. The sound was a bit off, and at one point John joked “welcome to the rehearsal.” They played 17 songs, starting with “Power to the People” through a finale of “Hound Dog”. He powered through his Beatles tour de force “Come Together” and a number of his early hits or near-hits like “Imagine,” “Cold Turkey” and “Instant Karma”. Yoko took center stage to do a couple of numbers, “Born in a Prison” and “Sisters, Oh Sisters.” The evening set apparently sounded a bit better, and had 14 songs, including “Give Peace A Chance” to end it. The two Yoko songs were dropped from the bill, with no record of if any fans felt short-changed because of it.

The shows ended up raising over a million dollars for the school, making it a great humanitarian success. Commercially, it wasn’t a massive, or immediate hit. In 1986 (after John’s death of course) a live album and videotape of it were put out, produced by Yoko.

Two surprises came of that fact. One, she chose the afternoon set to use, which even the musicians themselves thought the lesser of the two, performance-wise, and two, that she had an unusual lack of egotism, basically editing herself out of the record. Her songs weren’t included and on songs where she was singing harmony, her voice was mixed very low so as not to detract from Lennon’s. The video had a different selection of songs. Rolling Stone would say of it while it “could have used a few more hours of practice” it was still a decent listen as “classic Lennon, because it’s all here – his humor, pain, anger and unshakeable faith in the power of rock’n’roll to change the world.” Traits his ex-bandmate George Harrison would no doubt admire. The album was a minor success, hitting #41 in the U.S. and eventually going gold.

What no one there knew of course was that it was going to be the last time to see John do a concert of his own. Even though he was active recording through the ’70s and up until his death in 1980, he gave up playing live entirely after this show. The only exception was a brief appearance, also at Madison Square Garden, to be on stage with his friend Elton John in 1974 at one of his concerts.

August 15 – Beatles Saw A Mountain Of Fans

Seems like it’s a good day for a big show if you are in New York. For starters, on this day back in 1965 The Beatles played the biggest concert of their career and ushered in a new era. That was when they started an all-important North American tour with a sell-out at Shea Stadium in the Big Apple. With about 55 600 in attendance, it was not only their biggest crowd, it was the first really big stadium rock concert.

The show came only a year and a half after they first visited the U.S., bursting on the scene with their famous Ed Sullivan appearance. In the time between, they’d scored an incredible seven #1 songs and were riding high on the success of Help, which had just been released. It was according to some of their biographers, “the ultimate pinnacle of Beatlemania.”

They had to be helicoptered in, and John Lennon would later say “at Shea Stadium, I saw the top of the mountain.” Ringo Starr said “what I remember most about the concert was that we were so far away from the crowd…it was very big and very strange.” Indeed, as unlike most modern concerts in such venues, the crowd was limited to the actual stands – there was no on-field seating or standing. So with the stage placed in the shallow outfield area, some of the more distant seats were in the range of 400 feet away!

The Young Rascals acted as an opening act, and then Ed Sullivan himself introduced the Fab Four, saying “now, ladies and gentlemen, honored by their country, decorated by the Queen and loved here in America, here are the Beatles!” The 55 000 fans (including Keith Richards and Mick Jagger) went wild and stayed loud throughout the 12-song show, often drowning out the actual music which was being played on a rather small and inferior sound system. They opened with “Twist and Shout” and did early classics like “I Feel Fine”, “Ticket to Ride” and “Help” before finishig with “I’m Down.” While predictably Paul and John dominated the set, both Ringo and George got a turn to have the spotlight, the former singing “Act Naturally” (later in the tour he’d do “I Wanna Be Your Man” instead) and the latter singing “Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby.”

They’d spend the rest of the month doing shows in eight more American cities as well as Toronto, typically playing the same set list. In Atlanta and Chicago they played similar baseball stadiums but to smaller crowds; in other cities they played smaller outdoor venues or indoor arenas.

For those who wanted to relive the New York show, a 50-minute video was made and debuted on the BBC in 1966, then shown on ABC in the States a year later. It contained many of the songs they performed as well as little clips of them on their way into the stadium and getting ready in the baseball clubhouse. Due to the noise of the crowd during the concert, producers had them overdub some tracks and the audio from “Act Naturally” was scrapped totally and replaced with the original studio recording.

The Beatles would play Shea once more, almost a year to the day later, but to a somewhat smaller and perhaps less enthusiastic crowd. That was the famous tour in which they had death threats and were met with protests in the South due to John Lennon’s statements regarding them being more popular than Jesus. It would then be over 40 years before a Beatle would be doing a concert at the home of the Mets; Paul McCartney was a guest at Billy Joel’s concert there which closed the stadium in 2008.

