© 2020, MJ Ostrander
I came of age during the Arena Rock era. Cell phones and the internet didn’t exist in the seventies. This often made getting good seats difficult as buying options were limited. You could call Ticketmaster or the venue itself on your landline and wait on queue. Sometimes you had to send a money order and if your envelope got there in time, the tickets would show up in due course. Occasionally, you had to travel to the venue in person to buy the little buggers.
This last method almost ended badly for me. Tickets for Genesis could only be purchased at one gate of the Richfield Coliseum outside of Cleveland. My then boyfriend and I volunteered to obtain four seats. I don’t know whose bright idea it was to have only one gate available for tickets, but we were packed in so tight in the inlet to the gate there were body waves.
As the time approached for the doors to open, it got much worse. People who thought they were lucky to be near the gate suffered most. They were plastered against the glass doors. I heard them yelling and screaming for people to back off. During one of the waves, I lost my footing. If my boyfriend and another guy had not caught me, I would have been trampled. My panic was justified because the situation was too much like Cincinnati and The Who show in 1979. Eleven people were killed and twenty-seven injured by asphyxiation and trampling when the doors opened late. But we got the tickets. Not good ones, but we were unharmed. At the time it seemed like a decent tradeoff. My taste for arenas started to wane just about then.
I was ecstatic when we got great seats for my beloved Jethro Tull. Three or four rows up in the lower deck in the last good section before the back of the stage! My dismay was profound when we found that what was supposed to be a great view completely cut off by a towering bank of speakers. We only saw Ian Anderson when he ventured out onto a catwalk from time to time. The show was fine, but we spent most of it wandering around in order to see the band. There’s never a complaint department around when you need one.
Sometimes, when you think you’re in for a bad time, the opposite occurs. A cousin and her husband came down with the flu the day before Elton John came to town. They offered us their excellent tickets, but beyond Madman Across the Water and Honky Chateau, I wasn’t a fan. Still, family is family and we handed over the cash. It was possibly the best live performance I have ever seen. He played for well over two hours and did nine encores.
John Mellencamp also ranks high on the list of great shows, playing a long set at a beautiful outdoor venue. Because I didn’t want to miss Small Town, I delayed going to the latrine until I could no longer ignore the call. After standing uncomfortably in line for what seemed a year, my tush hit the toilet just as Small Town began. The last notes echoed just as I finished. Bummer.
Kiss sucked. No really. They sucked. My excuse for paying to see them twice lies in the fact I enjoy the theater and the theatrical. Kiss delivered on that score. It was a bizarre looking crowd with thousands dressed and made-up in mostly ratty attempts to look like band members. The crowd was rowdy. I remember a lot of fights and bouncers earned their pay that night. A girl was thrown down five rows of seating and literally over my head by her boyfriend. We kept an eye on her. Luckily, she wasn’t badly hurt. By the time security bearing canines arrived, the boyfriend had disappeared.
The best seats I ever had were for Aerosmith with Styx as the opening act on their ’77 tour. Fourteenth row on the floor. Styx blew them off the stage. Subsequent Aerosmith tours didn’t go well and the band went into rehab. I was happy for them when they did what very few other bands ever achieved – a very successful reincarnation. I have three fading Polaroids of Yes taken from my spot somewhere in the fifteenth or sixteenth row on the floor. It was the first gig that had a light show. Neon green lasers in a fan-like formation. Mild compared to Floyd a little later, but still fantastic. They were wonderful. Twentieth row for Neil Young. He was great, but the dude in the seat next to me stood up on his chair with a bottle of Johnny Walker. I’m all for a good time but I wished he’d have noticed that as he boogied, he was sloshing his fifth all over my person.
I don’t recall who played at a show at Cleveland’s Public Hall where we were in one of the balconies. While people sent bottle rockets whizzing horizontally beneath the floor seats, people in the balcony with us wrapped toilet paper around the rail and set it on fire. The still burning toiletry wafted out over the audience. I’ll tell you true. I’ve never listened to Smoke on The Water in quite the same way.
I was never one for souvenirs, but I regret passing on one that literally made me see stars. At large gigs, it was popular to bring beach balls, confetti, streamers and the like with you to add to the festive vibe. Also Frisbees. One time one of those iconic discs came out of nowhere and with the accuracy of a guided missile, got me right on the bridge of the nose. Picking it up from my lap in the semi-darkness I noticed many signatures and witticisms on its surface courtesy of others in the audience. Holding a cold one against my face, I debated. Take it home or do a quick sketch and send it back from whence it came? To this day I sort of regret choosing the latter course of action. I hope its still out there in someone’s trunk of memories.
My husband shakes his head when I relate some of the craziness that went down in Cleveland, the town where “you gotta be tough.” He spent much of his youth in Alabama where, racism and politics aside, crowds were apparently much more civilized. I try to explain that despite these random acts of foul play, I was very lucky to see legions of fantastic performers and songwriters while at the top of their careers. There were many I didn’t see due to lack of funds or shows that sold out faster than you could load a bowl.
I now live outside Denver, where The Stones played last summer. Promoters asked and received up to $2,500.00 per seat. What causes people to spend that kind of money to see performers that should have quit touring twenty years ago? I could have seen them in Cleveland for $10.00. Maybe folks just wanted to see then one last time, or maybe the younger set had a need to hear a whisper or see a shadow of the legendary jumping Jack Flash.
Thank you WMMS, Belkin and my fellow rockers for everything you did to make the 70’s a very good time. Yeah, we’re older and sadly the weekend eventually did end, Mr. Saul. But we got down, dammit!