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World Series Of Rock Still Resonates 50 Years Later

World Series Of Rock Still Resonates 50 Years Later

Today marks the 50th anniversary of what has become a historical moment but at the same time a mystical time in Cleveland’s music scene. 

50 years ago today the first World Series Of Rock happened at the old Cleveland Stadium which at the time was the home of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns and MLB’s Cleveland Indians not a place where you would expect a rock concert let alone a day long rock concert but what started that sunny (but cool) day in June 1974 would create a phenomenon for concert goers that still resonates to this day. 

WSOR 1974 Photo Courtesy Of Janet Macoska (janetmacoska.com)

Mike and Jules Belkin by 1974 were the premier concert promoters in the Midwest. At the time they were on par with Bill Graham in California, the Electric Factory out of Philly, Ron Delsener in New York, Don Law in Boston and any of the top promoters of the day. Unlike today, in the seventies because of their prominence no one skipped Cleveland on a tour. 

As Jules Belkin said in an interview on the CLE Rocks podcast with Troy Smith in 2022 “There came a time where we started running out of venues that would fit the enormity of the bands. The bands were getting so big. We were selling out and of course at that time, there was no Coliseum. We were selling out Public Hall very quickly and there was a feeling that let’s expand. Well, there was no place else to expand to except the stadium.” Later he talked about the negotiations they had with Art Modell, then owner of the Cleveland Browns and ran the Stadium. “he was not really a fan of rock and roll. I remember his wife, when I went into a meeting with him, his wife was sitting over the side and we start talking rock and roll and she walked out of the room. The last thing she wanted to do with her husband’s stadium was rock and roll.” 

Peter Frampton and the boys from Sunrise Security Photo Courtesy Of Janet Macoska (janetmacoska.com)

After finally getting the details worked out, they had a venue now they needed a name for this huge event. Jules explained in the interview “At that time remember, the Indians were in last place and they were barely getting 1,000 people into the seat of the game, so, well my story is my brother Mike (Belkin) was a real avid baseball fan and he kind of felt that this was going to be the thing, that was going to be similar to a World Series. It was going to be big and he was right, it was big.” 

So now they had the venue and name now they had to book that first show. In retrospect if that first show didn’t get the draw and excitement of the fans it could have been the last show there. Co-headlining the show was The Beach Boys with Joe Walsh And Barnstorm and opening acts Lynyrd Skynyrd and REO Speedwagon. The Beach Boys were not the huge powerhouse of the 60’s but they could still pull some fans. In the interview Jules talked about booking that first show, “You know, it was just Beach Boys at that time was a very hot band. It seemed to be a good opener. It wasn’t, you know, hard rock. We weren’t going to alienate any audiences.”  

Carl Wilson of The Beach Boys at the first WSOR concert Photo Courtesy Of Janet Macoska (janetmacoska.com)

Maybe so but Joe Walsh And Barnstorm were rock and roll and a huge fan favorite in our area and riding high at the time with “Rocky Mountain Way” off their latest album “The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get” which was being played on the radio all the time. 

Joe Walsh And Barnstorm at the first WSOR concert Photo Courtesy Of Janet Macoska (janetmacoska.com)

Joe Vitale played keyboard that day and remembers “I was touring with Stephen Stills at the time. I was on break and got a call from Walsh. he said…”are you home….can you fill in for a gig on keys?”  I said of course….he said GREAT….come up to Cleveland Stadium tomorrow…. ( I forgot that it was the next day)….I said STADIUM ?  YIKES !!….I said well OK…..I show up the next day (a little nervous) and I’m on stage with 10s of thousands of screaming fans…but holy crap what an amazing show….Joe W pulls that kinda stuff on me once and awhile….but hey….It’s Only Rock & Roll !!!!” 

Joe Vitale at the first WSOR concert Photo Courtesy Of Joe Vitale

Lynyrd Skynyrd wasn’t a slouch either coming on in the number three slot on the bill. They were coming off the success of their second album which had just been released and fans loved hearing the hit “Freebird” especially in a setting like that. Opening the show was REO Speedwagon who had a few albums out but at the time were not the band pumping out the hits like their run in the 80’s. 

