Thirty-two years ago tonight, on August 3, 1974, Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band opened for another artist for the very last time. The artist: Anne Murray. The bill, at the Schaefer Music Festival in Central Park, was originally supposed to be headlined by Boz Scaggs. Brewer and Shipley were supposed to go on first, then Murray, then Scaggs. When Boz pulled out, the promoters replaced him with Springsteen. Murray’s people objected, saying she was a bigger star and should go on last. This was true–in the summer of ’74, she was at the crest of the biggest year of her career to date, so Springsteen was moved to the second slot. This left Murray in the position of having to follow Springsteen–whom most of the 5,000 people in attendance had come to see in the first place. (A few more details can be found here.)
I have been wanting to write about weird concert bills since Shark mentioned in the comments the other day that he once saw the Charlie Daniels Band opening for Heart. That’s not as weird as Springsteen opening for Anne Murray–which has to be right up there with Jimi Hendrix opening for the Monkees. In 1969, the Staple Singers once opened for the Doors. In 1970, Miles Davis opened a few shows for the Steve Miller Band, which is not as odd as it seems when you realize that Miles was seriously electric by that point. In 1972, Stevie Wonder opened some shows for the Rolling Stones, which was a pretty bold move at the time (and in fact, Wonder got booed at some of the dates). That same year, country-rock pioneers the Flying Burrito Brothers were on the same bill with Sly and the Family Stone in Chicago, although Sly didn’t show. In 1973, Earth Wind and Fire opened for Uriah Heep.
At some point in the mid 70s, Billy Joel opened for Jethro Tull. The Joel/Tull pairing is instructive. When a performer is trying to make a name for himself, a slot on the bill with an established artist is an excellent way to reach a wider audience with money to spend on records. (That’s how Hendrix ended up touring with the Monkees.) So 10 years ago, Radiohead opened for Alanis Morrisette. In the early 80s, Stevie Ray Vaughan opened for Huey Lewis and the News. It’s how a three-way bill of Boston, Southside Johnny, and Starcastle toured the East Coast in 1977. It’s not always clear at the time that a pairing is a poor one–and in fact, circa 1975, Billy Joel and Jethro Tull wouldn’t have seemed especially odd, not like it does now. Neither would Charlie Daniels and Heart in 1977. Or the 1974 pairing of ZZ Top and Deep Purple.
The strangest bill I ever saw myself was in 1980, when Betty Wright opened for Bob Marley and the Wailers here in Madison. Wright was an R&B singer (biggest hit: “Clean Up Woman” in 1972), but her disco-inflected act didn’t go down well with the Marley fans. At one point, a guy near me stood up and yelled at the top of his lungs, “Cut out this disco shit and let’s hear some reggae!”
And now, predictably enough, it’s your turn. Please contribute any strange concert bills you’ve attended or heard of by clicking “Comments.”