Strap On The Gas Mask… It’s Showtime!

Janis Joplin poster 1969Since we got some of you to play along to “My First Album,” I decided to try something else along the same lines: What’s your most memorable concert experience?

The venue can be anything from a small club to an arena. And the experience can have little to do with the music being performed, as I’ll demonstrate shortly.

My concert-going years got off to a very auspicious start in the summer of 1969 when my older sister Mary took my sister Keena and me to see Janis Joplin at Blossom Music Center, an outdoor amphitheater nestled in the rolling hills near the Cuyahoga River valley. My 13-year-old synapses were fried by Joplin’s powerful voice and the Stax-influenced soul of her Kozmic Blues Band (only days after they performed at Woodstock). If we didn’t have front-row seats, we were damn close – and I distinctly remember Joplin taking several generous pulls on a bottle of Southern Comfort during the show. Opening act: Rod Stewart and the Faces. Cost of three tickets: $7.50.

A few posts back, I wrote about my good/bad fortune of seeing the Stones during their legendary ’72 (“Exile on Main Street”) tour. A month later – August 21, 1972, to be precise – I almost became an Altamont-like casualty when the Jefferson Airplane brought their traveling circus to the same venue, the Akron Rubber Bowl.

My favorite part of the show was the opening act – Hot Tuna, with Airplane guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casady along with legendary blues fiddler Papa John Creach. Could’ve listened to that for about two hours: Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning Then the Airplane hit the stage and all hell broke loose. Everything was fine until about halfway into their set, when I suddenly felt like someone was choking me and gouging my eyes out at the same time. Apparently, the police had teargassed some kids at the top of the bowl, and the gas then settled on the field below, where a few thousand of us were blissfully unaware of the small riot going on nearby. Next thing I knew, someone on stage was urging us to “attack the pigs,” and then the show was over (thankfully, because I was ready to rip off my own head at that point).

The Akron Beacon Journal broke the news to all of our parents the next day with the headline at right. And it’s a classic piece of modern journalism. I’ll share with you three of my favorite items from this story:

  • First, when singer Grace Slick was confronted by Patrolman R.E. Gott in a basement office, she “reached out to grab his whistle chain on her way out of the office. Gott said she made a clawing motion for his face after he tried to prevent her from pulling his chain.” Slick and fellow Airplane member Paul Kantner were arrested for assaulting a policeman, since Akron had yet to pass a chain-pulling ordinance.
  • Second, the reporter quoted the band’s New York press agent by noting that “Miss Slick is not formally married to Kantner, but that ‘he is her old man.’”
  • And third, a local City Councilman who opposed rock concerts at the Rubber Bowl from the beginning said “I’m not against all kinds of shows. For instance, the Osman Brothers (sic) and some other shows were not at all bad.”

Good stuff. Apparently, Slick and Kantner had to return to Akron to negotiate a deal with local prosecutors. I don’t think they’ve been back since.

Did you ever attend a sold-out show with an adoring crowd and feel like everyone else was sipping on some special Kool-Aid that they forgot to share with you?

I remember going to Bogart’s in Cincinnati to see the pride of Cleveland, the Michael Stanley Band. My overall impression of the show was that a team of scientists had successfully come up with a perfectly bland and generic strain of rock. I also noticed that every time someone jammed a guitar into his crotch, the crowd would go wild (tried that later with my own band, but it didn’t seem to work as well).

I had a similar reaction when someone dragged me to see the post-punk band the Violent Femmes at the Newport in Columbus. Again, packed house, adoring fans. They kicked things off with some lame acoustic-sounding number and I thought, give it a chance – they’ll probably work their way into a complete frenzy later on. Well, that never happened (Violent Femmes… another inappropriately named band, like 10,000 Maniacs). And by the time the show was over, I was convinced I could walk out of the club, head in either direction and find a better band playing on the street.

