Houses of the Holy: Six Famous Rock Music Venues


In the basement of Apple Corps Ltd. headquarters in London, Alan Parsons manned two eight-track recorders. Six floors above him, on the roof, cables and lights and cameras were strung everywhere. When Billy Preston and The Beatles began playing, people on the sidewalks heard the music and a crowd began to assemble. The final Beatles public performance lasted just over 40 minutes and it took place on the roof of a building!

One of the most overlooked footnotes in such stories are the venues, places where fans and bands and road crews gather for events that create life-long memories. We wanted to explore some of the locations that have hosted some of these memorable concerts and performers.

When someone mentions the name of a rock band you may hear comments such as “Yeah, I saw them in Buffalo!”, or something similar, but the real venue is hardly ever mentioned. Rock bands go on tour or stage improvised gigs to promote albums or videos and such, and while bands and roadies and managers grow accustomed to the various concert locations they visit, record buyers usually don’t consider the nightclubs or arenas that host major (and minor) ‘rock show’ events.

Since this one is a popular clue on the television show “Jeopardy”, let’s answer the musical question “What is the Cavern Club?” In 1957, in a Liverpool warehouse at 10 Mathew Street, a new nightclub opened its doors as The Cavern Club. Alan Sytner, the original owner, modeled the basement of the building after the jazz district in Paris where several similar clubs could be found. A local golf pro, Nigel Walley, asked Sytner if his son could book The Quarrymen for a gig at the Cavern. Dr. Sytner wanted to audition the band and asked that they first play at the golf club. A week later the doctor called Walley and offered the band an interlude spot between bands on Wednesday, August 7, 1957. Before taking the stage the band had a heated discussion about the set list because “rock and roll” music was not allowed. Prior to the start of the second song, John Lennon began playing ‘Don’t Be Cruel’ and his band mates followed. Before the song was over Sytner approached the band and handed Lennon a note saying “cut out the bloody rock and roll”. The band ignored him, and from then on the place was never the same. Over the years the Cavern Club has been the setting for secret concert ‘warmup’ sets by many well-known bands and has hosted superstars including The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, The Hollies, The Kinks, Elton John, Queen, and The Who. During construction of a Liverpool subway line, the club shut down in May 1973, with Dutch group Focus the last to play. After an extended absence, the club was rebuilt in 1984 with many of the original bricks. Today the Hard Rock Cafe owns the trademark to the “Cavern Club” name in the United States, however, a trademark lawsuit, filed in 2011, remains unresolved.

While the Cavern Club opened in Liverpool, around 5,200 miles away in Los Angeles, another famous music locale was also coming to life. Owner Doug Weston first opened the Troubadour in 1957 as a coffee shop on La Cienega Boulevard, then moved to its current location on Santa Monica Boulevard shortly after. It became a major center of folk music culture for many years, and dozens of popular musicians and groups have appeared throughout the years.

Troubadour alumni include The Byrds, Jackson Browne, Van Morrison, the Eagles, Carole King, Linda Ronstadt and countless others. In 1969 Gordon Lightfoot made his U.S. debut; a year later Poco, late from a Denver gig, found the original ‘unknown comic’, Steve Martin, playing their songs on banjo to a rapturous crowd. In the same year, James Taylor and Neil Young make their solo debuts. Glen Frey met Don Henley for the first time at the front bar, as did Carly Simon and James Taylor. Debut acts and artists at the club include Elton John, Cheech and Chong, Billy Joel, Pointer Sisters, Metallica, and Warrant. In 1991, Pearl Jam, formerly known as Mookie Blaylock, performed for the first time under their new name. On April 1st, 2016, it saw the first show of the reunited Guns N Roses, which brought Slash and Axl Rose back together. A variety of music continues the tradition of the Troubadour, and it is one of Hollywood’s favorite and most respected places to see live acts.

Up the coast in the San Francisco area, there is a pair of historic rock venues: The Cow Palace and The Fillmore. Situated on the San Francisco city limits, the Cow Palace is actually in Daly City and can hold about 16,500 fans during a rock concert. The California State Livestock Pavilion was completed in 1941 as an agriculture center for the area. Urban legend states that during construction a newspaper editorial asked “Why when people are starving, should money be spent on a ‘palace for cows?'” Thus, the Cow Palace was born. The arena opened in April 1941 and served many purposes including processing military personnel during World War II, then hosted basketball games, wrestling and boxing matches, concerts, roller derby and other community events.

