Saturday, August 7, 2010

Swing Auditorium, San Bernardino, CA: Major Rock Shows 1967-69

(a handbill for the December 13, 1969 show at the Swing Auditorium, San Bernardino, featuring the Grateful Dead, Country Joe and The Fish and The Flying Burrito Brothers. h/t Brad for the scan)

The Swing Auditorium, on E Street in San Bernardino, had been built in 1949 and had a capacity of up to 10,000, making it one of the largest rock arenas in use in the 1960s. Many non-Californians assume that San Bernardino is part of Los Angeles, but that is only true in a very broad sense. The city of San Bernardino is actually 60 miles from Downtown Los Angeles, and even further from Santa Monica or the Coast. Given the history of Southern California traffic, that can sometimes be two hours of more of driving, at any time of the day or night. Thus San Bernardino was really new territory for 60s rock bands, far away in many senses from Los Angeles proper.

The cities and counties of San Bernardino and Riverside are generally known today as The Inland Empire, part of Greater Los Angeles in some broad ways and a separate planet in others. Those who have never lived or spent time in Southern California have a tendency to think of Greater LA as a single entity but in fact it is more of an ecosystem, both culturally and economically. San Bernardino has had a lively music scene since World War 2, but the music was infused by the different universe of the Inland Empire. This is not some long-lost phenomenon; the Empire has always had a distinct relationship to Los Angeles, providing a space for Orange Groves, Factories, Aerospace and now Exurbs, with the accompanying boom and bust cycles coloring each development.

An amazing post by blogger and musician David Lowery (from the groups Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker) looks at how the physical and economic landscape of the Inland Empire has infused his music over time. I took his excellent meditation as an opportunity to look at the arrival of the modern rock concert in the Inland Empire, at the Swing Auditorium in San Bernardino.

While the Swing was apparently used for many "Teen" rock shows in the mid-60s, with one important exception touring bands did not begin playing there until late 1967. Rock shows in California followed commerce, which had followed the major Interstates and which ultimately replicated the history of railroad construction. The patterns of late 20th rock band touring were laid on top of the network of railroads built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 60s rock bands played San Francisco and Los Angeles first, and then extended their range to places like Santa Barbara and San Diego in the South and Portland and Seattle in the North, all along the US-101/I-5 corridor. All those places had established concert venues with major rock bands before psychedelia migrated East to San Bernardino.

San Bernardino
San Bernardino has an interesting history dating back to at least 1810, too lengthy to go into here. Given its isolation and the unimportance of Southern California with respect to San Francisco, it played little role in California History (if the Mormons had not returned to Salt Lake City from San Bernardino in the late 1850s, perhaps that history would have been different, but I digress). The city and county of San Bernardino are in a dry desert that is not inherently friendly to development. Like almost all of Southern California, without importing water and having a railroad to export production, the city and county had little chance to thrive. The Southern Pacific Railroad, who effectively created modern Los Angeles by including it on the SP Main Line, chose for various reasons to site their junction at Colton, in neighboring Riverside County. This left San Bernardino high and dry.

San Bernardino found a rail link through a subsidiary of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad. In the Southwest, the general direction of the Santa Fe gave rise to the communities that linked the famous Route 66, one of the first Interstate Highways. The metrically preferable name of San Bernardino got it included in the 1946 Bobby Troup song of the same name, later covered by Nat King Cole, Chuck Berry and The Rolling Stones, among others.

San Bernardino and The Rise Of Greater Los Angeles
Architecture Critic Reyner Banham, in his classic 1971 book Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies, demonstrated conclusively that the history of Los Angeles development was intrinsically tied to the development of railroads. Most important of these was the interurban Pacific Electric Railroad, which linked a series of then-disparate communities in such a way that they were a greater whole that existed as a single economic entity. The map below is part of the Streetcar map from 1920, and anyone who has even visited the Los Angeles area will recognize the blueprint of the freeway system that would arrive before and after World War 2 (click for a larger version)

(part of the Pacific Electric Railway route map c. 1920, from Reyner Banham's Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies, 1971: Harper & Row)

The Pacific Electric Railway reached San Bernardino in 1911. At that point, despite the enormous distance from San Bernardino to the Coast, it became part of greater Los Angeles. The outline of Interstate 10 and Interstate 215 are visible on the streetcar maps, because as Banham eloquently observes, the railway created the interlocking communities that were ultimately served by the Freeways. As a result of the Pacific Electric, San Bernardino became a part of Los Angeles while places to the North, like Palmdale and Lancaster, did not.