Lynyrd Skynyrd at the first WSOR concert Photo Courtesy Of Janet Macoska (janetmacoska.com)

For the fans this was a different experience, this was their Woodstock, this was a party. As Steve Pearson of North Canton remembers “Leading up to the very first WSOR it was well publicized that “no cans or bottles” would be permitted inside the stadium. My friend Rick and I decided to push that envelope. We showed up at the gate with a 5-gallon pony keg of Falstaff beer. The security officer at the gate scratched his head and said “we’ll it’s not a bottle and technically it’s not a can” and waved us through the turnstiles.” 

Tokyo Shapiro, a huge audio dealer in the area at the time was a name sponsor of the World Series Of Rock and had plenty of signage throughout the stadium. Dom who is a writer here was working at the Audio Warehouse at the time which was the biggest competitor for Tokyo Shapiro then and remembers “we were sent down to the show with Audio Warehouse stickers and told to put one on every sign over the words Tokyo Shapiro, by the time we were done you would have thought Audio Warehouse was sponsoring the shows!” 

Jules explained in the interview about how some of the acts were booked “you know, a lot of the choices over the years were made for different reasons. I was just looking at the lineups over the years and if you would look at particular series, there were some series where, because we were managing the James Gang at the time, Michael Stanley, Donny Iris, well, Donny never played, but if we needed a filler, we would put our bands into the show.”  

Steven Tyler backstage at the 1975 WSOR concert Photo Courtesy Of Janet Macoska (janetmacoska.com)

He went on “A lot of times, the bands that were playing actually were traveling around the country as a group. So you’d get the headliner, and then the under band, the last band in the show, would be traveling together anyhow and then other times we would make decisions because there was a little pressure from an agency that said, you know what? If you want Peter Frampton, you gotta take Derringer because same agency. So a lot of our decisions were not necessarily ours, but a lot of decisions were because of these guys. These guys were doing music, hot music at the time. That’s where we went.” 

Rolling Stones 1978 WSOR Poster Courtesy of Raw Sugar Art Studio (rawsugarstudio.com)

Overall the first show was a success, the reviews for the show varied but the almost 40,000 fans had a great time and that excitement led to the next show with Emerson Lake And Palmer in August. The success of the shows didn’t hit everyone the same as The Plain Dealer’s review by Anastasia Pantsios started with the headline “Overpriced miniature Woodstock’s are summer phenomena” and she went on in the review “Asking kids why they choose to shell out seven or eight bucks and put up with hours of discomfort, squeezed together on the grass or sitting in the hard bleachers probably wouldn’t tell you much.” and the review for ELP went down hill from there. 

Bob Seger at the 1977 WSOR concert Photo Courtesy Of Janet Macoska (janetmacoska.com)

Steve Pearson also had a memory about the conditions “No trip down WSOR Memory Lane would be complete without <shudder> a visit to the Municipal Stadium rest rooms. Decorum prevents me from detailing the filth and 3rd world sanitation – but if you were there…You know.”   

The conditions written about in the review didn’t seem to dampen the enthusiasm of the ticket buying public as the last show of 1974 featured a stellar lineup of Crosby, Stills, Nash And Young, Santana, The Band and Jessie Colin Young and as the Plain Dealer reported “88,000 rock fans pack Stadium.” 

Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood at the 1975 WSOR concert Photo Courtesy Of Janet Macoska (janetmacoska.com)

The World Series Of Rock was a success and it was off and running. In 1975 the concerts featured some of the biggest bands at the time including the Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart And Faces, Yes, Joe Walsh, Aerosmith, Uriah Heep, The Beach Boys and Chicago and each concert was well attended and then everything went kaput. 

In 1976 the Belkins announced that the July 10th would be the first show of the year with Aerosmith, Todd Rundgren, Jeff Beck and The Jan Hammer Group, and Rick Derringer but when the Cleveland Stadium Management Co. revoked the field permit for the show prohibiting the audience from being on the field. There were thoughts of moving the stage to second base and having everyone sit in the stands but Aerosmith wouldn’t play if the fans couldn’t be on the field so the show was cancelled and no more were scheduled for 1976. 

