Cream on stage at Madison Square Garden ~ above Nov. 2, 1968. Jack Bruce, left, Ginger Baker and also Eric Clapton.
Most of them most likely didn’t understand it once they take it the stage at their biggest concerts, but Led Zeppelin, the rolling Stones, Elton John, the Who, Paul McCartney, Kansas, Queen, Prince, Bruce Springsteen, U2 and also others amongst rock music’s most commemorated acts owe a debt of gratitude for their rewarding paydays to the national Basketball Assn. And also the national Hockey League.

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Thanks come back-to-back league expansions by the NBA in 1966 and also the NHL the following year, a bumper chop of new sports arenas — most notably the Forum in Inglewood and Madison Square Garden Arena in new York — opened up to house multiple brand-new sports franchises: 14 NBA teams and also a half dozen because that the NHL in a fairly short period.

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An unanticipated however monumental side effect of that growth spurt in the human being of sporting activities was the flowering of the era the “arena rock,” a transformation of the concert organization that carried dramatic changes not simply to the size of venues consistently hosting pop music’s biggest names, but to that is structure, content and also finances.


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“I would certainly say the the first few giant concerts we did at Madison Square Garden and the Forum, it to be a real high to suffer that mass adulation,” stated drummer man Densmore the the Doors. The celebrated L.A. Band, which had actually been playing clubs and little theaters that held at most 2,000 or 3,000 fans, headlined in ~ the Forum ~ above Dec. 14, 1968. It to be the second rock concert in ~ the Forum after sporting activities magnate Jack Kent Cooke spent $16 million ~ above a brand-new West shore home because that his NBA team, the Lakers, and his brand-new NHL franchise, the Kings. The first was the October 1968 performance by English strength trio Cream and opening act Deep Purple. Cream, which to be on its bye tour, additionally headlined Madison Square Garden’s very first rock concert on Nov. 2, 1968.


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A group playing a club could gross $750 to $1,000 in an evening, or $5,000 come $10,000 at a modest-sized theater. But with arenas, the potential gross unexpectedly shot come $75,000 or also $100,000 a night, as soon as tickets were still averaging $5.

Not all of that money checked out the performers, of course: Musicians break-up the take through concert promoters, building operators, managers, agents and others. But the distinction in the sheer variety of fans increasingly transforming out because that concerts to be a game-changer.

“Certainly financially it was great,” Densmore stated in a joint interview v the group’s manager in ~ the time, bill Siddons, that went top top to manage Crosby, Stills & Nash and other arena rockers.


Arenas ‘were geared much more toward things favor Holiday on Ice and also the circus. Rock music to be a whole various world.’

Claire Rothman, former general manager of the Forum


Initially, public representative at new facilities such as the Spectrum in Philadelphia (which opened in September 1967), the Forum (Dec. 30, 1967) and also the 4th incarnation of new York City’s Madison Square Garden Arena (Feb. 11, 1968), knew they’d have actually a far-reaching number of open nights come fill once there were no NBA or NHL games.

“We found that the totality complexion of the arena company changed,” claimed Claire Rothman, the longtime basic manager of the Forum throughout the 1970s and ’80s.

She moved west from the philly Spectrum and became one of the rare women in charge of a sporting activities arena in that era. “Up until then… there wasn’t yes, really a technique for law the absent ‘n’ role shows. They were geared much more toward things favor Holiday top top Ice and the circus. Rock music was a whole different world.”

Long-playing concerts

Rock music itself adjusted and adjusted to its brand-new environs.

Going ago to the 1950s, pop music concerts to be usually collection up together revues: multiple acts each playing reasonably short sets concentrated only on their biggest radio hits. It wasn’t inexplicable for support acts to acquire 15 minutes or much less on stage. Also headliners would carry out 20 or perhaps 30 minute of music in ~ the most.

But the development of large, brand-new spaces because that musicians come inhabit approximately coincided with the transition in the music business from the 45 rpm single as the dominant medium come the 33 1/3 rpm long-playing album, or LP.

This technological change allowed musicians an ext room in which to experiment with an innovative expression, thematically and chronologically, a brand-new freedom that lugged over into their live shows.

Bands quickly began to adapt and also expand your presentations to far better play to the bigger houses. They additionally were performing because that audiences who were maturing v them.