The Inland Empire In The 1960s
World War 2 brought enormous growth to California, and Greater Los Angeles in particular benefited from the expansion of the Aerospace Industry. Norton Air Force Base opened in 1942 near Downtown San Bernardino, and it contributed greatly to the growth of the area. During the great boom in Los Angeles in the 1950s and 60s, the "Inland Empire," which more or less defined the area from the San Bernardino County line (abutting Los Angeles County) to the Nevada state line, moved from being a land of orange groves to a community of factories and suburbs. Riverside County, just to the South, and lacking any large cities, also became part of the broader Inland Empire. New suburbs grew up all around both counties, as people flocked to Southern California from elsewhere to work in the various industries located in the Empire.

In the 1960s, the Inland Empire was full of teenagers, and they jumped on the rock and roll train of the 1960s without hesitation. The Empire was far from Hollywood, however, so local garage bands were surprisingly successful, as there was an audience of eager teenagers ready, ready, ready to rock and roll. However, while the rock stories in Riverside and the surrounding area in the 1960s are great ones, it has been told brilliantly and in amazing detail by Ugly Things magazine, so I will not recap them here. Suffice to say, teenage groups like Bush and The Misunderstood did not have to compete with the rock stars of the day, as they almost never ventured far inland, and local teenagers became rock stars in their own right.

The Rolling Stones
While rock bands of the mid-60s completely ignored San Bernardino, which may have well have been Kansas as far as they were concerned, there was one amazing exception: The Rolling Stones. For whatever reason, the Stones made their American concert debut at the Swing Auditorium on June 5, 1964. Keith Richards recalled the crowd fondly, as they knew all the words to the songs, and of course Keith had heard of San Bernardino because he knew the lyrics of "Route 66." The Stones returned to San Bernardino on May 15, 1965, to an apparently equally rapturous reception, but after that they played nearer the Coast, and Inland Empire teenagers still had to get their live music through their local heroes.

Rock Touring In The 1960s
Prior to the Fillmore and the Avalon, rock bands only toured to accelerate the sales of records. Most concerts were sponsored by local radio stations, and even headline bands performed short sets, typically around 30 minutes. Numerous local acts would fill out the bill, sound systems were dismal and lighting was pedestrian. Serious bands saved their best performances for nightclubs in big cities, where there was more of an opportunity to play well, but even those were few and far between.

The Fillmore and the Avalon elevated the rock concert to Art, in parallel with the great albums released by the likes of the Beatles and Bob Dylan. A rock concert became a Serious Event, treated reverentially and subject to analysis and criticism. Professional sound and adequate lighting were part of the "concert experience," just as they would be on Broadway. At first this concert aesthetic only took hold in some Underground enclaves in a few big cities, like San Francisco and Santa Monica. As some of the groups who embodied that aesthetic became popular, like Jefferson Airplane and The Doors, they started to tour around the country.

The initial "Fillmore Circuit" roughly followed I-80 and I-5, more or less paralleling the Southern Pacific and Union Pacific rail routes  as they headed East. Bands played the West Coast (I-5) and headed East through the Sierras towards Chicago, stopping off to play Salt Lake City, Denver, Omaha or Des Moines on the way. From Chicago they headed to New York, via Cleveland and Detroit, and then worked the I-95 corridor along the Eastern Seaboard. Famous 60s venues like the Boston Tea Party, the Fillmore East, Philadelphia's Electric Factory and Miami's Thee Image were all arteries off the rock and roll "Main Line" of I-95. The lesser known venues of the West Coast stuck close to either US 101 or I-5 (from the Hippodrome in San Diego to the Fillmore, thence to the Crystal Ballroom in Portland and Eagles Ballroom in Seattle). 

