Old People’s Music

Dan, a friend from the 60s, emails from Texas about Wolfgang’s Vault, which he calls “a site featuring an astonishing number of concert videos and other music-related stuff. There’s a free subscription and a premium one; my freebie takes me to a seemingly endless archive.”

(Wolfgang, of course, was the nickname (or maybe the Americanized first name) of the late great music promoter Bill Graham, born Wolodia Grajonca in Germany in 1931.)

Dan continues, “These videos bring back memories of great concerts I attended — Coleman Hawkins at Gettysburg College, Simon and Garfunkel at Cornell, Jimi Hendrix in St. Louis, Miles Davis at the Hollywood Bowl, 1969 Newport Jazz Festival, Lena Horne at Tanglewood, Brooks and Dunn at their taping of Austin City Limits — and those I took a pass on:
* An unknown Canadian folkie named Joni, whom I missed on a trip to Boston
* Some weird Brit rocker, Elton something or other, when I lived in LA in 1970
* About a dozen Rolling Stones tours
* And, of course, the Mudstock Dope Festival, which all my New Haven roommates trekked to.”

* * *
I wrote back to Dan: “Sounds like you must be an old person. According to the Internet that was the first week ‘Elton something or other’ ever performed in America. I saw him at the Farm Show Arena in Harrisburg, Thanksgiving 1972, and thought he was pretty brand new then.

“I was pretty brand new myself that year, as a music reviewer for the Harrisburg Independent Press, and surprised to get a phone call from somebody in… Pittsburgh, I think it was… saying that since the local daily paper wasn’t interested, would I like to come cover the show? The voice said he would leave a ticket for me at the box office, and then I could go to a party in town afterwards with Elton. The ticket was there, as promised, then afterwards I waited around in the bowels on the Farm Show for maybe a half-hour or so until, when no one showed up looking for me, I went home alone.

”Ah, the rock and roll lifestyle.”

The ‘unknown Canadian’ named Joni I saw even earlier, the first week of November 1968 at the tiny Main Point in Bryn Mawr PA, with my friend Keith who went to Haverford College nearby. She also was pretty brand new, having only released one album at the time. The thing I most think about from that show was that her opening act, Chris Smither, still goes around playing little clubs and arts centers like he did back then. He’s going to be in White River Junction on the other side of VT, at the Tupelo Music Hall next month. Almost 45 years later!

p.s. As Paul Harvey used to say: “And now. The rest of the story.” Three years after not partying with Elton — July 1975 — with the local daily still not interested in covering rock music, I got another call, this time from a guy in New York City who wanted me to go to the gym at Kutztown State College to cover a tour Columbia Records was promoting heavily. ”That’s like 75 miles away,” I protested, at the same time I probably was thinking to myself, “And I’ll have to borrow my mom’s car.” The Kutztown gym, also, was no Fillmore East.

The promo guy kept at it, and nagged me into going (which I did). He insisted that I would love the show (which I really did). And it’s a matter of historical record that 3 months and 2 days after that night — thanks no doubt to my review in HIP — Bruce Springsteen appeared on the cover of both Time and Newsweek.

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