Perhaps the ’65 show gave promoters an idea. As we mentioned, August 15 seems a popular day for concerts in the Empire State. Woodstock kicked off upstate on the date in 1969 and in 1991, something in the range of 600 000 people went to Central Park in the city to attend a free Paul Simon concert.

August 13 – The Sad Story Of An Ill Wind For Curtis

When one hears of the dangers of the rock & roll lifestyle, usually the mind goes to the kind of lifestyle we looked at yesterday in Joe Walsh’s song “Life’s Been Good.” Excessive partying, drugs, heavy drinking… they’ve taken their toll on quite a few stars. But there are other less obvious dangers too. Families of the likes of Buddy Holly, Jim Croce, Harry Chapin and Ronnie Van Zant (to name just a few) will sadly attest to the dangers of going from city to city while touring. But even the actual shows themselves at times pose dangers. Dave Grohl once fell off a stage during a concert and broke a leg … and came back out to finish the show minutes later. Not nearly so lucky was Curtis Mayfield who tragically was injured and left paralyzed this day in 1990 when some equipment fell on him while on stage in New York.

Mayfield was one of the more successful and influential soul/R&B performers of the ’60s and ’70s. Growing up in a religious household in Chicago, he sang in a church choir and was given piano lessons before he was old enough to go to school. But he loved guitar more, and taught himself to play that by about ten. In 1957, while still a teen, he joined The Impressions, a group who had a major R&B hit album in ’65 with People Get Ready. Mayfield wrote and sang lead on the title track, which has become something of a standard, later being recorded by artists ranging from Rod Stewart with Jeff Beck to the Housemartins to Bob Marley. He said it was “taken from my church or from my upbringing of messages from the church.”

He went solo in 1970 and recorded prolifically, putting out five soundtrack albums alone. He wrote most of his material and often produced it as well. Best known of his solos was Superfly, the soundtrack from a “Blacksploitation” film. Although the movie has come to be rather panned the music lives on and the singles “Freddy’s Dead” and “Superfly” itself both were American top 10 hits that got him gold singles… and a reputation for creating funky, politically-aware music dealing with urban problems like poverty, gang crime and drugs.

The ’80s found him recording less and being recognized even less, but in 1990 he was working on a comeback and had put out two albums by mid-summer. Unfortunately, as it turns out, that brought him to the attention of New York senator Martin Markowitz. Markowitz sponsored some events for his constituents, and in ’90, he had a concert in Brooklyn for them. About 10 000 attended the show at Wingate Field on a humid day with foreboding clouds building.

Harold Melvin & the Bluenotes opened, but with the sky looking darker and darker, the senator made an executive decision to cut their set short and rush Mayfield to the stage. He figured a storm was imminent but that by cutting Melvin’s set, the crowd might at least get two or three songs in from Mayfield. He took to the mic and said “ladies and gentlemen, we’ve decided to bring up Curtis Mayfield”. The crowd cheered as Mayfield appeared…and a mighty wind blew in. A particularly strong gust, estimated at 54 MPH mere seconds later “hit us,” the senator recalled “and blew speakers off stage and the lighting trusses down.” One of the heavy lights hit Mayfield squarely on the neck. It broke three vertebrae in his spine and left him paralyzed from there down.

Mayfield years later said “I don’t remember anything (of the accident). I don’t remember falling. The next thing I knew I was lying on my back…I discovered neither my hands nor my feet were where I thought they were and I couldn’t move…then it began to rain…I could hear people screaming and hollering. Luckily the hospital was right around the corner.”

They performed several surgeries but weren’t able to restore any function to Mayfield’s limbs. His son Todd described the day as “gross negligence” but it remains unclear whether or not the family took legal action against the concert promoter or people involved with the stage setup. One thinks Mayfield himself might not have wanted to. He said in ’94 “it’s like I died and woke up to see this flood of love from so many people,” although he admitted “that doesn’t mean you don’t once in awhile find a tear in your eye.” He obviously couldn’t play guitar any more but he could sing, with great difficulty and he recorded one more album, in ’96 before dying from complications of diabetes in 1999.

As horrible as this event was, it wasn’t entirely unique. In 2012, on a calm weather day, a Radiohead roadie was killed and three others badly injured when the “roof” and associated equipment over the stage collapsed in on them in Toronto. Radiohead themselves were supposed to be on stage at that time to do a soundcheck but the set-up was running a bit late… arguably sparing Thom Yorke and the boys lives’ but killing their drum specialist.

