Posted by: M. J. Arcangelini | October 5, 2009


It was some special kind of holiday show, wedged into the week between Christmas, 1970 and New Year’s Day, 1971, and I just had to go.  I don’t remember all the bands on the bill that night but it was impressive, there were seven or eight.  I know that Blue Cheer were gonna be there and Country Joe McDonald, still riding the wave from Woodstock, was one of the headliners.  But the band I was most excited about seeing was McKendree Spring. The fact that I was flat broke and did not have the money for a ticket didn’t seem like a major concern.

As I left the house that afternoon my mother asked where I was going.
To that big concert downtown, I told her.
“Do you have a ticket?”
No, I told her – we’re going to sneak in.  We’ve done it before.
“Well,” she said, shaking her head and at least half in jest, “just don’t get arrested.”
Don’t worry I told her, we never have.

So off I went, picking up Jim & Tim & Donna & James at Tim’s house on the way.  Seems to me there may have been a few others, but I can’t remember who, of these four I am certain.

We’d been sneaking into concerts for a while at various venues, including Cleveland Public Hall, which was where this show was going to be.  In fact, Public Hall was one of the easier places to get into.  It was a huge room with a balcony making a deep cavernous U from one side of the stage to the other; practically an indoor stadium with equally horrible acoustics.  This was where all the really big shows were held.  My first official concert, Simon and Garfunkel, had been at Public Hall.  (I had stumbled across the Lovin’ Spoonful playing at the Ohio State Fair in Columbus before that – but that had been an accident and so doesn’t really count as my “first” concert.)

Here is how we got into Public Hall: since all of us (a number that could range anywhere from 3 or 4 to 8 or 12) were usually pretty broke, we would pool what resources we had to get enough gas money to get us all downtown – gas being 35 or 45 cents a gallon at the time.  Once there, we would go around to the side of the building, between the hall and the mall, where the ramp went down to the underground parking garage.  The building facade was made of very large stones, rectangular in shape, and had gaps where the mortar had been laid between them which were just big enough for fingers and the toes of our shoes.

We would climb the wall to the roof over the parking garage entrance.  Then crouch down and run across the pea gravel to the women’s bathroom window and  knock. It would not take long for someone to open the window to see what was going on.  We would explain what we were up to and every time somebody would let us in.  We then all climbed into the women’s restroom, including the guys, and thus into the concert hall.

None of the girls in the restroom when we did this ever seemed to be particularly bothered by it.  In the atmosphere of the time it was something more to be giggled over.  And of course everyone then felt part of the conspiracy to buck the establishment by getting in without paying.  One of the girls would then go to the restroom door and check outside to make sure there were no guards in the hallway.  When the coast was clear, us guys would run out into the hallway, laughing and bouncing off the other people in the crowd; looking for our friends.

At least, that was how it had worked two or three times already and we had no reason to think it would not work the same again.  But this time they had a surprise in store for us – the Belkin brothers, owners of a chain of men’s clothing stores and Cleveland’s biggest concert promoters, had posted a guard on the roof of the parking garage.  A serious change of strategy was needed.  The possibility of simply leaving and heading back to Tim’s basement was discarded without being considered.  We weren’t about to let THEM get the best of us on this.  We were determined to get in to this concert one way or another.

We migrated into the vast lobby where the ticketed masses were lining up to get in and we wracked our brains for ideas.  We split up to look around the walls and see if there were any alternate entrance which had been overlooked.  Public Hall was old and nearly as labyrinthian with hallways as an ancient European castle; we were counting on there being a secret passage somewhere.

As showtime drew near the crowd in the lobby was thinning out, pretty soon our ticketless loitering would be obvious and attract the wrong kind of attention.  Then someone found an unguarded stairway in a far corner of the lobby and, without even pausing to consider where it might or might not lead, we all dashed up it.

On the next floor we walked into a wide semi-lit hallway lined with doors on both sides, each holding an isinglass window with a number painted on it.  We took stock of our options and decided to keep going higher up the stairs.  The noise of the lobby faded behind us.  Apparently at random, we decided we’d climbed high enough and headed down the hallway instead, trying doors, looking to see what might be open.  That was when we ran across another group of scruffy, hippie-attired kids looking about as baffled as we felt.  Our two groups merged, realizing immediately that we had the same goal.  We established common ground by seriously discussing with our new compatriots what a bummer the guard on the roof had been.

