A stop in Excelsior.

Blame my man Jim Bartlett for this post; I had forgotten a brainwave I had until he reminded me the other day.

He’s been reading what sounds like an interesting book about Eric Clapton and the rise of British blues in the Sixties. And the other day he wrote a post about Cream’s 1968 U.S. tour, a grueling affair that brought the future icons of Limey blues-rock to such obscure places as Beloit, Wisconsin; Wallingford, Connecticut; and Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

Tour itineraries are fascinating to me (JB writes) —where bands went, who they played with along the way, what happened to them while they were on the road.

I would second that. And I find tour itineraries from the Fifties and Sixties particularly interesting, because they capture the unusual places rock bands used to play before the music became truly big business.

There appears to have been a point — I’ll arbitrarily set it at maybe 1972 or ’73 — when the rules and economics of the arena-rock business solidified.

If you were a megastar like Zeppelin or the Stones, you played Madison Square Garden, the L.A. Forum, the Philadelphia Spectrum and similar venues.

If you were big but not quite so big, you mostly worked a circuit of less prestigious hockey rinks — the New Haven Coliseum, the Hartford Civic Center, and a lengthy list of places whose names interchangeably jumbled the words “War,” “Veterans,” “Memorial,” “Arena,” “Coliseum” and “Center.”

But before then, a tour itinerary was more likely to be a mix of whatever ballrooms, clubs and theaters were in the mood to accept live rock n’ roll crowds at that particular point in time.

When the Rolling Stones announced their 50th anniversary shows in Newark and London, I had an idea to do a little research and write a list of 10 Places You Wouldn’t Guess the Rolling Stones Ever Played. I figured I’d go back to the early days and look up some of the places that made do as rock n’ roll venues before the music grew into Madison Square Garden.

The list ended up at five instead of 10. Like the Beatles, the Stones got big enough early enough to play good-sized venues.

Still, here’s a tour itinerary that brings back the good ol’ days of stuffing four or five long-haired English lads in a station wagon and seeing who would book them:

1. Excelsior Amusement Park, Excelsior, Minnesota (June 12, 1964) — Rock music and amusement parks have a long, rich history, from “Palisades Park,” to KISS and the Phantom of the Park, to Milli Vanilli‘s fateful gig at the Lake Compounce amusement park in Connecticut.

Yes, it only makes sense that music should go where the kids are. Still, I bet there are people whose grandkids refuse to believe they once saw Mick and Keef play at an amusement park 20 miles outside Minneapolis.

2. Worcester Memorial Auditorium, Worcester, Massachusetts (April 30, 1965) — The Stones did not play Boston proper until November 1965. I’m guessing this obscure 3,500-seat civic hall was chosen as a stopgap alternative to Boston Garden and other indoor venues (such as college gyms) that may have made themselves unavailable to the band. In a measure of its significance and esteem in its community, the building is now used to store state trial court records.

3. Manning Bowl, Lynn, Massachusetts (June 24, 1966) — Another attempt to book a Boston-area concert without having to deal with the Gahden or the civic fathers, I’m guessing.  A high-school football stadium in a Boston suburb known as the City of Sin, Manning Bowl’s sole other claim to fame was having hosted the home games of a former NFL team called the Boston Yanks. (The NFL of the Forties, like the Rolling Stones of the Sixties, was not the juggernaut it would later become.)

4. Lagoon Amusement Park, Salt Lake City, Utah (July 23, 1966) — What’s worse than playing an amusement park outside Minneapolis? Playing one outside Salt Lake City, two years later, after you’ve had a half-dozen Top Ten hits and gotten a taste of big halls like Maple Leaf Gardens. This venue is frequently listed as “Davis County Lagoon,” which may have been its name in the Sixties.

5. Rubber Bowl, Akron, Ohio (July 11, 1972) — I’m cheating a little bit here; the Stones were certainly not up-and-comers traveling in station wagons when they played this gig. Still, the Rubber Bowl is no one’s idea of a prestigious music venue.

Exactly one week after playing Washington, D.C.’s huge Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, the band washed up at the good-sized but thoroughly obscure Rubber Bowl, in a city I’ll bet none of the five Stones could find on a map.

The band skipped both Cincinnati and Cleveland on the ’72 tour. I like to imagine their booking agent on a long-distance phone call during tour scheduling: “No Cleveland? No Cincinnati? Bollocks. What else is there in Ohio? (pause) The Rubber Bowl? (lascivious chortle) We’ll take it!”

3 thoughts on “A stop in Excelsior.

  1. I don’t know – the Stones played Fresno and Hershey on their last tour. Are those places more cosmopolitan than Akron?

    1. A valid point. I have no idea why a band of that stature would still bother playing those kinds of places. Perhaps under some sort of illusion that these are “small” gigs?

  2. Some of the more recent tours have stretched on and on. After all, the band doesn’t have to rush back to the studio to cut an eagerly awaited new album. These mid-size markets are probably considered fresh territory, and people there are probably still excited by the prospect of a Stones concert. I was kind of disappointed that the Stones were reduced to playing in Charlottesville, home of my alma mater, even if it was in the sold-out football stadium.

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