Backstage: Classic Concerts With Hendrix, the Who, Springsteen, and More

Music vet and New Times scribe Lee Zimmerman shares stories of memorable rock 'n' roll encounters that took place in our local environs. This week, Lee's most memorable shows ever... 

I've often alluded to my concert experiences in past columns, and indeed, I've seen so many shows throughout the years/decades that it becomes somewhat of a challenge to cite those that rank among the all-time best. No sooner do I see a show that I swear couldn't be better than I'd go witness another that quickly ups the ante.

The list of memorable concerts I've had the pleasure of attending numbers into the hundreds, and several stand out immediately. There was Jimi Hendrix at the Dallas Memorial Auditorium in 1968 (during "Purple Haze," Jimi pointed into the audience and shouted "'Scuse me... while I kiss this guy!"). The Who at Forest Hills in New York was a show that coincided with the release of Who's Next and found Pete Townshend pouring a bucket of water over a hapless Keith Moon.

I've missed a few concert opportunities too; the same year I caught Hendrix, I passed on the chance to see Cream, a decision I'd always deeply regret. I never went to Woodstock, although I followed its progress from a distance in the New York Times while I was residing in the Virgin Islands. (My wife went, and she still has her original ticket, but for some reason, she has only selective memories of what transpired...) The same night that I attended the aforementioned Who concert, I could have had seats at Madison Square Garden for George Harrison's Concert for Bangladesh. 

Still, when I make my choices as to the concerts I consider most memorable, I tend to lean toward more intimate venues. Seeing the Saw Doctors up close on St. Patrick's Day at the old Fort Lauderdale Baseball Stadium a decade or so ago was one of the most uplifting experiences I've ever had during a performance. The Saw Doctors hail from Ireland, and their music is infused with the nostalgia, sentiment, and exhilaration that the Emerald Isles seem to inspire. As a result, I found myself basking in a wide array of emotions, as I did at every Saw Doctors show I attended before and since. The teary tales of youthful innocence appealed to my sensitive side, while their rocking reels had me trying to stretch the parameters of my limited dancing skills beyond my usual practice of simply shifting my shoulders. 

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at the Miami Jai Alai Fronton in the mid-'70s was also significant in that it captured the Boss in all his youthful glory -- a period that even the staunchest fans still consider his prime. The Fronton was a much more intimate venue than those he filled in later years, so I was wholly fascinated with Bruce's stage moves and athletic dexterity as he raced across the stage, leaped up on the piano, and gyrated enthusiastically when the music moved him. I've seen him since, and he's still terrific, but that particular performance is still the standout.

The annual Cayamo Cruises that I've attended for the past three years have included the best in Americana realms -- among them Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris, Richard Thompson, John Hiatt, Buddy Miller, the Indigo Girls, and Brandi Carlile. Having the opportunity to see these artists up-close and personal in smaller spaces throughout the ship -- often with the chance to meet them -- immediately elevates this event into the upper echelons of my live concert experiences.

That's not to say the larger settings haven't been superb. During the '90s, I ventured to England and Oxfordshire in particular for the annual Fairport Convention Reunion festivals, which is where I first caught the Saw Doctors and other notable representatives of the British folk-rock scene. (For those unaware, Fairport Convention were among the first English outfits to fuse traditional music with the electricity of rock 'n' roll. Their alumni included Richard Thompson, late singer Sandy Denny, and a superb vocalist and musical interpreter, Iain Matthews.) 

The last time I was there, Robert Plant not only did a miniset on stage, with Fairport providing the backing, but he also hung out in the audience along with his pal Jimmy Page. The two had recently reunited for their No Quarter album and were taking the scene all in stride. They were standing only a few feet in front of me, and when I shyly approached with my program book in hand, they graciously signed it and obliged several other onlookers who also asked for autographs. Later, I spied Page strolling about the grounds with a lady friend, checking out the stalls and blending in with the audience, having checked his stardom and celebrity at the entrance gate. Plant, on the other hand, struck a more regal presence. I was briefly backstage after he finished his set, and accompanied by a small entourage, he exuded the aura of rock-star royalty. Still, that was a far cry from the intimidating image he had when he was wrecking hotel rooms and groping the groupies while with Zeppelin. 

While visiting in the U.K. in 1971 -- and on my own after being stood up

by a girl from back home I was supposed to meet overseas -- I attended

one of the famous free concerts in London's Hyde Park, where I caught a

concert headlined by Grand Funk Railroad and featuring Humble Pie,

fronted by Peter Frampton and the late, great former Small Faces singer

Steve Marriot. Ironically, photos from that show were later included on

the inner sleeve of Humble Pie's famous Rockin' the Fillmore LP.

Locally, there was Genesis, helmed by Peter Gabriel at the Gusman

Concert Hall in downtown Miami, featuring an explosion of strobe lights

that practically blinded the audience. I saw Led Zeppelin at the old

Miami Beach Convention Hall (scene of the infamous Republican convention

in 1972), but as luck would have it, I had an obstructed view because

my seats were positioned behind a pillar.

I also had the opportunity to enjoy a November 1977 one-off performance by Neil Young and his Gone With the Wind Orchestra at Bayfront Park in Miami. It was the only time Young performed live with this particular ensemble, a country conglomerate made up of Nashville-based musicians. I was there because I was working for Capitol Records and Dr. Hook was one of the support acts. I only remember that it was a great show, but when it comes to details, I'm afraid I'm lacking. 

Sometimes, though, it's simply that the memory of being privy to something special is really all that matters.

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