Last week, The Rolling Stones kicked off its Zip Code summer tour with a “secret” show at the Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles.
The “secret” is in quotes because we’re talking one of the most popular bands on earth playing a venue that’s not a sold-out arena. That’s not easy news to keep under wraps and the show was online fodder days before it was officially announced.
Those who follow local rock history, no doubt noted the show (and subsequent tour) comes 50 years, almost to the day, of the band’s historic performance at Fresno’s Ratcliffe Stadium. The iconic British rock band played the stadium May 22, 1965 on its first tour on the United States. The show was advertised in The Fresno Bee as a musical “concert” with a special to note to parents assuring all precautions would be taken to protect their children.
According to a story in the paper the following day, a group of 25 girls camped out overnight to see the band, which arrived at the stadium, not in limousine or even a tour bus, but in an armored truck. They played for less than 30 minutes and skipped the hits, because they didn’t have any, really.
“Satisfaction” didn’t chart until June 1965.
They were guaranteed $4,000 for the set, according to the story.
Still, teenagers were excited for the show. The attendance stood at 4,500 (or 3,500, reports varied), with the cheering overpowering the band’s amplification. When the band was done playing, the audience had to be dispersed by the police. The Fresno Bee said it was “a full scale demand for puberty rights.”
A bootlegged film circulating online calls it the “Riot in Fresno.”
“They’re lucky nobody got killed,” says Gary Bongiovanni, editor in chief at the concert-industry trade publication Pollstar.
That’s a subtle jab at the ’Stones infamous (and deadly) show at the Altamont Speedway, but more to the general inexperience of those putting on a concert like this in Fresno.
“The concert industry was radically different then,” Bongiovanni says. “It wasn’t even a business back then.”
This was pre-Bill Graham, he says. Even the biggest concerts at the time happened at places like the Rainbow Ballroom. Large-scale arena shows were unheard of. They would come later, in the early ’70s, and explode through the ’80s, when Ratcliffe was used fairly regularly.
Forty-five hundred was a probably a good turnout to see The Rolling Stones in 1965, but it wasn’t enough to convince the concert’s production company to bring in its other acts — namely the Beatles.
And Bongiovani points out the number nowhere nears the largest crowd to gather at Ratcliffe. Twenty-five thousand people saw Journey there in 1983 with Eddie Money and Bryan Adams. Loverboy and Joan Jett & the Blackhearts had a crowd of 18,000 that same year.
Of course, those shows brought protests from neighbors and complaints about noise and trash and parking around Blackstone Avenue. That put a halt to concerts at Ratcliffe.
The big-shows eventually moved to the Selland Arena, and decade later to Save Mart Center.
But back in 1965, a just-starting Rolling Stones captivated then 13-year-old Armen Bacon.
“I remember being caught up in the frenzy. In the screaming and yelling and dancing and feeling pretty cool about that,” she says.
She was at the concert because she had older cousins who were in a rock band. They knew who The Rolling Stones were, even if they had no idea what they would eventually become, she says: “None of us knew that then.”
All she knew was that there, on stage, was a glimpse at a world that was bigger than anything she’d seen in her little world in Fresno.
It was Bacon’s first concert and a pivotal moment in her life.
She still has her ticket. It cost her $3.50 (the cheap seats were $1) and it is signed, though she’s not sure by whom. During the show, she passed the ticket to someone who looked important and asked to have it signed. The inscription could read “Mick Jagger.”
In the intervene years, the local author has seen The Stones twice, including the band’s 2005 performance at the Save Mart Center. Knowing that The Rolling Stones continue to be so popular and relevant (and talked about) after 50 years, that is inspiring, she says.
“It’s proof that age doesn’t define you. If you living your passion, there’s no expiration date.”