“The Beatles quit touring in 1966 for a selection of reasons, one being the they can not hear what they were playing,” said Craig Inciardi, curator and director the acquisitions because that the Rock and also Roll hall of fame in Cleveland. “Their audience was largely teenagers, who were screaming therefore loud the they can not hear the music.

“By the moment the Stones play their an initial mirrors at the finish of ’69 at the new Madison Square Garden, points had changed significantly,” Inciardi said. “They had been turn off the road for much more than a year, their audience had actually grown up a bit and also they came ago with a brand-new vision because that the band. It to be a much longer show, through much better sound quality. In ’69 you had actually the Stones play there, Jimi Hendrix play there and really placed the location on the map.”

The Forum in the west and also Madison Square Garden in the eastern quickly ended up being linchpins in the new world the arena rock. Many of the best names in rock and also pop to be routinely showing up at both: Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan & the Band, Paul McCartney & Wings, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Barbra Streisand, three Dog Night, Jethro Tull, the Jackson 5.


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Perhaps many impressively, Led Zeppelin played the Forum a document 16 times from 1970 to 1977, consisting of a six-night stand in ’77 before the fabled hard-rock group disbanded.

“It gained to the suggest where it to be a point of prestige come play the Forum,” previous general manager Rothman said. “People would call up and also say, ‘Do you have such and such one act?’ They began to think all the action they wanted to check out were playing the Forum.”

Was enlarge better?

Individual musicians and also bands quickly uncovered that these massive concerts comprised a far-reaching new resource of revenue, no much longer merely “promotional appearances” to assist boost the sales that recordings.

“Bands choose the Stones, because that example, began cutting much better deals and also found out you could actually do money going on tour, and also that it wasn’t just around supporting one album,” Inciardi said. “Rock was growing, there to be a enlarge demand and also that’s why a the majority of music acts finish up playing in this 20,000-seat arenas. Maybe 5 years earlier, there were very couple of who might do that. The pan base wasn’t over there yet.”

For the performers themselves, “Most of it was just plain exciting,” Doors manager Siddons said, “You’d realize, ‘Wow, 15,000 world will come view us, and also we deserve to do the without getting rained on.’

Bigger, however, didn’t always translate to “better.”

“After a when it got a tiny old,” drummer Densmore said. “I think Jim got exhausted of it. We all walk — yet mainly Jim.”

Siddons recalled Morrison ruminating ~ above the points that were changing as arenas became an ext common for rock shows.

“One that Jim’s more famous price quotes — and I might not have all the details that the method he responded when people were questioning him about performing — however it to be something like, ‘The bigger the room gets, the larger the audience gets and also the much more obvious you have to be on stage,’ ” Siddons said. “You room the shaman, and you want your music to interact with people throughout the building.”

Or together Densmore placed it, “One requirements to exaggeration a bit much more as the audience gets bigger.”

The Doors to be hardly alone making that realization.

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“It no a thrill to the band,” longtime grateful Dead spokesman Dennis McNally said of the year in the 1980s and beyond, after that group’s rabid following increased to the suggest where play arenas came to be a need to fulfill fan demand.

The Dead’s command guitarist, singer and also songwriter Jerry Garcia “did not like playing stadiums in particular,” mcnally said. “Even arenas — the still every a matter of scale.

“Specifically talking around playing in stadiums, Jerry stated you really need to play to the critical row, and in doing the your music i do not care cartoonish, it can not be nuanced,” mcnally recalled. “It demands to be straightforward and clean to gain to the last row. It loses subtlety.”

One an outcome was a new generation of rock acts whose music fit those criteria: Journey, Kansas, Foreigner, Toto, Bon Jovi and also others that specialized in song with simple choruses tailor created mass singalongs, also if they weren’t an especially innovative musically. But they played fine to large crowds in large enclosed spaces.

”Acoustically, a small, intimate room is the ideal,” mcnally said. “The truth is, became the model because of the economics. It to be a design that to be driven specifically by economics.”

Economics — and also physical scale.

“The Stones for example, anytime they went on tour, they developed a various stage architecture each time,” the Rock hall of Fame’s Inciardi said. “Bands favor Queen had actually a classic giant bright rig that became component of your iconography. Some groups changed everything up.”