August 10 – Oasis – And Quarter Million Fans – Rolled With It

Another big Knebworth Festival moment .On this day in 1996, Oasis headlined one of the biggest concerts ever in Britain there, and cemented their status as the land’s most popular group that decade.

This was day one of the weekend event, with the Gallaghers playing both shows. The Saturday had act like Manic Street Preachers and Chemical Brothers opening; the Sunday, MSP returned and were joined by Kula Shaker, the Charlatans and others. Both days the crowd was a sellout 125 000 (at the time a record for Knebworth and still the biggest two-day draw there) but more remarkable was that over 2.5 million people applied for tickets! Potentially Oasis could have done it to a sold-out field 20 nights in a row! The BBC said of it “a quarter of a million eventually got to see (Oasis) as they confirmed their status as the most popular British band since the Beatles.” This must have pleased Noel Gallagher; not surprisingly the band ended their well-reviewed show with a cover version of the Fab Four’s “I Am the Walrus.”

It was the apex of the band’s popularity. Guitarist “Bonehead” remembers “I’ll never forget the sheer scale of it.” They got to see the extent of the concert when they were helicoptered in over top of the crowds. In case you had forgotten the sheer scale of it or were among the two million odd people denied tickets, Oasis put out a live recording of it last year, both as a film (which became Britain’s highest-grossing documentary of 2021) and double-CD. The music release had 20 songs culled from the two days, finishing with the “I Am the Walrus” finale after 19 of the band’s own favorites including “Don’t Look Back in Anger,” “Roll With It” and “Champagne Supernova.” The album went to #4 in their homeland and also made the top 10 in Japan.

July 23 – Baseball Has Its All Star Game; Music Its All Starr Band

What’s a great drummer with years of hits behind him but no band to play them with anymore to do? Well, if you’re Ringo Starr and it’s 1989, you “went through my phone book, rang up a few friends and asked them if they’d like to have fun in the summer.”

Ringo needs no introduction of course, but by then he’d fallen into the realm of “what ever happened to?” shows. He’d last put out an album in 1983, and last hit the charts two years before that with the song “Wrack My Brain,” which only barely scraped into the North American top 40. But he wanted to play and realized there was a huge market wanting to see him play some of his own hits as well as Beatles music. Thus was born the idea of his All Starr Band, which premiered this night 33 years back at the Park Central Ampitheatre in Dallas.

Rolling Stone once noted “ultimately what’s most impressive about Ringo Starr isn’t what he’s been, but rather who he is – the man’s great heart and soul, his wit and wisdom.” A fair assessment (one might also add in his astounding energy even to this day!), and no doubt made it very easy for him to round up some friends who indeed wanted to have some fun with him that summer. His idea was rather a clever and new one. Instead of just recruiting new members to replace John, Paul and George and play Beatles and Ringo songs, why not get friends who are great musicians in their own right and let them play some of their own material in the show as well? It would be difficult for any musician to turn that down, when asked by someone like Ringo. But still, apparently Todd Rundgren and Peter Frampton did say no, but only because of prior engagements. Both joined later editions of the All Starr Band.

But he had plenty of star talent with him for the ’89 tour. Although there were one or two occasional fill-ins for a night or two, the opening night lineup was pretty much the standard for the tour : “fifth Beatle” Billy Preston on keyboards and acting as “music director”, Dr.John on piano, drummer Levon Helm and bassist Rick Danko from The Band, well-respected session drummer Jim Keltner (who’d played with the likes of John Lennon, Roy Orbison and the Bee Gees before), guitar legend Joe Walsh, and the E Street Band’s “big man,” saxophonist Clarence Clemons as well as its guitarist Nils Lofgren. Of course, in the spirit of having fun, several of the artists got to change instruments for a song or two; Helm played the mandolin at times, Lofgren the accordion and Walsh did a tasteful piano bit on “Desperado.” That being typical of the non-Ringo songs covered (it should be noted that while Ringo sang his own songs, obviously, and Beatles ones, he let the other guys step up to the mic to sing their own hits) ; the fourth song of the night was “such A Night” by Dr. John, who also did his ’70s hit “Right Place, Wrong Time”. Walsh closed the main set with an odd “Rocky Mountain Way” which included some of the traditional “Amazing Grace.” Nils Lofgren sang “Shine Silently,” while fans found that Clemons can sing when he’s not blowing on the sax. Along with Billy Preston, the “big man” sang “You’re A Friend of Mine,” a tune he’d done with Jackson Browne in ’85. The Band were represented by songs like “The Weight” (Levon helm singing) and “The Shape I’m In” (Rick Danko.) But doubtless the highlight for most was Ringo doing his thing. He opened the show with “It Don’t Come Easy,” followed by the “No No Song” and then the first Beatles number of the night, “Yellow Submarine.” He’d run through others like “Act Naturally,” “You’re Sixteen” and “Back Off Boogaloo” and come on back with “Photograph,” “You’re Sixteen” again and “With a Little Help From My Friends” as an encore.