In August of 1964, the very first Beatles North American concert tour began at the Cow Palace. They also played two shows at the arena as the last stop on their 1965 North American tour. Other famous artists appearing at the arena include The Jackson Five, The Who, Allman Brothers Band, Grateful Dead, Santana, and The Rolling Stones. KISS and Cheap Trick were in concert at the Cow Palace on August 16, 1977, and KISS solemnly dedicated ‘Rock and Roll All Nite’ to Elvis Presley, whose death was announced earlier that day. In 1975 Pink Floyd performed the entire Dark Side of the Moon album. More concerts from Paul McCartney and Wings, Neil Young & Crazy Horse, The Runaways, Neil Diamond, Ozzy Osbourne, Prince, and Fleetwood Mac followed through the years.

Down the street, at the intersection of Fillmore Street and Geary Boulevard, sits what used to be known as Majestic Hall, now better known as The Fillmore. Legendary concert promoter Bill Graham got the music scene started there by organizing music events to benefit The San Francisco Mime troupe. Soon he was booking rock music performers which led to his fame and longevity. The careers of the Grateful Dead, the Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Santana, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Moby Grape, the Butterfield Blues Band, and many others have roots in The Fillmore. Significant musical talents in history have appeared: Otis Redding, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Howlin’ Wolf, Captain Beefheart, Muddy Waters, and The Who to name more than a few. The Fillmore is also very well-known for its psychedelic concert posters since copies of the night’s poster were given to fans as they were leaving selected, sold-out shows.

In the Motor City, the rockers always came out in force at Cobo Hall, a 12,000-seat concert setting that has been around since 1960. In June of 1963, it was the sight of the original “I Have A Dream” speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In the years to come, many a dream came true for thousands of rock fans due to hundreds of big-name bands under the bright lights in Detroit. A “who’s who” of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame artists have appeared there including Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Doors, Pink Floyd, Bruce Springsteen, and Bob Seger, who recorded the entire album Live Bullet and portions of Nine Tonight while on the Cobo stage. In addition, Yes put two live tracks on their Yesshows album, and KISS recorded most of their smash album Alive! at Cobo Hall, and it is featured in their video for ‘Modern Day Delilah’. Other Cobo performers include Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, Montrose, Ted Nugent, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Deep Purple, Grand Funk, David Bowie, ZZ Top, REO Speedwagon, Aerosmith, Foghat, The Doobie Brothers and dozens and dozens more! It’s safe to say that rock and roll shifted into (Bachman-Turner) Overdrive in the Motor City during the seventies.

Our jump around tour of rock venues ends at a small but none the less famous club in the Big Apple: CBGB’s. Located in the East Village of Manhattan, the club, a former ‘dive’ turned ‘biker bar’, opened for music in 1973. The name is taken from initials of the music styles it hoped to showcase: country, bluegrass, and blues, yet CBGB managed to become a famed venue for punk rock and new wave bands including the Patti Smith Group, New York Dolls, Blondie, the Ramones, Television, and Talking Heads. The Talking Head’s track ‘Life During Wartime’ mentions the club with the line “This ain’t no Mudd Club or C. B. G. B.” In New York, the punk scene increased intensity and steadily thrived at CBGB until 2005, when the monthly rent went from $19,000 to $35,000 and owner Hilly Kristal sued. Eventually, in 2006, the rent increase prevailed, and Kristal cleared out, auctioning off souvenirs, even the urinals, on E-bay. On October 15, 2006, upon the ending of Patti Smith’s last show at CBGB, the storied bar and club closed for the last time.

The heyday of rock arenas has likely come and gone — except for a few mega-concerts, special or benefit events, and reunion shows are about the only thing in town these days. Lengthy tours seem to be a thing of the past; groups now tour in ‘phases’. Regional shows that migrate depending upon the time of year and new album releases. So one last time we reach skyward with a disposable lighter – a Guns n’ Roses lighter, as a matter of fact. Road tours have hit the road, never to return.

We’re not done ’til Jackson Browne says we’re done:

“Now the seats are all empty
Let the roadies take the stage
Pack it up and tear it down”…

We’ve reached the end of this road trip. Enjoy the next rock show!! 

Thanks for tagging along!

2 responses to “Houses of the Holy: Six Famous Rock Music Venues”

  1. Dewey says:

    Thanks so much for your kind words — I’ve been sitting on a bunch of story ideas for months and I figured it’s time to share..

  2. Anonymous says:

    Love these writings

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