And, of course, there’s Jimmy Buffett. Has anyone else made an entire career out of phoning it in? Then again, if you continually play in front of thousands of fans who know every lyric to every song you’ve ever written, why would you bother breaking a sweat? I mainly remember being pissed off by the long lines at the margarita vendors, because I was convinced that being shitfaced was the only way to truly appreciate this experience… or at least tolerate it.

Of course, we don’t drag ourselves away from our home theater systems to be routinely disappointed by live music. And I’ve seen plenty of powerful, life-affirming shows over the years. I’ve already touched on some of those performances in this blog – Lowell George with a fine, funky band at Bogart’s, only two weeks before his untimely demise… Danny Gatton at U.S. Blues in NYC, schooling every guitar player in the crowd… Gatemouth Brown at Stache’s in Columbus, serving as both the main act and bouncer… Bo Diddley at the Cincinnati Gardens, with yours truly backing him up on harp…

I also feel blessed to have seen Muddy Waters at the Cleveland Agora (must’ve been around ’76, with Pinetop Perkins on piano, Jerry Portnoy on harp and Bob Margolin on guitar). Even though Muddy was past his prime, I felt like I’d found my way to the blues mountaintop… the amazing sound of that voice still haunts me today. And I’ll always treasure the night that bro-in-law Chuck Auerbach and I watched Delbert McClinton and his red-hot band turn New York City’s Lone Star Café into a Texas roadhouse. We were practically giddy (as opposed to “geddy,” the feeling one gets at a Rush concert) driving through the empty streets of Manhattan at 3 in the morning – high on honky tonk soul and R&B.

More recently, I’ve watched Chuck’s son Dan and his bandmate Pat Carney destroy countless stages across the country as The Black Keys. One of my favorite Keys shows was in Manhattan at Terminal 5, with opening act Heartless Bastards. Granted, the Bastards’ Erika Wennerstrom ain’t no Janis, but she won me over with her soulful voice and tough little band as they tore through great originals like this one: The Mountain/Heartless Bastards

Heartless Bastards

Erika Wennerstrom and Heartless Bastards

And what about Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, bringing back the spirit of James Brown and his Famous Flames? I’m Not Gonna Cry/Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings

Then there’s West Coast Latino-rockers Ozomatli, who turned the floor of Cleveland’s House of Blues into the world’s hippest drum circle (this next cut is from their album “Embrace the Chaos”)… Suenos en Realidad/Ozomatli

I’m sure many of you can add about 20 more to this list – and I hope you will. That’s why we still drag our asses out of the house, because we never know when we’ll get that giddy (or geddy) feeling again.

Some random concert memories from family members…

Brother Jack recalls the “anything goes” ethos of the Sixties at the folk music capital of the Midwest, Ann Arbor, where he saw Jim Kweskin (without his Jug Band) going through a strange phase: “The philosophy seemed to be that performing is bad. It’s fake and separates the audience from the performer. So he just went up onstage and sat. He chatted with the audience for a little bit but mostly just sat there. Occasionally, if he felt like it, he would pick up the guitar and play a song. In the end it was a piece of performance art. It got people talking. Some folks would say it was dreadful, boring. Others would say it was just a matter of expectations. ‘We expect too much of performers… Just go in not expecting anything and you will be satisfied.'”

Keena had an unsettling experience at a Lou Reed show at Akron’s beautiful Civic Theater. “I turned around and some guy behind me was masturbating. Should’ve been my first clue that Lou Reed was gay. I guess I was too young to pick up on the subtle nuances of Walk On The Wild Side.”

Dan tells a great story about bandmate Pat Carney (pre-Black Keys) trying to promote his fledgling music career at a performance by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Carney took a cassette tape of some of his original music to the show, hoping to hand it to Spencer. He worked his way to the front of the crowd during the band’s set and placed the tape on the stage. Without missing a beat, Spencer leapt in front of Carney and used the heel of his boot to smash the tape into little pieces. Thankfully, Pat’s dreams of rock stardom didn’t die along with it.