The show was by all accounts a major hit, and he continued on doing 34 shows in 29 cities by September 4, when he finished it in L.A. Among the cities were six Canadian ones. They resumed at the end of October and played a number of shows in Japan, including two at the famous Budokan Theater.

While his setlist stayed reasonably constant through the tour, he added in “Get Back”, with Billy Preston singing, for the Japanese shows. Along the way, he periodically had other friends drop by. For instance, at a Holmden, NewJersey show in August, two more E Street Band members showed up. Roy Bittan played some keyboards for Joe Walsh and none other than Bruce Springsteen himself came by to play guitar on four songs. Paul Shaffer came to the final L.A. show to play keyboards and their finale saw actors John Candy and Chevy Chase singing backup!

No doubt it made it even harder for other musicians to resist when Starr came calling in future years. Among the long and talented list of musicians who’ve worked in his All Starr Band through the decades are the aforementioned Frampton and Rundgren, plus Randy Bachman, Dave Edmunds, Mark Farner of Grand Funk, Greg Lake, Graham Gouldman from 10CC, Howard Jones and one female All Starr – Sheila E.

Ringo’s back at it this summer, his age of 82 not standing in the way of a good show. This time he’s joined by Men At Work’s Colin Hay, Edgar Winter, drummer Gregg Bissonette (David Lee Roth’s band among others), Hamish Stuart of the Average White Band and Warren Ham of Kansas who plays everything from keyboards to flutes. By all accounts the show’s are wonderful and high energy, and they resume Sep. 5 in Massachusetts and work their way west through the East coast then the Canadian mid-section, to L.A. On Oct. 16 and then two shows in Mexico.

I love being in a band,” Ringo declares brightly. And we love you being in a band, Ringo, I’m sure we agree.

July 23 – Concert Benefitted Edgy Alt Rock Fans Down The Road

A concert on this day in 1983 ended up being a bit more than just a run-of-the-mill show. Robert Palmer opened up for Duran Duran at a charity event in Birmingham, England. About 18 000 showed up for the fundraiser for Mencap – a British organization dedicated to helping people with mental disabilities. Some of the Duranies were big fans of Palmer and thus had invited him to be on the bill. He played a short set including “Johnny & Mary” and “Some Guys Have All the Luck” before Duran took the stage for a 15-song set culminating with “Girls on Film.”

That would have been the end of it perhaps had they not got together afterwards backstage and thrown around ideas (and likely a cocktail or two!) John and Andy Taylor were getting a bit tired of the Duran sound and wanted to do something more rock & roll. They’d had the idea of putting together another band on the side to do that and had lined up drummer Tony Thompson (of Chic fame, among other things.) They could handle the guitars and bass.  All they needed was a voice. Initially they’d wanted Mick Jagger or perhaps Richard Butler (of the Psychedelic Furs) but they floated the idea to Palmer – and The Power Station was born.

The next year they were in the Power Station recording studio (from which they took their name) recording their debut album. It didn’t overwhelm the charts as much as either Duran Duran or Robert Palmer did in the decade but sold respectably, hitting #6 in the States and launching a pair of hit singles through much of the world, a cover of T-Rex’s “Bang a Gong” and “Some Like It Hot”. The sound was much more rock-oriented that Duran Duran works to that point and more “garage”, less studio-perfect than most of Robert’s discography. Palmer only played live with the band one time though, on Saturday Night Live. They reformed for a much-less successful album in ’96, without him. Sadly, Palmer, Thompson and Bernard Edwards (not an official member but a musician on first album) have all passed away by now. 

July 18 – Billy Passed Piano To Paul For Last Play At Shea

It was the end of an era in the Big Apple 14 years back. One which appropriately enough looked back at the start of the very same era. For this night in 2008 New York City hosted the “Last Play At Shea”. It was the final concert held at the city’s Shea Stadium, and who could be more appropriate to play a major show there than Billy Joel? Except, just possibly The Beatles. The night was a huge Billy Joel show, but Beatles fans weren’t to be disappointed either!

