Yes and Peter Frampton recreate '76 Philly concert tonight at Tower Theater

Yes in 1976 (from left) Steve Howe, Jon Anderson, Chris Squire, Alan White and Patrick Moraz. They performed at the JFK concert.
Yes in 1976 (from left) Steve Howe, Jon Anderson, Chris Squire, Alan White and Patrick Moraz. They performed at the JFK concert.
Posted: June 15, 2010

"THERE AREN'T many concerts talked about 30 years into the future," noted Donna Muller, a middle-aged mom of six grown kids, whom I found online at forgottenyesterdays.com waxing ecstatic about the June 12, 1976, Yes/Peter Frampton show at John F. Kennedy Stadium in South Philadelphia.

But judging from the page after page of memory-lane postings at the site, that particular concert resonated as few (if any) had before or would thereafter for the 100,000-plus people in attendance - the biggest rock 'n' roll happening this town had ever seen.

"It was hot as hell, but what a great time," recalled a poster identified only as "Sandy, from then Warminster."

"Beer was flowing and the waft of weed was in the air and in my head. There were so many people around, that when I felt like I was going to pass out, there was nowhere to fall. People just helped me up . . . Yes was awesome. Frampton was great. What an experience."

That sense of amazement was also felt by the co-headlining acts, who considered the JFK show a career landmark and have now set about to recreate it as best they can with a reunion tour bringing Yes and Frampton back to Philly tonight, this time at the more - ahem - intimate Tower Theater. (The double bill plays the Borgata in Atlantic City on Saturday.)

"I brought my parents in from England to see the show, and my father came out on the stage with a movie camera, not to film me but to capture the crowd, by far the biggest I'd ever played for," recalled Frampton with a laugh, in our recent chat. "The place was so big, the applause was coming back in waves. There was a lag before you could hear it from the people in the back."

"The show in Philly was unique for us all, monumental," agreed Steve Howe, one of three original members still carrying on in Yes, along with new lead singer Benoit David and Oliver Wakeman (the son of band original Rick Wakeman) on keyboards.

"I remember being on stage and looking out and thinking, 'This is colossal.' It was like a community met in Philadelphia to celebrate music. People were flying in on private jets. It was a big deal."

Truth is, Yes' grand and glorious, classically influenced brew of pomp-rock was considered a much bigger deal here than almost anywhere else in the country, thanks to the Anglo-rock-loving tastes of local FM DJs like Ed Sciaky.

But after that huge Philly endorsement, other populaces took the band more seriously, "just as they would for other acts that got started in Philly, like [David] Bowie, [Bruce] Springsteen, Billy Joel, Rod Stewart and Genesis," noted veteran concert promoter Larry Magid.

And while fellow Brit Frampton had quite the history, dating from his first teenage success as a 16-year-old in the Herd and then the blues-stompin' Humble Pie, his career was truly skyrocketing in 1976 on the heels of "Frampton Comes Alive." The most successful concert album of all time had come out in January and the guitarist would essentially recreate at JFK, complete with the "wah-wah"-style "vocoder" vocals and guitar work on tunes like "Do You Feel Like We Do."

Birth of a national venue

Before this big blowout, the former Municipal Stadium had proven a bit of a jinx as a concert venue. When the Beatles played there on Aug. 16, 1966, only 33,000 people showed up.

Two summers later, a multi-event, multiweek music festival there (produced by some of the same team that later worked on Woodstock) lost tons of money as people stayed away in droves from theoretically brilliant bills topped by the likes of Judy Garland (her last U.S. show), Ray Charles and then-newcomers the Who and Pink Floyd.

In the early '70s Frank Rizzo years of Philadelphia leadership, the facility became off limits to rock and the likes of Electric Factory Concerts.

"We'd tried for five years to put on concerts there, but had always been rebuffed," Magid recalled.

Clearly no fan of rock or the hippie crowds it attracted, Rizzo, as police commissioner, had twice visited the original Electric Factory rock club in the late 1960s, the second time in the company of then Mayor James Tate, and vowed to "turn it into a parking lot," Magid's then-partner, Herb Spivak, recalled recently.

They were "especially freaked out by the sight of a white girl in her parochial school uniform dancing with a young African-American boy" and "tried to close us down with 'public nuisance' suits," Spivak said.

Although Rizzo, as candidate for mayor, eventually "shook hands" with Spivak, the relationship between the city and EFC didn't thaw until the nation's 200th-birthday party was being planned for 1976, and our late-out-of-the-gate Bicentennial Commission pressured Rizzo to "allow something big for the kids," I was told back then by Dick Doran, a longtime political insider who was then Gov. Milton Shapp's aide.

After Woodstock

Early on in the day-into-night mega-concert, an unbilled performance by a Mummers string band, a bit of an effort to tie the show to the big Philly birthday bash, caught concertgoers off guard and was, um, not warmly received.

"We tolerated the first song, but when they went into the second, we started pelting them with garbage," recalled another poster at forgottenyesterdays.com. 'Twas just the first of several food fights that day.

As Philly's first big outdoor youth gathering of the post-Woodstock rock era, the Yes/Frampton-topped bill was also marked by "stay away from the brown acid" announcements, many a medical tent visit by groovy barefoot chicks with cut feet and, after the sun went down and the show-closing Yes went on, lots of bonfires on the field and even in the stands, as sunstroked showgoers shivered in the evening cool.

Also adding to the "magic of the day" were a set by "Dream Weaver" Gary Wright and his all-keyboard band, remembered poster Tony Henry, a full moon that rose as Yes took the stage in the "robes of demigods," their fanciful production with lasers and Roger Dean-designed stage set, and a night-capping display of fireworks.

After studying aerial photos of the concert, some parties (including Frampton's manager Dee Anthony) concluded that the attendance had been well north of the officially posted 100,000 figure - more like 115,000 to 120,000.

Magid noted that "it was before computerized, bar-coded ticketing. There could have been counterfeiting going on. Or ticket takers palming complete tickets, not ripping them, and then reselling them. All I can tell you is, we didn't profit from it."

But with the gates to the facility now busted open, EFC certainly would profit big from the many JFK mega-shows that would follow, including a fast return the following summer by Frampton with Lynyrd Skynyrd, a country-rock-themed "Roundup," Pink Floyd, U2, the Jacksons, Live Aid, the (Grateful) Dead and (Bob) Dylan and more. (See sidebar.)

"Apart from one R&B show, we never lost money there, and never had less than 70,000 people in attendance," said Magid.

"While the facility itself was nothing much to speak of, it was a great place to see and hear a show because it was wide open, and the sound just went straight out, without echoing off anything."

Frampton's still alive

When asked how he feels about re-creating the experience with Yes in a 30-times-smaller venue like the Tower - not to mention the inevitable ups and downs of his and Yes' careers that the package represents, Frampton observed: "It doesn't really matter to me how many people I'm playing for. I still love to make music and I'm more influenced by the events of the day than anything else."

In truth, Frampton began to get a bit peeved when I kept begging him to dredge up the ancient history.

"Couldn't we move on and talk about my new album ['Thank You, Mr. Churchill']?" he finally asked, with a hint of frustration.

"It's very good. And really, that's where my head's at today."

Peter Frampton and Yes, Tower Theater, 69th and Ludlow streets, 7:30 tonight, $33.75-$95, 800-745-3000; Borgata Event Center, Atlantic City, 8 p.m. Saturday, $55-$90, 688-900-4TIX, www.TheBorgata.com.

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