Tuesday, June 18, 2013

My First Concert

by Pa Rock

I heard a commentator on National Public Radio today who was talking about personal firsts that most people experience during their lives.  He rolled off two or three (things like first love and first kiss) and then threw “first concert” onto his list.  That led me to think about the first time I ever attended a concert.

Growing up in very rural southwest Missouri in a town so small that the residents regarded Joplin as a metropolis, I did not experience any concerts until I got to college.  But I had only been at Southwest Missouri State College in Springfield a few days when the first big concert of the semester (fall, 1966) came to campus.  The group was a pop band called Gary Lewis and the Playboys.

Gary Lewis, the drummer and vocalist, was (still is) the son of comedian Jerry Lewis.  The band came into existence in 1965 and survived for a few years during the British music “invasion,” as a homegrown American band.  Their first big single was “This Diamond Ring,” and the band went on to score seven additional Gold Records during the few years that they were in existence.

Seeing Gary Lewis and the Playboys was a big deal for this young country clodhopper.  They had appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show which meant that they were the real-deal rock and roll band.  I believe the price of admission was two dollars, but it might have been as much as five dollars.  

(Concerts started to get outrageously high in the late 1970's and early 1980's when I was at the same school taking graduate courses.  Singer Kenny Rogers came to campus and tickets for his show were an extremely pricey $15.00 each!  I saved my money and skipped that one!   Years later - no regrets.)

The Gary Lewis and the Playboys concert was held in a physical education facility that seated 5,000.  The building was called simply “the Field House,” back in the day, but now it is known as McDonald Arena.  In addition to learning to square dance and lift weights (thank you Coach Jim Mentis) in the Field House, I also attended several other concerts there over the years.  Some that come to mind are the Buckinghams, New Orleans jazz trumpeter Al Hirt, and folksinger Glenn Yarbrough.  (It was Yarbrough who introduced me to the poetry of Rod McKuen, a poet who was very popular among college students in the 1960’s.)

The Field House, a WPA project from the 1930’s, was also where the Southwest Missouri State Bears played basketball.    As an ROTC Pershing Rifle, I often volunteered to earn merits by ushering at those games.   The building was centrally located on the campus, and the roar from its concerts and games could be heard for blocks around.

College was an exciting place to be in the 1960’s, and the concerts and games were important components of that excitement.  So were the parties.

1 comment:

Don said...

My first concert was at the University of Massachusetts. There was only one campus back in 1965 and it was my hometown of Amherst.

The group was Peter, Paul and Mary and they blew away the crowd that had jammed into the Curry Hicks "Cage," a basketball arena that held perhaps 4,000 screaming kids.

It was a time of protest against the Vietnam War, so "If I Had a Hammer," and "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" played into the growing consensus that the war was immoral, as well as unwinnable.

The aroma of our beloved Mary Jane wafted through the arena. But we were as high on the songs as on the pot.