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April 03, 2015

Rock Venues That Are No Longer There

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In the mid to late 60’s and a little beyond, clubs started to spring up all over the Philadelphia area.  There were The Main Point, The Trauma, The Bijou Café, The Theater of the Living Arts, The 2nd Fret. The Artist Hut, The 2nd of Autumn, The Magic Theater and The Focal Point. 

Some had semi known nationally artists perform, but most were mainly for local talent that were springing up at that time.  Bands like Elizabeth, Noah’s Ark, The Nazz, Thunder and Roses, The Mary Jane Company. The American Dream, Sweet Stavin’ Chain, Woody’s Truck Stop (at one time Todd Rundgren was the lead guitarist) ,Good News (featuring Kevin Bacon’s brother) ,High Treason and Edison Electric were able to build a local following and get record contracts in large part because of these clubs.

Later on it others followed like the Stars Club (owned by Stephen Starr who now owns several top drawer eating establishments in Philadelphia) , Emerald City (on the site of the Latin Casino), Ripley’s , Chestnut Cabaret and 23 East. They all have come and gone.  In fact, the only one left is The Theater of the Living Arts now known as the TLA. 

With the advent of the large venues like the Spectrum, JFK Stadium and the Veterans stadium, the smaller clubs dried up.  Ironically, what comes around goes around and all of the big venues from that time frame also are no longer there. A new Electric Factory is now in operation in a different location and features acts that don’t have enough of a following to pack the big venues. 

The Tower Theater is still a great place to see a concert as is the Keswick Theater.  None of these venues operate on a daily or even weekly basis, but back in 1967 when the music really started to explode, the many small clubs were open at least on the weekend. There was nothing better than seeing live music at these great smaller clubs that are no longer there.

The Old Electric Factory

Located at 22 and Arch in Philadelphia, The Electric Factory was launched on February 2, 1968. In its short history a virtual Who’s Who in rock played at the unique club.  The Cream (later Derek and The Dominos with Eric Clapton would also appear), Janis Joplin & Big Brother and the Holding Company, The Grateful Dead, Elton John, Van Morrison (the headliner for the last show on November 21, 1970) ,Jimi Hendrix, Chicago, Santana, The Who (did the world premiere of Tommy Live on October 19, 1969)  and The Jefferson Airplane were among others that played at the old tire factory. 

The acts that appeared there became so popular that the Spectrum was needed to meet the demand of a larger audience.  Electric Factory Concerts was thus closed.  Twenty five years later, the new Electric Factory opened in a new location. 

More on the Electric Factory here.

The Spectrum

By the Fall of 1968 it was time to test the waters in a much larger venue for the emerging new rock music.  On October 19, 1968 the First Quaker City Rock Festival ushered in a new era.  Since there was probably a fair amount of uncertainty about how well the tickets would sell, the first line up was packed.  It featured The Buddy Guys-Junior Wells Blues Band, Moby Grape, Janis Joplin Big Brother and the Holding Company, The Chambers Brothers and the headliners, Vanilla Fudge. It was the first of countless fantastic concerts.  As far as large venues go, the Spectrum wasn’t a bad place to see a concert even though it was primarily a sports venue.    

The Main Point

Located in suburban Bryn Mawr, The Main Point opened on February 26, 1964 primarily as a folk club.  Joni Mitchel, James Taylor, John Denver, Gordon Lightfoot, Linda Ronstadt and Eric Andersen were among the early acts to appear. Later, in the late 60’s and early 70’s rock acts like Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Hall & Oates, The Velvet Underground (with Lou Reed),  Bonnie Raitt (who actually lived in Bryn Mawr at one time), Captain Beefheart & his Magic Band, Jackson Browne, Patti Smith and Tom Waits all appeared. There was a real mix of performers, Jazz, Comedy, and Blues.  Rick Nelson, Randy Newman, Byard Lancaster, John Lee Hocker, Dion, Laura Nyro (great songwriter), James Cotton, Chick Corea, Bill Withers, John Prime, Martin Mull, Mose Allison, Robert Klein, Jim Croce, Cheech & Chong, Lily Tomlin, Cat Stevens, Harry Chapin, Janis Ian and Tim Hardin (fantastic song writer) all appeared at one time or another.    Buddy Guy was second only to Bruce Springsteen in the most exciting shows. 

The Trauma and The Second Fret

The Trauma was at 2121 Arch Street in Philadelphia and was started in early 1967.   The proprietor of The Trauma was Manny Rubin, who also ran The 2nd Fret, Philadelphia's leading folk club at the time that also no longer exists. 

The Second Fret was a place to see acts like James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Arlo Guthrie (who wrote “Ring Around the Rosie Rag” about an experience that actually took place after a Second Fret show in Rittenhouse Square right around the corner), and Dave Van Ronk.  Soon it was bringing some rock bands, but the club was just too small to present them properly.