The floor is open… Let’s hear about some of your favorite concert experiences.

Janis Joplin at Woodstock… only days before she brought her Kozmic Blues Band to Blossom:


15 thoughts on “Strap On The Gas Mask… It’s Showtime!

  • rixaidan, 01 March 10:06 am

    Big question, but if I’m going to be honest, it was Weather Report at the Agora probably around 1976. Alphonso Johnson had just been replaced by Jaco Pastorius, and some of the crowd, upset about Johnson’s departure was chanting “Alphonso, Alphonso, Alphonso”! The stage was dark during the chanting/hooting, when suddenly a spotlight hit stage right and Jaco, in full gypsy wandered out teetering back and forth on the edge of the stage. He stared right at the hooting crowd and laughed at them. Laughed in their ignorant bitch faces and ripped off one of his patented inter-galactic bass riffs, He owned that crowed by the second bar. Alponso is a great, great bass player, but then there are the once in a lifetime virtuosos like Jaco.

    Jaco’s debut was special enough, but we were doubly blessed by fate in that Al DiMeola was supposed to open and didn’t show up. Not only were we spared 45 minutes of DiMeola’s tin-toned shredding, Weather Report added his 45 minutes to their set. Over two hours of incredible energy, soul, and virtuoso.
    Chester Thompson on drums put out more excitement and energy than the Hoover Dam in flood season. To witness this creative explosion of Jaco, Thompson, Zawinul, and Shorter in a small club definitely left a mark. Best $10 bucks I ever spent

  • rixaidan, 01 March 11:15 am

    In another example of colliding universes, a free Jimmy Buffet ticket had me in a car with two women and a now sitting Federal judge. Sounds like the start of a joke…. We parked the car and the future judge, now prosecutor made a big point of handing his revolver to his girlfriend to lock in the glove compartment. Later I was grateful he wasn’t armed. On the grassy knoll that is Blossom, the crowd was in a hallucinogenic stupor unrivaled by anything one would see at Sturgis Bike Week at midnight. All I remember was the crowd slam dancing, exploding watermelons , flying beers, and vomit souffles in the grass. To the best of my knowledge Buffet hadn’t even taken the stage yet. And to the best of my knowledge I never saw Buffett. My acquaintance the prosecutor actually reached for his gun at one point (now safely in the glovebox) when he was beaned by a vodka soaked melon, We escaped the party hill and ran to the car.
    I went to lot of concerts in the 60’s and 70’s with hard drugs, bikers, and sociopaths and never feared for my life at a concert until that day. Middle America needs to get out more.

  • John Gouskos, 01 March 2:06 pm

    Most Memorable Concert: The Allman Brothers @ Music Hall.

    It was 1972 and I was just back from Vietnam. I was kind of toasted mentally and, through my connections in the Cleveland music scene, got a job at AAA Lighting. The Allman Brothers were holding a concert at the Music Hall and our company got the contract to do some of the set up.

    We were rent-a-rodies and did a bunch of lift and grunt on these huge Marshall stacks. They stood like 15 feet on each side of the stage and we had to secure them with wires. Now remember that this was a stage made for big bands and dance troupes, not 3,000 lbs. amp stacks but we did our best, set the drops, stage spots and marks for the gig.

    The night of the conert that place was packed and I’d estimate easily 1000 people standing right in front of the stage. The Allman Brothers got the place rocking with Statesboro Blues and proceeded to make the entire concert hall a massive dance party. Now part of our pay were stage passes. So we lowly rent-a-rodies got to hang with the band before the concert and stood in absolute amazement watching Duane and Dickie trading licks while a couple of thousand folks boogied.

    But amazement turned to fear during In Memory of Elizabeth Reed. Like I said earlier the stage and concert floors were probably made in the early 1920’s. Well, as all these party folks got to rockin’… so did those massive Marshall stacks. Like the Pillars of Hercules, they swayed with each measured jump of the audience. A couple of us slipped out onto the stage behind them and actually held the wires to keep them from tumbling into the crowd down front. Between sets we secured them well enough to finish the concert.