Indeed, production values began to grow, sound systems obtained bigger, lighting effects became much more dazzling, costumes frequently became much more outrageous together performers tried to capture and keep the fist of fans, many of whom sat dozens or thousands of yards away, rather than in ~ spitting distance.

Playing music live ended up being less favor an actor’s subtle use of face expression that’s feasible in the movies, and an ext like the grand gestures and also booming vocal forecast of exhilaration in a pat in a substantial Broadway theater.

“That’s a good parallel,” Densmore said. “A film would certainly be prefer making a recording — or play in a 60-seat theater.”

Rock concerts became increasingly intricate affairs. The roll Stones’ well known lips-with-extended-tongue logo was rolled the end in 1969, and also was shown in larger and also larger ways in doing well tours.

Other large props became more common, adding both to the visual influence and financial load of staging significant tours.

By 1977, England’s electric Light Orchestra was using a full-size mockup spaceship onstage along with laser lights, pyrotechnic effects and also prodigious quantities of stage fog top top its “Out of the Blue” tour of sports arenas.

REA MORE: an alternate history of music in 1968 v the Velvet Underground, Aretha Franklin, small Tim and much more »

The $100 ticket

One characteristic of rock reflects that made them attractive to arena operator was they commonly were one-night stands. Together such, they might be slotted conveniently between basketball and hockey multiple-night residence stands.

“It to be such an important part that your ability to produce enough revenue to do the payment of your mortgage or whatever it was,” Rothman said. “For one arena to be viable, you need a couple hundred nights a year to survive. Each of the teams could only give you around 46 nights, and then if they weren’t in the playoffs… In Philadelphia we had actually both hockey and also basketball . Yet together they only accounted for 82 nights in the year. The arena business is a lot prefer the hotel business: a dark night is revenue that is forever lost.”

Through most of the 1970s and well right into the ’80s, ticket prices boosted only modestly. Tickets because that Springsteen’s “Darkness on the sheet of Town” tourism in 1978 were still just $8.50 as soon as he quit at the Forum.

“I to be brand brand-new in mountain Francisco when I moved there in the autumn of ’76,” the Dead’s mac line recalled, “and exactly how we moaned in ~ the price of ‘The critical Waltz,’ ” he said, referring to the star-studded farewell-to-touring event organized by the Band, which was joined by Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters, Ringo Starr, Neil Young, valve Morrison, Neil Diamond, Dr. John and several others.

“The price to be $25, i m sorry at the moment was a an excellent deal the money,” the said. “What would you pay now for a lineup like that?”

Two years into the arena rock era, the roll Stones upped the ante only to roughly $30 for the confront value of a prime ticket for their 1989-90 steel Wheels tour, i beg your pardon grossed just under $100 million and also held the record as the top-grossing tourism in rock background for several years.

The huge upward shift in ticket prices started in 1994, once the rejoined Eagles introduced the group’s “Hell Freezes Over” tour of arenas, amphitheaters and stadiums. It was the an initial time an act had charged $100 per seat, a relocate that outraged numerous fans but additionally tantalized promoters and other music business insiders.

Today, price in the three-figure selection are no unusual, especially when sold by an additional outlets.

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One the the hottest tours of 2018 is Taylor Swift’s “Reputation” tour, because that which she and promoter Live country are trying a new strategy that pricing the finest seats according to what the sector will bear, quite than a pre-determined low price that diverts tickets — and also sales revenue — come the brokers fairly than the artists.

“In the summer that 1995, which to be our last tourism , we went out and Traffic opened up for us, and Traffic was not cheap,” mcnally said. “We charged $30 a ticket, and it to be the very first time we’d broken the $30 mark, and also many of united state felt, ‘This isn’t best — it’s too much.’ us were proud . You deserve to treat her fans together family, or you deserve to treat them as livestock who happen to carry wallets.”

More on the cultural shifts the 1968:

Days the rage and also wonder: complete coverage the 1968’s cultural changes

‘The mode Squad,’ ‘Adam-12" and also how TV brought the counterculture right into 1968’s cop shows

California sound 1968: 10 vital Los Angeles-infused records from a kaleidoscopic era