By 1968, however, rock music had exploded way beyond the confines of a few big cities. FM radio was booming, teenagers everywhere read Rolling Stone magazine, and there were a lot of bands out touring. Managers and booking agents started to see that there was plenty of pent up demand for rock shows out in the suburbs. Just as the railways had extended their reach from big cities in order to create suburbs,  rock tours followed the same map. Bands on a West Coast tour discovered they could play a show near Los Angeles one night and then play Orange County or San Bernardino the next night for an entirely different audience.
(Country Joe McDonald and Mark Kapner on stage at the Swing Auditorium, San Bernardino, December 13, 1969. Photo by (and thanks to) Danny Payne)

The Swing Auditorium
The Swing Auditorium was central to San Bernardino County, and more accessible to Riverside County than any venue in Los Angeles County and most of Orange. Every account I have read of the Swing Auditorium recalls it as an aging dump with terrible sound, and yet those recollections were surprisingly fond. What follows is a list of rock concerts at Swing Auditorium in San Bernardino from 1967 to 1969 that feature touring rock bands, as the rock universe followed the path of the Pacific Electric Railway and brought a high-but-not-lonesome sound to the Inland Empire.

February 4, 1967 Buffalo Springfield
This was probably a regular radio station style show, and the Springfield probably played a brief set. Such shows were probably common at the Swing, and this one is only memorialized because Neil Young and Stephen Stills were in Buffalo Springfield.

April 15, 1967 The Turtles/Sandpipers

July 14, 1967 “Crepuscular Happening” The Grass Roots and Battle of The Bands 
Ugly Things #28 described this event in some detail, and it was probably typical.   The battling bands included The Good Feelins (from San Bernardino), The Torquays (also SB), Blues In A Bottle (Riverside) and Smoke (LA).

July 17, 1967 Jefferson Airplane

August 25, 1967 Buffalo Springfield

November 3, 1967 Buffalo Springfield/Yellow Payges/Mandala
Mandala were a high powered group from Toronto, Ontario.

November 17, 1967 Eric Burdon and The Animals/Blues In A Bottle/Caretakers/Good Feelins/Ancient Peach
Another typical event, sponsored by KMEN-am, with over 5000 in attendance (per UT #28).The new, psychedelic Animals had placed themselves firmly in the Fillmore camp, but they still played a lot of shows like this one, headlining over a number of local acts.

December 16, 1967 The Doors/Fly By Night Company/Friends And Relations/Winfield Concessions/Electric Chairs
I believe that San Bernardino got a fair number of dates in the Fall and Winter because touring was a snowy enterprise in other parts of the country, and the sunny Inland Empire was the beneficiary.

February 25, 1968  Cream/The Hunger/The Caretakers
A Commenter discovered this hitherto lost Cream date, presented by KFXM radio. Cream was thought to have played at Cal State Northridge on this date--perhaps they played two venues.

Cream was not only huge, but important, a serious live rock band. The Doors and the Airplane were great, of course, but they also had huge AM singles and a certain amount of teenybopper appeal, but Cream were revered like jazz musicians.

April 7, 1968 Steppenwolf/Blue Cheer/Cactus

April 20, 1968 Eric Burdon and The Animals/Friends and Relations/Yellow Payges/Electric Chair

May 25, 1968 Jefferson Airplane/Iron Butterfly/Boston Tea Party
Jefferson Airplane and Iron Butterfly were two of the biggest touring rock acts in the country at this point. This may have been the first major rock show at the Swing with a light show, since the Airplane toured with their own.

May 27, 1968 Cream
Cream returned for another date in May.

May 31, 1968 Mothers Of Invention

August 21, 1968: Steppenwolf / The Grass Roots / Sonny Love / Sonny Knight & The Soul Congregation / Chicago Transit Authority / The Fabulous Wahler / Three Dog Night 
"First Annual Inland Empire Pop Festival"

September 5, 1968 Jimi Hendrix Experience/Vanilla Fudge/Eire Apparent/Soft Machine
Once Cream and Jimi Hendrix had both played the Swing, the venue was officially part of the touring circuit, however far it was from Los Angeles proper.