    Now we’re knocking it all down and packing it away when the stage crew boss calls us over the PA system. To our amazement, Greg Allman had ordered cases of beer and burgers for all of us and thanked us personally for saving the gig and the audience.

    Now that’s a memorable concert, dude !!!!

  • chuck auerbach, 01 March 4:54 pm

    The Atlantic City Pop Festival. was the first festival I ever attended. A bunch of my hometown NJ friends drove down, rented a cheap motel room, and went nuts. I waited for Janis as she left the stage and told her I loved her. She looked at me and said, “y’ do, huh kid”. Yes I did, and still do.

    I copied this from Wikipedia, as my memory has lost a bit of traction. I do remember however, that this was the start of a life long love affair with rock and roll, one that I passed on to my sons.

    The Atlantic City Pop Festival took place in 1969 on August 1, 2 and 3rd at the Atlantic City race track, two weeks before the better known Woodstock Festival. The festival is often confused with the Atlanta International Pop Festival (1969), which took place over the 1969 Fourth of July weekend.
    Attended by some 100,000+ people, the festival featured the following performers (partial list):
    • American Dream
    • Aum
    • Booker T. & The M.G.s
    • Tim Buckley
    • Paul Butterfield Blues Band
    • The Byrds
    • Canned Heat
    • The Chambers Brothers
    • Chicago (as the Chicago Transit Authority)
    • Joe Cocker
    • The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown
    • Credence Clearwater Revival
    • Crosby, Stills & Nash
    • Dr. John
    • Cass Elliot
    • Iron Butterfly
    • Jefferson Airplane
    • Janis Joplin
    • BB King
    • Lighthouse
    • Little Richard
    • Lothar and the Hand People
    • Hugh Masekela
    • Buddy Miles
    • Joni Mitchell
    • The Mothers Of Invention
    • Tracy Nelson & Mother Earth
    • Procol Harum
    • Buddy Rich
    • Biff Rose
    • Santana
    • Sir Douglas Quintet
    • Three Dog Night
    • Johnny Winter
    [edit] Notes
    Biff Rose was the master of ceremonies. Rose filled in for Joni Mitchell when she started to cry and ran off stage in the middle of her 3rd song because the crowd was not paying attention to her performance. It seems she was placed in the rotation directly after Mother Earth featuring Tracy Nelson and the crowd wasn’t ready to hear her mild act.
    Crosby, Stills & Nash were originally on the lineup but ended up as a no-show, Nash supposedly had polyps on tonsils (but sang at Woodstock two weeks later). The Chambers Brothers were a last-minute substitute.
    The Moody Blues were scheduled but weren’t there.
    Johnny Winter was present but did not perform as his equipment did not show up in time.

  • admin, 01 March 9:30 pm

    That’s a serious lineup, Chuck… What ever happened to Lothar and the Hand People?

  • admin, 01 March 9:37 pm

    Hey rix… good stuff. When I was playing down in Columbus I got a call from the owner of Stache’s. “Can I use your Twin Reverb tonight?” “Sure, who’s using it?” “Jaco Pastorius.” Holy shit… turned out he played keyboards through it. But of course we were there to hear him play bass. He’d play some outrageous solo and then give the audience the finger. Not something you’d typically do to ingratiate yourself with the crowd, but he was awesome (and bat-shit nuts).

  • admin, 01 March 9:40 pm

    Great story about the Allmans, John… Saw them at the same place a couple of years later, sans Duane. Dickie Betts’ guitar had the best sound I’d ever heard in a big place like that.

  • Mary, 02 March 5:57 pm

    Hey Gousk: what a disaster was averted! If only they knew…

  • rixaidan, 03 March 9:25 am

    Bat-shit crazy and awesome are often two sides of the same coin.