Rain didn’t dampen fans spirits during WSOR concert Photo Courtesy Of Janet Macoska (janetmacoska.com)

I remember at the time fans were wondering if the World Series Of Rock would come back in 1977 but I don’t think a lot of people realized that the Belkin’s were running the same type of festival concerts in Buffalo during the same time as the WSOR shows. The “Summerfest At The Stadium” had most of the same headliners that we saw in Cleveland and were hugely successful so it only seemed to reason if they could get the situation with field worked out, the WSOR was going to continue. 

Aerosmith 1977 WSOR Poster Courtesy of Raw Sugar Art Studio (rawsugarstudio.com)

In 1977 the festival came back with a vengeance with three super shows including the only World Series Of Rock concert to feature only one band, Pink Floyd. The Pink Floyd show was a complete sell-out with 83,200 tickets sold and the rain which delayed the show didn’t seem to dampen the fans spirits. Between the flyover to start the show, the pig hovering over the stadium or the fireworks show. A friend of mine who has seen Pink Floyd about 4 or 5 times always reminds me “that show was the best I ever saw.” Jane Scott of the Plain Dealer also had raves about the show and she reported an anonymous concert goer who told her ““Hey man, I think I’ll lay off this stuff” said a Youngstown youth as he stumbled by the Free Clinic Tent.“I think I just saw a pink pig floating up there.”” 

Southside Johnny and Steve Van Zandt at the 1977 WSOR concert Photo Courtesy Of Janet Macoska (janetmacoska.com)

1978 was another big year with three WSOR shows each with major headliners like The Rolling Stones, Electric Light Orchestra and Fleetwood Mac and as Guy Turner of Westlake remembers about the Fleetwood Mac show “This lineup seemed like the quintessential AOR show. I liked Eddie Money (RIP). I did not buy into the whole “Todd is God” movement, which was big at my high school. He did have a number of super songs; when the football coach quoted “Just One Victory” at a rally, the place went nuts.  I do recall thinking Kasim Sultan was about the coolest looking bassist ever. Bob Welch had his name misspelled on the concert posters.” 

Fleetwood Mac 1978 WSOR Poster Courtesy of Raw Sugar Art Studio (rawsugarstudio.com)

Then came 1979 and what seemed to be start of the end of the road. The first show was scheduled for July 28th with a lineup of Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, Journey, Thin Lizzy, AC/DC and The Scorpions in their first concert in the U.S.A. The show was great, and fans had a great time as always.  

As Guy Turner remembered, “The Scorpions were added to the bill as last-minute openers. They barely spoke English but put on a strong performance. AC/DC followed. I’d seen them just a few months before at Music Hall with UFO. Angus was unstoppable. Thin LIzzy played next. I had gotten Bad Reputation as one of those 12 albums for a dollar from Columbia House. I was glad for the chance to see them. Ted Nugent I was looking forward to most of all. He had so many songs I loved. Free For All, Cat Scratch Fever, Baby Please Don’t Go.  And then Aerosmith. The main reason we went was that Paul’s (his friend) girlfriend was a major fan. I liked them fine, but who knew that the band was imploding from addictions and squabbling. I can’t recall thinking that the playing was sloppy. It was just great to have graduated high school, and to be getting ready for college.”   

Turner also added, “On the way out, the crazy level of violent crime had become common knowledge. We formed a phalanx around the girls as we made our way up W.3rd towards the Terminal Tower. CPD had restored order by that time but it was still unnerving. I remember reading in the PD the next day that it was so overwhelming that the CPD officer in charge at the stadium stated that they just conceded the area.” 

Photo Credit The Times Recorder July 29, 1979

Turner remembered it was violent outside the stadium and then Cleveland Police Captain Ed Rossman gave a statement “there were only minor problems during the actual performances” it was before the show that the deadly violence happened. Even though the doors were opening at 11 a.m. the crowd was well over 1000 people by 5 a.m. that morning waiting to get in. Police reported that there were 4 shootings (1 fatal), nine stabbings and numerous instances of beatings. At least 75 people were arrested on charges ranging from robbery to disorderly conduct. At one point a police car was damaged and 20 police officers retreated to wait for reinforcements.  