The poster for The New Buffalo Springfield and Eric Burdon And The Animals at the Swing Auditorium on December 6, 1968 (thanks to reader Pam for the scan).
December 6, 1968 New Buffalo Springfield/Eric Burdon And The Animals
The Buffalo Springfield had broken up in the Spring of '68, and their last concert had been on May 5, 1968. By December, Neil Young had gone solo, Richie Furay had formed a group called RFD and then called Popo, with Jim Messina, later better known as Poco and Stephen Stills was holed up in Long Island with Graham Nash and David Crosby. Yet the Springfield were more popular than ever. So a band was put together in Fall 1968, featuring Dewey Martin, the Springfield drummer. The group was called New Buffalo Springfield. While not a terrible group, it was a classic bait-and-switch, encouraging fans to think that the new group had much to do with the old.

Eric Burdon and The Animals were the newer, psychedelic version of the British Invasion stars. They were quite an interesting group in their own right, and I have written about them extensively. At this time, they featured guitarist Andy Summers (later of The Police) and English keyboard legend Zoot Money, along with guitarist John Weider and drummer Barry Jenkins. This show would have been right after a disastrous trip to Japan, and the Animals broke up shortly afterwards. Either this was one of the last shows of Eric Burdon and The Animals, or they didn't play the show--it's even possible that the show didn't take place at all. Nonetheless, loyal blog reader Pam sent in the poster (above), so it very well may have happened.

December 14, 1968 Chambers Brothers/Buddy Miles Express/Sir Douglas Quintet

February 1, 1969: Creedence Clearwater Revival/Canned Heat

February 18, 1969 Iron Butterfly/Steve Miller Band/P,G & E

March 28, 1969  Janis Joplin/MC5/Lee Michaels

April 26, 1969  Jefferson Airplane/Valerie Fussell
Folk singer Valerie Fussell, then a 17-year old high school student, was discovered singing in a Unitarian Church basement coffee shop in Riverside. She was invited to open the show. She also opened a show for Three Dog Night at the Swing later in the year, but I haven't been able to pin down the date.

August 8, 1969 Led Zeppelin/Jethro Tull
Imagine Jethro Tull as an opening act, and opening for Led Zeppelin at that. No wonder people have fond memories of the Swing.

August 30, 1969 Sly And The Family Stone

September 6, 1969 Iron Butterfly
Although Iron Butterfly's music seems dated today, they were a popular group in 1969, witnessed by the fact that they headlined the venue twice that year.

September 20, 1969 Creedence Clearwater Revival/Lee Michaels

November 14, 1969 Moody Blues

November 21, 1969 Blood, Sweat & Tears



(Bob Weir and Pigpen on stage at the Swing Auditorium, San Bernardino on December 13, 1969. Photo by (and thanks to) Danny Payne)

December 13, 1969 Grateful Dead/Country Joe and The Fish/Flying Burrito Brothers

The Grateful Dead began a fruitful history with the Swing Auditorium on this day. It being the Dead and all, there's a tape and even some quite amazing photos (thanks to Danny Payne and Brad).

December 31, 1969 Lee Michaels

As the Inland Empire population boomed, and the rock market swelled as well, the Swing became a regular port of call for rock bands in the 1970s. In September 1981, the Swing Auditorium was struck by a small plane, and ultimately the building had to be torn down. Even the briefest google search, however, will show you that the ancient arena had a wealth of memories for its patrons. The Swing acted as a sort of cultural signpost for rock fans in the Inland Empire, as it was where bands from elsewhere put their feet on the dry desert, so its no surprise that despite the building's flaws it brings pack powerful memories for those who saw bands there.


Rock had moved from big cities to the suburbs by 1969, and San Bernardino was a textbook example (were I to write a textbook, that is). As the 1970s wore on, rock expanded beyond the anchors of the larger cities to the entire country, and individual suburbs of big cities became less important in their own right. When rock became the dominant form of live entertainment, major bands could play anywhere there was a population, and the need for rockin' suburbs anchored to a major metropolitan area was less critical, and the Swing was not replaced by a similar venue.

30 comments:

  1. This is fantastic. The swing auditorium was pretty funky but we loved it as teens. Johnny hickman from cracker and i just read this. Johnny said that his first ever concert was that Procul Harem/Leon Russell/Blodwyn Pig show. The pacific electric railroad ties right back into my Inland Empire Blog because it was the "streetcar" waiting room that we rented for a rehearsal space. Not the fancier Santa Fe Station. The streetcars of course were your Pacific Electric Railway. It was cool to see that map because there is no trace of the old streetcar system. thanks

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  2. Buffalo Springfield played at the Swing Auditorium on August 25, 1967 and on November 3, 1967 (not on November 12, 1967).