  • Ben Wineke, 03 March 11:47 am

    I’ve been to a lot of concerts, but nothing’s really hit me as hard as one I found in a small bar about 8 blocks from where I live. I’d just sort of strolled on in because I was bored and had heard good things about this bar, because the bar was in front and the stage was in a separate room in the back, thus allowing you to hear the music before you decided to spend your $5 on the show. I came in on a Monday and there was this classic soul sound coming from the back. so I made my way straight to the stage, to find Clyde Stubblefield playing his heart out on the drums. I didn’t know who he was at the time, but rather quickly learned about his stint with James Brown and his legacy as “the original funky drummer”. His singer, Charlie Brooks, apparently went through motown school, and performs in suits with funky stage moves and the whole like. I’ve been going there regularly on Mondays ever since; it’s simply an incredible show.

    Also, speaking of not being offered any special kool aid? I got to see the Black Keys at a free festival here in Madison. I’d camped out at the front of the stage all afternoon, and they played right after GZA from the Wu Tang Clan. Naturally, everyone around me was incredibly high after that and, oh yeah, did I mention that this free festival was sponsored by Southern Comfort? I don’t envy the people who had to clean up after that show…..

  • admin, 04 March 6:34 pm

    Man, I gotta get to Madison. That gig at The Frequency sounds like a hell of a thing. I think Stubblefield plays on J.B.’s There Was A Time — one of my all-time favorite grooves. Here’s a taste:

  • Wendy, 06 March 8:06 am

    Yoiks! Well, any of the series of Procol Harum concerts I went to in the early ’70s, for sure, in both Columbus and Cleveland. I worshipped the ground those guys walked on, especially Robin Trower, who was my original guitar hero.

    Two other standouts off the top occurred at the Dell on Parsons Avenue in Columbus. The divine Laura Nyro up close and personal – boy was she eccentric (she had a manservant, I wouldn’t have called him a roadie). And Junior Walker and the All-Stars. At one point Junior got so caught up in his groove that he left the stage, walked out the front door and continued to blow his sax on Parsons Avenue. That was one for the books. Koko Taylor in some small dive on North High around Hudson – can’t remember where. Wynton Marsalis at that small jazz club Jerry Hammond started in the Short North. Fats Domino at the Ohio State Fair! Buddy Guy at his own club Legends in Chicago. Richard Thompson at Kent Stage. Numerous Genesis concerts during the Peter Gabriel days. I’ll stop now.

  • admin, 06 March 8:21 am

    Great stuff, Wendy… I saw Gatemouth Brown, The Mighty Flyers and Anson Funderburgh at the Dell — a fabulous joint. Never made it to Hammond’s club, but I heard that Ahmad Jamal’s gigs there were amazing. And then there’s Stache’s… about 5 of my 10 all-time favorite musical moments took place in that dive. One of them was Los Lobos playing straight-up border music. Another was Marshall Crenshaw ripping through a set of roots-rock gems. And when I played with Ray Fuller, I felt like that place was our living room. Take me back… I want to see Ray walk in that door dog-tired from laying sewer pipe but ready to rock!

  • Stella, 30 April 9:27 pm

    I was at the Jefferson Airplane show at the Akron Rubber Bowl in 1972. It was my first concert. I was 12. I went with my brother, 18 and his friends. There were some interesting aromas and although it wasn’t offered to me, I knew the smell of weed. It was the 70s and I had 4 older siblings. But then my eyes and nose started burning ; I’m thinking this must be some powerful shit. So my brother puts a bandana over my nose /mouth and we started running. Being my first concert, I assumed this was completely normal but no ! We were teargassed. I think we decided not to tell my parents but it was all over the news the next day. The same brother took my sister to see The Who in 1967 when she was 10. My brother is the coolest.

  • admin, 01 May 9:39 am

    Yeah I didn’t know what to think at first either. Tear gas wouldn’t have been at the top of my list. Maybe thought that the Airplane had set off some pyrotechnics that went horribly wrong?

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