The Trauma soon became known as the psychedelic night club with acts like Lothar and the Hand People, Steve Miller band, The Velvet Underground, the Strawberry Alarm Clock, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, Canned Heat, and others that were all part of the new rock that was emerging in 1967.  The club looked like a normal neighborhood bar when you first walked in. 

The real action was up stairs where there was a stage complete with the first light show in the area.  The house band (managed by Manny) Mandrake Memorial was the opening act for most of the shows and were almost as popular as the headliners with their non-stop music act. It was most unfortunate that the group didn’t get recorded in their earliest day before things started to fall apart.  The club itself fell victim to the much larger Electric factory once they opened their doors in 1968 just a half block away.

Listen to an audio clip from Trauma! Thanks Frank! LISTEN.

The Bijou Café

The small club located on Lombard Street in Philadelphia, first opened October 4, 1972.  The first show was Dan Hicks and his Hot licks with local act Whole Oates (later to become Hall & Oates) as the opening act.   Almost any genre of music was performed at the Bijou but the main focus (at least in the early stages) of the entertainment was Jazz and comedy. 

The Jazz lineups were nothing short of spectacular and the comedy was even better!  The National Lampoon Show with future superstars John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Gilda Radner and Lorraine Newman all appeared together.  Another comedy troupe, Firesign Theater also appeared.  Billy Crystal was an opening act four times and a headliners three times. His impersonation of Muhammad Ali was a big crowd favorite. Albert Brooks, Richard Pryor, Martin Mull and his Fabulous Furniture, Steve Martin, Jerry Seinfeld and Dick Gregory all keep the audiences amused.

As did future late night hosts David Letterman and Jay Leno.  Leno first performed in 1973 as the warm up for the fantastic Jazz-Rock fusion band Chick Corea and Return to Forever on December 10-27, 1973. The other great Jazz-Rock fusion band Weather Report also played the Bijou. 

Blues legend Muddy Waters, Reggae superstar Bob Marley and The Wailers and some R & B stars were among the variety of acts. Probably the most talked about of all the shows were the first appearances of Bette Midler on December 12-16, 1972.  It wasn’t just her singing, but her bawdy personality made her a crowd favorite. The then totally unknown Barry Manilow, played keyboards and served as Bette’s music director.

There were many great moments with rock bands as well.  Among the rock acts that stood out were George Thorogood and the Delaware Destroyers, Billy Joel, Steely Dan, Robert Palmer. Graham Parker (outstanding show that left people wondering why he never became a superstar) Dr. John, Pat Benatar, Rick Nelson, Al Kooper, Warren Zevon, Paul Butterfield, Tom Waits, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Sir Douglas Sham and  John “Cougar” Mellencamp.   U2’s first Philadelphia performance was at the Bijou on March 4, 1981.    

Veteran’s and JFK Stadiums

The Spectrum even became too small for the demand to see the big rock stars.  Soon stars like David Bowie, Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, The Who, U2, Billy Joel and Elton John (together and separate) were able to fill up the stadium meant for baseball or football.  Despite the huge screens and sound systems, the Vet was not the best place to see sports let alone a rock show.  

JFK was hardly much better, but much more historical.  Besides the international live aid concert on July 13, 1985, there were several large shows.  Yes and Peter Frampton was the first of the modern era on June 13, 1976.  A year later, June 11, 1977, Frampton was back as the headliner along with Lynyrd Skynrd and The J. Geils Band.

The Rolling Stones started their world tour at JFK in 1981 with two dates, September 25 and 26.  It wasn’t the first time they played JFK.  They had already played there on June 17, 1978.   They came back to the Spectrum to start another world tour on September 1,1989 and did a practice rehearsal at JFK just before the show on August 29, 1989.

On June 20, 1978 it was the roundup show featuring Southern Rock bands The Allman Brothers, Marshall Tucker, .The Outlaws, 38 Special and Molly Hatchett   That same year on August 12 it was Fleetwood Mac and The Steve Miller Band. 

There were actually a surprising number of other concerts in the stadium that held around 110,000 people. The Kinks and Foreigner co-headlined a show on June 20, 1982. It was the Police, Joan Jett and REM on August 20, 1983. Genesis, Elvis Costello, Blondie, A Flock of Seagulls and Robert Hazard and The Heroes on August 21, 1982 (thanks 33rd July).   Van Halen headlined a show labeled the Monsters of Rock on June 11, 1988. The Amnesty International Concert with Bruce Springsteen, U2, Peter Gabriel and Sting was held on September 9, 1988.  The last show was Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead held on July 7, 1989.

Almost forgotten in the rock history of JFK, is The Beatles performance.  It took place on August 16, 1966.  The stage was set up in one corner of the stadium.  That corner held around 20,000 people screaming fans. Despite the popularity of The Beatles, that was all they expected to sell.  Imagine, they were the biggest act in rock at the time and that was all they expected to draw. That should give you an idea of how much the music grew in the years that followed.

The TLA (Theater of the Living Arts)

The TLA is one of the survivors from way back then.

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