The original Moondog Coronation Ball took place at the old Cleveland Arena back on March 21,1952. It was a short-lived affair due to overcrowding and general pandemonium. The entire story of this event—which is now considered to be the first official rock ‘n’ roll concert—and how it became rock history is actually longer than that first concert itself, and too long to go into here (you can read more about that in my book, “Rock ‘n’ Roll and the Cleveland Connection”).
I want to talk about the night of March 28, 2009 at Quicken Loans Arena. The lineup for this concert was sure to take us boomers back to the day when rock was simple and just plain fun. The evening started out pretty slow with Jerry Butler, and I was beginning to wonder about the audience, most of which were sitting ever-so-politely, but things did pick up a bit in his last few songs, though the crowd was still in zombie mode. I was beginning to wonder if the whole concert was going to be like that. This had actually happened the last two Moondog shows I went to. While I’d be movin’ and swayin’ and clappin to the music (everything short of standing up and dancing, which I miss about the old days when everyone did that), the rest of the people were sitting like statues just watching the performers like they were watching a circus act.
But then came Little Richard. The original. The true architect of rock ‘n’ roll. And you know what? At the age of 76, he proved it once again. He had me worried, though, at first, when they carted him out on stage in a wheelchair. I looked at my husband Jeff and we both thought, maybe he should be hanging up his Tutti Frutti, and go quietly into the night.
Then several men helped him out of the wheelchair, set him at his piano, and upon seeing a real close up of his face on that there Jumbotron, Little Richard immediately showed his feistiness. “Get that camera off me, turn it off.” And as if God himself had thundered his disapproval, the arena went dark. And Little Richard—decked out in rhinestone studs from his suit to his sparkly boots—went to work. Well, Good Golly, Miss Molly, that man can still rock and roll like he invented it (and if you asked him, he’d say he did). His falsetto pipes were clear and sharp as a songbird. His piano playing, striking and manic. His attitude, as it should be. (Although he did lighten up after the first song and gave permission to turn the Jumbotron back on – though the cameramen knew by now to keep a respectful distance from his heavily made-up face.
Yes indeed, Little Richard is still the emancipator. Still the man who can shake, rattle and roll with the best of them. And by his last song, he had even managed to get even the die-hard deadheads up off their seats and rock like it was 1959.
Then came Three Dog Night, who didn’t disappoint with strong vocals and upbeat songs that made you feel like you were 16 again. The crowd was really rockin’ now . . .
And if that all wasn’t soul-satisfying enough, Peter Noone of the Herman Hermits eclipsed any expectations I may have had. Not only does he still look 25 (really, I want two of whatever he’s having), but he is an amazing entertainer! Something I never realized. Of course I was always a fan – who couldn’t be with songs like “Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat,” “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter” (which inspired me to write my first play at 10 years old – totally copying the entire storyline on how she doesn’t love him now, and wants to return those things he bought her (I did have to get creative there, and determined he had bought her a bottle of Yardley of London perfume—being British and all—and a pack of Beatle Bubble Gum cards, which, if she kept them, probably could get a pretty penny for now), and of course, “Henry the VIII, I Am.”
The ever-cute Peter had people laughing, reminiscing, and yes, on their feet dancing. And seeing our own talented Cleveland boys, Rich Spina and Billy Sullivan up there on stage performing with this pop icon made the evening complete. Oh, AND the fact that Jeff and I ended up sitting next to Rich Spina’s mom who not only was delightful, but who, because she was one of the few to first begin actually moving early on in the concert, produced an immediate bond with me that lasted through the night. I now realize why my friend, Rich, is such a great guy. It always starts with Mom.
Okay, I know you all have lives to lead so I’ll bid goodbye for now. But remember this weekend is the Rock Hall inductions. A good reason to be proud of our town’s roots (this year’s induction of Bobby Womack makes the third musician from the Cleveland area to be honored).
You know what comes now . . . Cleveland really does rock! Enjoy!