There was no place to see professional, big name rock acts in Concord, New
Hampshire in 1969, so at the time my only experience had been with Jr. High
and YMCA dances at which friend's bands usually played. Being 14 and just
beginning to start many years of experimenting with and abusing marijuana
and alcohol, I thought myself quite the little hippie, not to mention radical.
Only a couple of months into "Woodstock Nation", as it were, my
interests ran towards hippies, Yippies, Black Panthers & White, Abbie,
Jerry, and the Chicago 8. Of course, living at home with Mom and Dad in
middle class suburban (or subrural) N.H., I was removed from the reality
of the "movement". My favourite bands at the time were the MC5
and The Stooges, to name but two.
Man had landed on the Moon, people had been slaughtered in the Hollywood hills mysteriously and Woodstock Nation had been born in Rock'n'Roll, acid, marijuana, sunshine and mud. I was one year away from my first of many LSD trips. A new band from England could be heard on certain airwaves singing about good times and bad, and communications breaking down. I was vaguely interested.
It was 1969 all across the USA, another year for me and you, another year with nothin' to do except to go to Boston Garden one fine October night with a friend to see and experience my first rock concert. It had been dubbed "Narragansett's (after the Indian tribe and the brewer of beer) First Tribal Rock Festival". I was finally going to see the legendary MC5, brothers and sisters! Oh yeah, and Johnny Winter and Led Zeppelin too.
Being the age I was, my friend and I were driven the 70 miles south to Boston by my parents, who had also bought the tickets, and dropped us off at the Garden (while they went to visit some friends of their's outside of Bean Town until it was time to gather us up again).
My friend and I had no drugs for this momentous occasion (sigh, weep,weep etc.) We got fairly good seats only a couple rows up from the main floor and right in the middle with the stage straight ahead. I was studiously wearing my White Panther Party buttons, one of which was a "Free John Sinclair" button and all of which I had received from the WPP by writing to the address on the inside cover of the MC5's LP Kick Out The Jams. The out-in-the-open smoking of pot, which was going on all around us, made our little 14-year-old heads spin. Nobody of course passed any our way though, possibly because we looked too young.
I had come to see the MC5, who were the first of the kick-off bands, second being Mr. Winter whom I also liked, then of course the main attraction for most, Led Zeppelin, whose first album was the only one that had been released at the time. As we were waiting for the show to start we couldn't help but notice the group of bikers in the last couple rows of floor seats directly in front of us, all wearing their colours. Memory doesn't serve me as to what club it was, but it was not the Hell's Angels as stated in the Boston Herald Traveler a day or so later.
The MC5 finally came out and kicked out the jams with a loud and fast
sound that got you moving. Rob Tyner, with characteristically permed Afro,
was bouncing all over the stage to the boogie beat! My friend had brought
a small Brownie Instamatic-type camera along, and was taking some photos
(which I never saw and don't even know if any ever came out). We were
both MC5 fans, but me more so than him. I got their first album after
hearing it at another friend's house. The copy I had heard belonged to
my friend's older brother, and it had the infamous "motherfucker"
line uncensored. By the time I bought my copy, the line had been changed
to "brothers and sisters". I also heard you could steam off
the inside fold-out sleeve where the original liner notes had been pasted
over and censored - which I promptly did. Lo and Behold! It was true and
it worked! not only did I become a member of the White Panther Party (at
14), but also subscribed to the Ann Arbor Argus which was the local underground
paper from Michigan and mouth organ for the WPP and MC5.
During the MC5's set they "passed the hat" so to speak, for the John Sinclair Legal Defence Fund and the WPP in general, while playing their "Pledge Song" that can be heard on the Power Trip CD. They also played songs from their up-coming LP Back In The USA. I was a happy camper! They could have played Johnny's and Led Zep's sets as well and it would still have been fine by me.
Between sets we went to the concession stand for drinks or whatever and while milling around with my WPP buttons proudly on display, some kid, maybe a year or two older than me, came up and asked me accusingly where I had gotten the buttons!?! Like I wasn't supposed to have them without his approval. I simply explained that I had written to the address on the inside of the album jacket - not unlike many others I'm sure. He did an "Oh yeah, forgot about that possibility"- type thing and wandered off.
Back in our seats, Johnny Winter eventually made his entrance and proceeded to amaze one and all by bending some incredible strings - Rock'n'Roll hoochie koo! Sometime in the middle of his set, cops showed up for a friendly chat with the bikers sitting in front of us. The bikers didn't find their chat too friendly because a fight broke out between the two. Before we knew it, it had turned into a brawl for everybody concerned. House lights were turned on, but Johnny's guitar kept a-wailing through it all without missing a note, which was a good thing, because it helped keep the situation from getting completely out of control. People were throwing things, a couple rows of seats had been over-turned, and we thought the whole thing was going to end up where we were sitting - too close for comfort. One biker, who had a leg in a cast and was on wooden crutches, used a crutch to bash a cop over the head! After maybe five minutes of chaos and violence, the cops eventually won through thanks to reinforcements, and the offending parties were arrested and led off in handcuffs to assorted cheers and booing (more booing than cheers). Things settled down. There were some pools of blood on the floor which were promptly covered with sawdust. Johnny finished up to much deserved applause, and we collectively awaited Led Zeppelin.
When Led Zep finally took the stage, everybody was on their feet. Kicking it off with "Good Times Bad Times" and "Communication Breakdown" I was easily converted from "vaguely interested" to Zep fan. Robert Plant with his trademark hip-hugging, ball-busting bell bottoms singing the ever lovin' blues; Jimmy Page wearing a white suit acoustically rendering "White Summer/Black Mountain Side" centre stage, got everybody appropriately cosmic. Strangely enough, the low point of the concert for me was Bonham's "Moby Dick" which was overly long, being a good 20 minutes at least. I say "strangely enough" because I was also a drummer at the time. Nevertheless, I thought "enough already" after the first 10 or so minutes! They did a mixture of tunes from the first two albums, the second being as yet unheard by the audience - it was being sold at the concert that night but was not yet in the stores. My friend bought one that night. I held off until a week or two later when it came out in the stores, and then also received the first Zep album for Christmas that year.
As Zeppelin were wrapping it up (probably with "How Many More Times/The Hunter), my friend dropped his camera onto the main floor and we went down to get it, also getting closer to the exit so as to avoid the crush. Many had the same idea and we had the good fortune to find ourselves standing behind a group of young ladies who were not much older than us, beside themselves with almost masturbatory excitement, squirming to the tunes and cooing in delight! This being a most memorable and educational moment of the Led Zeppelin concert to my 14-year-old mind and hormones (not surprisingly a virgin at that stage of the game). We left when it was over, found Mom and Dad, and went home with our memories... and our Rock'n'Roll concert-going veils torn asunder! All this and no "Stairway To Heaven"! I never saw Zeppelin again, unfortunately.
©2003 by Tom Brinkmann
* THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN HEADPRESS 18 *
by Timothy Crouse