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  3. December 16, 1967: also on the bill Fly By Night Company, Friends and Relations, Winfield Concessions, Electric Chairs.

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  4. The correct year of the Procol Harum / Leon Russell / Blodwyn Pig's gig is 1970 not 1969. A footnote: Blodwyn Pig opened the show, followed by Leon Russell, and Procol Harum closed.

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  5. Moody Blues played at the Swing Auditorium on November 14, 1969

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  6. March 28, 1969: also on the bill MC-5, Lee Michaels

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  7. Thanks Bruno. I made the changes. I had thought 1969 was a little early for a solo Leon Russell show. 1970 makes a lot more sense, as The Mad Dogs tour with Joe Cocker would have been complete.

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  8. @300songs - My Dad's name was Irvan 'Stumpy' Stumph, the Swing Auditorium's stage manager and owner of the stage lighting and sound equipment. If I recall correctly, Dad said the car dealers put a lot of pressure on the city to get rid of the street cars. Since the dealers brought in more revenue, the street cars disappeared. Well, actually they were dumped into the Santa Ana River.

    The rails still exist below a thin layer of blacktop ...some were exposed @ 17th and 'D' streets during a repair.

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  9. its interesting to hear this story about the streetcars. To some extent, that was happening all over. I believe that the Los Angeles streetcar system (Pacific Electric Railway) was ultimately bought by a consortium controlled by General Motors and Firestone, who of course had a vested interest in converting rails to buses.

    Its also great to hear that the Swing had a stage manager nicknamed "Stumpy"--its like a 1944 Warner Bros movie.

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  10. How about the caretakers? San Bernardino's home grow band?

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    1. I played with them at the Cream concert in Feb 1968. I was lead guitar player in Hunger and backstage I talked to some of the guys in the caretakers just before they went on.They had a version of Spoonful they were going to open with but I suggested to them it wasn't a good idea to play a Cream song even though they were a cover band.They were so infatuated
      with The Cream they got Eric Clapton to sign their guitar with a knife. Eric said to me that they were worse than backstage groupies. I wonder if that guitar still exists. It's probably worth a fortune---
      Rock on PapaJohn Morton

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  11. Attended the Zeppelin concert in 69' while on a surf trip to Baja after graduating from high school in Yakima, WA. My best bud from school was a transplant from Berdoo so we wandered on down that summer and had a great time. To be honest I do not even remember Tull that night but that can be ascribed to the prodigious amounts of drugs we were taking at the time. I do recall standing front right near the speaker tower and that afterwards was deaf for a while. Went up to a Denny's? somewhere but I was too loaded to go inside so sat on the curb alone. A limo rolls up and stops in front of me and the driver goes inside. Then a rear window rolls down and I am staring at Robert Plant who starts talking to me. The details are fuzzy but I vaguely recall telling him how great the concert was. We talked until the driver returned with drinks and then Plant had the driver give me directions to the party they were going to in LA. By the time my friends came out all I could remember was that I had talked to Plant and something about a party. They were quite disappointed and slightly upset with me. We then broke into one of those old school places where you go down slides on burlap bags and had fun. After that, back home and then into the service which is another tale.

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  12. Hi. Great posts & comments about the Swing and the SBdno area.
    I found this: http://tinyurl.com/4zw7mdw
    which shows a date for the Cream concert as February 25, 1968.
    I was there... yet had to research. :P
    Cheers.

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  13. Judi, the Cream ad is a great find. I updated the post accordingly. Thanks.

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  14. Re: February 25, 1968 Cream....also on the bill: The Hunger / Caretakers

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  15. Re: November 17, 1967 Eric Burdon and The Animals/Blues In A Bottle/Caretakers/Good Feelins/Ancient Peach.....Ancient Peach filling in for Blues In A Bottle

    New show: April 15, 1967: The Turtles / The Sandpipers

    New show: April 7, 1968: Steppenwolf / Blue Cheer / Cactus / The Drift

    New show: April 20, 1968: Eric Burdon and The Animals / Friends and Relations / Yellow Payges / Electric Chair