Shea Stadium was a sports venue in Queens. It dated back to the early-’60s, a time when giant, concrete multi-use stadiums were popping up in all kinds of North American cities. Shea came about out of the city’s embarrassment. New York had been home to three Major League Baseball teams about a decade earlier, but two – the Giants and Dodgers – left for California in the ’50s. This dented the local civic pride. Baseball agreed to give the city a new team…if a new stadium was built for them. The city agreed, and got the Mets, and Shea Stadium as a result.

Ground was broken on the site in early 1961, and the stadium was supposed to open in time for the ’63 Mets to play. The then mayor said a year before that “only a series of blizzards or some other unforeseen problems” could possibly derail the plans. The winter of ’62-63 saw a string of blizzards, and two major stadium contractors going broke. It opened in ’64 instead.

The stadium was big. It had a capacity of about 55 000 for baseball, and could be stretched to over 60 000 for football. While designed for the Mets baseball, designers were savvy enough to make it be able to accommodate football, and indeed the Jets NFL club did call it home for nearly 20 years. Although it had its fans, many considered it a little impersonal and cold, the outfield seats were too high and the few private boxes offered only so-so views.

Obviously, at some point entertainment promoters would come to realize that a 55 000 seat facility in the middle of a huge city could be of use for things besides baseball. Shea Stadium famously found that out in summer of 1965, when the Beatles played the first concert there in front of tens of thousands of screaming young fans. The sound was legendarily bad due to the stadium acoustics and sound system not designed for rock concerts, but it was still a landmark event, as was their return a year later on their final tour.

After that, the stadium saw a number of big concerts. In August 1970 it hosted the “Concert for Peace” with artists including Janis Joplin, CCR, hometown boy Paul Simon and Miles Davis. A year later Grand Funk, at the height of their drawing power set a remarkable record by selling out the stadium even faster than the Beatles had. The Police played in front of over 50 000 in ’83, with Sting comparing it to playing “on top of Everest” and quipping “we’d like to thank the Beatles for lending us their stadium!”. The Rolling Stones played an impressive six nights there on their ’89 Steel Wheels Tour, and Bruce Springsteen ended his lengthy 2003 tour there, bringing along Bob Dylan as a special guest. And in an entirely different type of “concert”, Pope John Paul II held a huge mass and service there in ’79.

But all good things are said to come to an end, and in the case of Shea, it was becoming increasingly unpopular in the 2000s. The Mets saw a number of other teams in cities like Baltimore and Cleveland building newer, slightly smaller but more comfortable stadiums with great facilities…and higher ticket prices. They wanted somewhere new, and the city was ready to see Shea go away. So plans were made for Citi Field, more or less right across the road from Shea, and a demolition firm was brokered.

But before the wrecking ball started swinging, it needed a big send off. Enter Billy Joel.

He booked July 16th and 18th for the last two concerts at Shea.

The 16th seemingly was a good concert, but as one might expect, the “fireworks” were kept for the final show. In front of a sell-out of 55 000, Billy played a great set which would have been well received just of the normal Joel fare…opening with “Angry Young Man” and rolling through 18 or 20 of his greats from the past three decades including “My Life”, “Everybody Loves You Now”, “Allentown,” “Keeping the Faith”, “We Didn’t Start the Fire” and “Only the Good Die Young.” But a landmark date needs some landmark special events, and many artists had fond memories of Shea. So Billy brought in friends. The great and seemingly timeless Tony Bennett joined him on stage to sing Joel’s “New York State of Mind”. Garth Brooks happened by and did “Shameless”. John Mayer picked up the guitar to accompany the “Piano Man” on “This is the Time.” Steven Tyler of Aerosmith came by to do “Walk this Way”, a song resurrected in the ’80s when redone with New Yorkers Run-DMC. Small town John Mellencamp visited the huge city to do “Pink Houses”, and Roger Daltrey of The Who did “My Generation.” Whew. That would have been quite a show. But that wasn’t all.

Pat Tyson is a writer who happened to see The Beatles play Shea when she was a youth in the ’60s. She was in the “nosebleeds” for the Last Play At Shea.