The next WSOR was scheduled for August 18th but Mayor Dennis Kucinich wanted to move the concert from an all-day concert to one that would start after dark at 8 p.m. thinking this would help curb the violence from the previous show. How that was going to help, I don’t know, but Belkin Productions decided to cancel the show and move it to two dates at the Richfield Coliseum, splitting the bill as they felt parents would not want their kids downtown at night. In a statement the Belkin’s said, “Our company along with Radio Station WMMS has received hundreds of calls from area parents expressing great concern over their children being downtown all night”. The statement went on “the parents prefer a concert during daylight hours. They are vehemently opposed to an all night show and refuse to let their children stay downtown all night. It would be dark at 4 a.m. when the concert ends.” 

The move of the concert to Richfield didn’t go well as the Richfield Village Council in a town hall meeting with residents on August 7th stated that they “would use any means necessary to protect residents from possible problems from two proposed rock concerts at the Coliseum Aug 18th and 19th.” This was all based off the fears from the Cleveland show the week before. Even though the WSOR was going to be two smaller shows just the name World Series Of Rock conjured up unqualified fears from residents. As the Akron Beacon Journal reported from the meeting in its August 7th edition, one resident was quoted “Do we have to band together and get our own vigilante group like in Texas?” He went on, “Something has to be done before our community is overrun with these crazies.” Belkin Productions decided to cancel the shows to help keep their relationship with the Richfield Coliseum and Richfield Village on solid ground as they did book a lot of shows at the venue throughout the year. 

It seemed that was it, the end. There was no talk or rumors of the WSOR coming back in 1980 and it seemed people moved on until all of a sudden in June the announcement came that on July 19th the World Series Of Rock was returning to Cleveland Stadium with Bob Seger And The Silver Bullet Band, J. Geils Band, Eddie Money and Def Leppard on the bill.  

Peter Wolf of the J. Geils Band at the 1980 final WSOR concert Photo Courtesy Of Janet Macoska (janetmacoska.com)

Around 50,000 attended that show and as Guy Turner wrote in “I went with friends and I bought the “official” t-shirt. I really liked that design with a baseball arcing out of the Stadium. My first WSOR included J Geils and Bob Seger, as did this last one. What’s even more satisfying to me (as a dad) is that Def Leppard opened. 42 years later our 19 year old son attended a concert on the same site. The Stadium had been torn down and First Energy (or is it First Bribery) stadium was built there and Def Leppard headlined. It was his first concert. Everything old is new again.”  

Bob Seger at the 1980 final WSOR concert Photo Courtesy Of Janet Macoska (janetmacoska.com)

Even though the concert went off without any major incidents it was the last one. Belkin Productions spokesman Andy Madorsky told The Akron Beacon Journal in its July 20th edition “the heyday of giant rock concerts may be ending.” He went on, “There’s a general trend now toward a little bit of negativism in the rock concert business because of the December 1979 tragedy in Cincinnati at a concert by a rock group, The Who.” When asked if the 1979 WSOR incidents were a factor in lower than expected attendance, he stated “That had absolutely nothing to do with the turnout today.” He did mention that the low turnout might have been because “there’s a recession on.” 

Fans using their survival skills at WSOR concert Photo Courtesy Of Janet Macoska (janetmacoska.com)

I don’t know what was the death knell of the World Series Of Rock? People were still going to concerts, the before mentioned stadium concert series “Summerfest At The Stadium” ran through 1983 in Buffalo. Was it economics? I mean why book five bands for one show when you could book five bands for five shows at different venues. Was it changing times? Was it the fans that attended those early shows were growing up? 

Photo Courtesy Of Janet Macoska (janetmacoska.com)

I don’t have an answer but what I do know that on a sunny Sunday day in June of 1974, Belkin Productions and WMMS created a phenomenon that is still talked about 50 years later. That in itself is something special. 

Headline photo courtesy of Janet Macoska (janetmacoska.com)

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