    New show: May 31, 1968: The Mothers Of Invention

    New show: August 21, 1968: Steppenwolf / The Grass Roots / Sonny Love / Sonny Knight & The Soul Congregation / Chicago Transit Authority / The Fabulous Wahler / Three Dog Night "First Annual Inland Empire Pop Festival"

    New show: December 6, 1968: Eric Burdon and The Animals / New Buffalo Springfield

    New show: February 1, 1969: Creedence Clearwater Revival / Canned Heat

    New show: September 20, 1969: Creedence Clearwater Revival / Lee Michaels / Tom Becker (MC)

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  16. Bruno, this is great research, and I have made some updates to the post. A few quick remarks:

    April 7, 1968--this couldn't be the Bogert/Appice Cactus, right? Could this be a 1970s show?

    May 31, 1968--Not on Charles Ulrich's list, so I'm wondering if this actually occurred?

    August 31, 1968: Had Three Dog Night formed by this time?

    Thanks for all the input

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  17. Corry,

    All the "Swing" dates and/or bands billed are 100% confirmed by posters, photos and reviews in local magazines.

    (a) Obviously the Cactus that played in 1968 were not the "famous" Cactus but only a local band with the same name.

    (b) As I already said to you about two years ago, the Ulrich's list was old and with a lot of errors and missed gigs. My "MOI Performance List" in my blog is now the almost complete and correct gig list of this band (and, by the way, my list is still "under construction" and when I have time I will added some new dates).

    (c) Yes, Three Dog Night formed in 1968.

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  18. good work Corry! but you forget to update this:

    (a) November 17, 1967: Ancient Peach filling in for Blues In A Bottle

    (b) April 7, 1968: The Drift also on the bill

    (c) December 6, 1968: Eric Burdon and The Animals / New Buffalo Springfield

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  19. Bruno, I have seen the Eric Burdon date, but there's also an ad for a show on the same date in San Diego. It's also possible that neither show was played (Vic Briggs doesn't recall), so I left it off.

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  20. Corry,

    As I already said in my last comments all the dates and bands billed are 100% confirmed by photos and reviews and, by the way, the San Diego was on December 7 not on December 6 (take a look at your Eric Burdon and The Animals Performance List on Chicken...) . Eric Burdon and The Animals / New Buffalo Springfield show occured!!

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  21. Re: February 4, 1967 Buffalo Springfield .... also on the bill: The Seeds, BJ Thomas & The Triumphs and other local acts

    Re: August 25, 1967 Buffalo Springfeld ..... also on the bill: The Never So Few, Birmingham's Small Arms Corporation, The Peppermint Trolley, Underground Society, The Light

    Re: November 3, 1967 Buffalo Springfield / Yellow Payges / Mandala ..... also on the bill: The Light

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  22. Re: Buffalo Springfield, 4 February 1967 They were late because Richie Furay had been in a minor accident and broken his nose. They said it was the first real concert they ever played. Good Feelins played.

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  23. Anyone have concert posters from the Swing? Did they make many posters for that venue?

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  24. I remember seeing John Mayall doing the 'Room to Move' set opening for Cream. Sure would love to see a complete line up for the Swing.

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  25. Thanks to Pam, I have added a poster for the December 6, 1968 show with New Buffalo Springfield and Eric Burdon And The Animals.

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  26. I remember Eric Burdon and War played at the Swing. An unknown band named Hayden opened for them along with Alice Cooper, complete with meat, peanut butter and feathers being thrown at the audience. Then Ike and Tina Turner came after War. Wish I knew the year!

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  27. Something doesn't make sense to me regarding a few concert dates. I used to work for KMEN after school in the '60's. They asked me to be a teen reporter for them when Scenic Sounds Productions brought Janis Joplin to the Swing. Tom Nieto headed the company and I was lucky enough to interview Janis. After that he invited me, my sister and a friend, who had accompanied me, to come backstage and interview the Airplane when he brought them to the Swing a month or two later. We took him up on his offer and the next concert after that was Jimi Hendrix. I didn't make the Hendrix concert because I was in San Francisco at the time and, of course, deeply regret it to this day. My two interviews were published in the station's KMENTERTAINER, however, the stations program manager found it necessary to change the wording in some of this teenager's work to make it a bit more professional. My point is, that all 3 concert dates are within a few months of each other and you don't list them as such. This I know for sure.

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  28. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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