She wrote that Billy seemingly had finished and left the stage, but came back. Encore perhaps? “Billy walks back,” she told Daytripper, “and he says ‘Ladies and Gentlemen … Sir Paul McCartney!’ and everyone went wild! He and Billy played ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ and brought the house down. McCartney got a rousing ovation, then left the stage.” But that wasn’t all. He’d later return and Paul “spoke to the crowd and said Shea Stadium had special meaning to him and he was glad to be there.’ With that he launched into ‘Let It Be’ and of course the crowd sang along.” Probably as close as one could get to having the first act to rock the stadium also be the final one.

Much of the concert was released on CD and DVD, appropriately enough debuted at Citi Field in 2010.

As for who might have the best stories to tell of Shea Stadium’s musical past, one might think it could be Pete Flynn. Pete worked for decades for the stadium as a groundskeeper. In 1965 he drove The Beatles from the stage to an exit in the outfield wall. In 2008, he drove Paul from the outfield wall to the stage. Guess Paul told him he could “Drive My Car.”

July 4 – USA Rocked Russia 35 Years Ago

Rock and pop music are one of the USA’s best exports to the world and we really got an example of that this day. 35 years ago today, some two years before the Berlin Wall fell, something pretty special happened in Russia. The 1987 Concert for Peace took place in Moscow, an unprecedented (for the era) show mixing American and Soviet musicians on the same stage.

It was a great example of change coming to the other side of the Iron Curtain under the “glastnost”-bringing Mikhail Gorbachev. Russian rockers Autograph and folk band Ruvichi played for their fans along with a list of American acts including Doobie Brothers, Santana and Bonnie Raitt. About 18 000 showed up at an open-air sports stadium to see the event. While many were confused and very quiet (in Russian culture, applauding or yelling during a performance would be considered rude) and there was criticism that the event was for people selected by the government- journalists, members of the Young Communists Party, foreign peace-protesters – it was still a huge step forward in bringing the West to the Soviet empire – and making American culture even more of a worldwide standard.

It opened the gates too; only three weeks later Billy Joel went over and played six concerts in Moscow and Leningrad which resulted in his live Kontsert album. He termed it a “nice, safe first attempt at bringing in an American pop star” and “probably the biggest highlight for me as a performer. I met these people and they weren’t the enemy.” Russia agreed, being enthusiastic towards Joel and broadcasting one of his shows live on radio there, a first for a Western act.

One might venture to guess a similar concert now might be good for the world…but it seems less likely Vladimir Putin would be as receptive to the idea as Mr. Gorbachev was, sadly enough.

June 29 – When The Who Made A Royal Noise

One of the biggest concerts of the decade took place this day in 1996. Queen wasn’t there but it was still a “royally” good time for the 100 000 or more people that went to Hyde Park in London for the Prince’s Trust Concert. Although they were the middle of the schedule, most seemed to feel that The Who, playing the entirety of Quadrophenia stole the show.

The Prince’s Trust is a British charity begun by, appropriately enough, Prince Charles back in 1976. It aims to help out young people (under 30) who are struggling, either with school or employment, largely by providing tutoring and training. It has helped out over 800 000 people through the years and raised funds in a variety of ways, not the least of which being frequent big name concerts. The first was held in an arena in Birmingham in 1982. Charles no doubt had a little help from his Lady Di – a confirmed rock fan- to bring in Status Quo, Kate Bush, Phil Collins and others for that.

The ’96 gig was the first to be held in spacious Hyde Park and had on the bill Alanis Morissette, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and The Who among others. Morissette kicked it off with a six-song set of her hits, beginning with “Ironic”. One reviewer remembers her dancing so much that her sunglasses flew off her head into the crowd, giving one lucky concert-goer an unexpected souvenir! Unnoticed then, but of significance now, she was backed with a band that included the late Taylor Hawkins, who’d soon leave for the Foo Fighters. Clapton was on late, playing a 14-song, largely “unplugged” set beginning with “Layla” and including some of his hits such as Cream’s “White Room” and “Wonderful Tonight” as well as a few old covers, like Willie Dixon’s “Hoochie Coochie Man.”

In between, The Who (introduced on stage by Jools Holland) ran through their 1973 rock opera Quadrophenia – considered by many their high-water mark- for the first time in over a decade to the delight of the large crowd. They were joined by a number of guests during the performance, including Gary Glitter and David Gilmour, who played guitar on two numbers.

Prince’s Trust still holds concerts some years although there doesn’t appear to be one slated for this year; they seemed to run a Red Carpet fashion show (albeit one hosted by Lionel Richie) this year instead. The 1996 one was quickly released on home video although it seems only the Who’s performance is featured.