Washington DC Mall

FLASHBACK #1

The Beach Boys with Jimmy Page 1985

I was at this Washington July 4th show back in the halcyon mid-80s. I definitely got around back then…cue the music — round, round, git around. It was only thirty years ago, but it seems like two lifetimes and it was so wild, crazy and innocent. To be in the middle of a half million people for an entire day and not even see a fistfight. Contrast that with today’s world where people get blown away with high-powered weapons because they like country music. I don’t think that is…progress. But what do I know? Anyhow, over the course of my concert-going experiences, I was at some other weird gigs and the exciting details of those events will be posts # 2, 3, 4, 5 and I know the 12 people who still visit this blog will be hanging on to hear all about it!

Back in the early 1980s The Beach Boys had developed an awesome rep for throwing huge parties on the Washington Mall for the 4th of July until the Interior Secretary of the time, James Watt, came along and said rock concerts drew the “wrong element”. Unfortunately for Watt, The Beach Boys weren’t Van Halen or Iron Butterfly; the band counted George H.W. Bush and President Ronald Reagan as friends so although Watt tried to replace the “rock concerts” with Wayne Newton, that effort was quickly scotched as people booed the concert and Watt eventually had to relent and apologize to the band. In the 90s he pleaded guilty to influence peddling and corruption charges and in 2008 he was named one of the worst cabinet members in modern history….LOL!

I was in my early 20s in 1985 and I had friends who had moved to DC after school and so I went down for the party. Not only did we party on the National Mall for the 4th, we also saw Santana in concert two days later in Columbia, Maryland. It was really great! We had nice seats and Carlos and his band were just overpowering from the first minutes. He came out first to warm up and find the sweet spots for sustain/feedback onstage while the lights were still down and he was just wailing. I’ll never forget it. He had such a great sound. There is a setlist here, but it’s incomplete because I KNOW they played their big hit, I’m Winning and it’s not listed. I seem to remember a couple of other tunes from the 2nd album like the above Incident at Neshabur, which aren’t listed either.

Anyhow…back to the 4th. We took the train into DC from Maryland and got to the Mall early. Over the course of the day a bunch of people I hadn’t seen in a few years showed up. We had a blast and the mood on the Mall was, of course, festive as only the 1980s could be. People really partied back then, lemme tell you, but it was also very mellow. The music, from the main stage began around 4pm with Southern Pacific, a band made up of Doobie Brothers and Creedence Clearwater Revival alumni. I remember the rousing version of Born on the Bayou that was the closer of the set. Of course the line “I can remember the 4th of July running through the backwoods bare…” is a sure winner for the holiday. However, that’s the only main stage act I remember until much later because of the talent wasn’t very interesting, there were delays and problems with the sound and seemingly endless radio ads. Also, I remember a second stage that was closer to where we were that had some pretty good cover bands playing and we were digging that. Because The Beach Boys, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts and The Oak Ridge Boys performed in Philadelphia in the afternoon and were traveling to Washington to do the evening set, they would arrive late. So late in fact that sets got cut and the “Boys” played during the fireworks.

By the time the main event began, we had been partying for almost 9 hours. To say we were SPICOLI-ed! is a total understatement. It was AWESOME! The crowd had swelled to half a million over the course of the day and it was really packed even where we were — so far from the stage that we could’ve been in Virginia. When the Beach Boys started playing we could hear the music and see fireworks and it was a really great show even though I’m not exactly the world’s biggest BB fan. When Mike Love announced from the stage that Mr. T and John Stamos were sitting in with the band (as percussionists), that drew much giggling and guffawing from all of us. However, when a few minutes later Love announced that the one and only Jimmy Page had “flown over from England to jam with the Beach Boys” we straightened up (kinda) and were like, “Wait, WHAT?” We didn’t know that Jimmy was supposed to play, even though there may have been some advanced warning on MTV. So even though we were about 10.5 miles from the stage, two of us guitar guys decided we had to go try and see the band. Everyone else in our group declined and tried to talk us out of going, but we were determined, so off we went.

I don’t remember how long or how far we actually walked. We were both bombed, it was completely dark except for flashes from lighters or flashlights. Helicopters with searchlights buzzed overhead, the fireworks were booming and the Beach Boys and Jimmy Page were playing Lucille. We couldn’t see where we were going and kept tripping over people who had passed out or were getting their July 4th freak on. It was completely and totally surreal. My friend stepped on somebody who started yelling and we stopped. The stage seemed even further away than when we started and Lucille was already over. With more than a little regret, we realized that we were not going to be able to see history (?) being made: The Beach Boys, Jimmy Page, Mr. T, John Stamos and others jamming together to celebrate America’s birthday. We stood where we were for a few more minutes and 5-6 more songs and then, the concert was over. Thanks to the internet, my memories, hazy though they may be, are essentially how things went down over the course of the evening. Getting out of DC on the tube was nuts; people who had been partying in the sun all day were passing out and puking all over the underground and that was just a small part of the massive (and tons of garbage) from party. GOOD TIMES! Here is a hilarious memory from John Stamos where he recalls teaching Jimmy how to play in F# and why Jimmy thought the audience was “hexing him”. Funny stuff.

This past year John Stamos hosted the annual 4th of July concert with the Beach Boys performing. Back in 1985, Stamos was known for being an actor on General Hospital, but over the years he has developed into quite the musician. While there have been many a concert for America’s Birthday since that day back in the mid-80s, I don’t know if any of them matched that year for odd pairings. The thing is I never put it together until recently that the reason for why the gig ended up this way was because only 9 days later…Live Aid happened. Reading over this thread at the Steve Hoffman forums (which I’ve hyped before) I realized that user swandown’ assertion that Page played these concerts because he was in the area preparing for Live Aid is absolutely spot on! I had a chance to go to Live Aid in Philadelphia, but I also had a chance to work overtime and didn’t think the concert was going to be that great, so I passed on it. Bad move there, eh? Aside from all of the other great music, Jimmy Page played with most of his old band. Seeing and hearing Led Zeppelin romp through Rock and Roll, Whole Lotta Love and Stairway to Heaven would’ve been better than (not) seeing Page (but hearing him) play Beach Boys hits…maybe. The thing is that Jimmy wasn’t exactly playing at his best during the mid-80s and from experience I can tell you that these super-large mega shows were always more about the party than the musical quality. Either show was a great time and I’m glad I got to see the one I did!

Flashback #2 will be Bonnie Raitt, John Fogerty and Only the Lonely.

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