The Rock n’ Roll Revival Concert 1969
Throughout the history of rock n’ roll truly legendary moments can be few and far between, perhaps today more than ever. With more musicians and music genres than ever before, it can be near impossible for bands to find themselves even witnessing a moment, let alone taking part in one. There are so many bands touring constantly throughout the year, that concert goers have a choice of bands across Toronto on any given night of the week. Having this amount of options makes the chances of taking part in one of these mythical moments quite miniscule. But have you ever wondered about the legendary moments of rock n’ roll history that have happened right in this city? Right in our own backyard. Perhaps a place you unknowingly walk past every day.
If you’ve ever walked past Varsity Stadium on Bloor Street in Toronto, then rest assured, you’ve walked past a true historical site. On September 13th 1969, Varsity Stadium (now occupied by the University of Toronto) hosted Toronto Rock n’ Roll Revival. The Bloor Street location welcomed the likes of Alice Cooper, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, and The Doors, as well as an originally unplanned appearance by John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Eric Clapton, Klauss Voormann and Alan White. It was their first ever appearance as the Plastic Ono Band. This line-up is already enough to get any rock n’ roll fans mouth watering. The show itself was planned as a way to get fans back into the old blues and rock sound that Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry and Little Richard had made famous in the 50s and early 60s. Afterwards, the Rock n’ Roll Revival show was thought of as being successful in that respect. They rocked the stage just as they had so many years earlier; playing as though they had never left the top. For Little Richard in particular, the show really seemed to help launch him back towards the top of the charts. Critics and fans alike commented on the amount of energy he brought to the stage, reminding everyone that he was still a true musical force.
While the grandfathers of rock electrified the crowd during the day, it wasn’t until sundown that Toronto Rock n’ Roll Revival produced its two most epic moments: the first coming during Alice Cooper‘s set. Though the Alice Cooper band was still relatively new to the music scene – they had already garnered themselves a reputation for great theatrics during their performances – this night was no different. Many of you have heard variations of the legend. According to Alice Cooper himself, at one point a live chicken was thrown on stage. Alice then kicked the chicken back into the crowd. In a fit of crazed rock n’ roll rage, a group of fans ripped the chicken to bits! Following the incident there were several different rumours surrounding what really happened, the theories went as far as stating that Alice Cooper had bitten the chickens head off before throwing it. It is a moment that remains part of rock n’ roll folklore and “chicken incident” is still referred to when people mention and interview Alice Cooper today.
The second legendary moment of the night happened as John Lennon, Eric Clapton and the Plastic Ono Band took stage. Though the band wasn’t part of the original lineup, when invited by show producer John Brower to emcee the event, John Lennon refused to attend unless they also be allowed to play. The show, having nearly been cancelled due to low ticket sales, needed this boost which drove ticket sales all the way to a sold out show. John Bower had heard that Lennon suffered from stage fright, therefore he arranged a very warm welcome for the group as they arrived. Bower asked that the crowd hold up lighters and candles as the band took stage in a show of embrace and welcoming. After the band had arrived (escorted along the way by 80 members of the Vagabonds Motorcycle Club), they then took stage to a crowd of twinkling lights. It is still widely known as the first time a crowd had welcomed a group to the stage in this manner. This gesture has been used time and time again, to this day even. Its a courtesy that has spread through generations and across many different music genres.
Plastic Ono Band hit the crowd with a very “back to the basics” set, playing many old rock n roll covers, including “Blue Suede Shoes”, “Rock n’ Roll Music” and “Dizzy Miss Lizzy”. Following their set, an inebriated Jim Morrison and company arrived in the same manner as the Plastic Ono Band had earlier that evening. This time two limos were escorted by 50 members of the Vagabonds. The Doors set was the final set of the night as well as the final they would ever play in Toronto before the death of Jim Morrison, giving the crowd the perfect ending to what was truly a remarkable night for Canadian rock fans.
On that day, the 13th of September 1969, Toronto had officially put its name on the map. The legacy of Toronto Rock n’ Roll Revival has lived on through the fans who have year after year continued raising their lighters in tribute and shown their appreciation for rock n’ roll’s true roots. It was the type of show that any crowd would be lucky to witness, having brought musicians to Toronto that influence the music we hear today. Perhaps one day Torontonians will be lucky enough to host another concert of such epic proportions. Until that day, at least we can sit back knowing Toronto has already left its mark on the music world for decades to come.
By Devin Moher