Working our way down the hall we eventually found an unlocked door.  Behind the door were some narrow wooden stairs rising into shadowy space.  At the top of the stairs was a catwalk leading further out into darkness.  One of the guys from the other group took the lead with a cigarette lighter to see his way; the rest of us followed.  We went up other occasional sets of smaller and smaller wooden stairs and kept advancing along the catwalks.  We slowly realized that we had somehow stumbled into the area between the ceiling of the hall and the roof of the building.  We all became very quiet, as though finding ourselves in a church or a funeral parlor or simply someplace unknown.  We could hear the crowd and music throbbing through the ceiling beneath our feet.

By now the guy leading us was either getting cocky or his cigarette lighter was getting too hot for him to keep holding or it was running out of fuel, because he let it go out and continued moving without even that meager light, easing down the dark catwalk with careful advance footsteps.  There were no railings on either side of the catwalk and it couldn’t have been more than 2 feet wide.  We were moving in darkness now, slower, trusting in our leader, when we heard a crash and the catwalk vibrated.  Our leader had tripped and fallen flat forward.  He would have fallen onto his face – except that there was no catwalk where his face landed.  It just dropped off.  Several matches were lit and concerned cries asked after his safety.  When he recovered from being startled at the fall, he felt around with his hands and realized that the catwalk took a 90̊ turn. With no railings to guide him, he might have walked right off had he not tripped and fallen.

Now he was wisely hesitant to continue in the lead.  Worried that the thing might begin to zigzag and he might inadvertently walk right off of it, he begged off and eased his way further back in the line.  No one else really wanted to take over the lead, at least no one was volunteering.  Everyone was talking quietly, trying to figure out what to do.  A few voices were urging that we turn around and give up the quest.  Somehow, perhaps simply to virtue of my natural impatience, or the fact that everyone else was easing past me to retreat, I found myself at the head of the line with a cigarette lighter and several packs of matches.  I began leading us forward.

Things were going smoothly now.  I knew to be aware for sudden turns in the catwalk and alternated between matches and the lighter so the lighter never got too hot.  We were all feeling a little better about the whole thing, although a ripple of concern was moving through our group as people began wondering exactly where we were going to wind up.

Then there were steps going down – three or four of them before a flat spot and a door.  I wasn’t sure what to do now, so I knocked on the door.  It opened.  A very surprised man was looking at us.  He had a flashlight and shown it down the line getting a clear picture of how many people there were.  Then he grinned widely and said: “Jesus Christ!  I’ve been working up here for seven years, ain’t nobody ever been up here before!  You guys come on in and make yourself comfortable. There’s lots of room.  You can watch the show from here if you want.”

Our little group disembarked into what turned out to be a rather sizable room which was suspended from the ceiling almost directly above the stage like the passenger compartment of a dirigible.  It held a bank of lights which our gracious host maneuvered upon the stage below.  He was right, we could certainly see the stage from here and there was enough room for all of us to settle in.  The one drawback was that we were looking almost directly down at the stage so we were looking for the most part at the tops of the heads of the performers – unruly long-haired mops with arms and legs and guitars emerging out from underneath them like bug’s legs.

Discussion was had.  Our host told us that if we wanted to actually join the rest of the audience for the show, that was no problem.  If we went out the door on the other side of the room, the catwalk would lead us to the stairs next to the stage.  We could quietly go down the stairs and then run from the bottom of the stairs to the big heavy curtains on the side of the stage and from there jump into the audience.  “Piece of cake.” he said.

A vote was quickly taken and the group decided to head on down.  As grateful as everybody was for the lighting technician’s hospitality, it was an odd view of the show and lacked the excitement of the crowd.  Besides, the sound left much to be desired.  I decided to stay for a while longer.  McKendree Spring had just taken the stage and I did not want to miss their set while making my way to the audience.  Donna decided to stay with me as well, so the two of us bade farewell to our companions and hunkered down to watch McKendree Spring – and a truly ass-kickin’ set it was.

When they finished, Donna and I thanked our host and headed down to join our friends.  We found our way to the stairwell, which was the twin of the one we had initially come up on the other end of the hall.  We moved quietly down the semi-dark stairs, which seemed to be made of marble, the railings of brass.  We couldn’t remember how many flights of stairs we had come up on the other side, but in time we could hear the crowd growing louder and louder.  Then we rounded a corner in the stairs and looked down the stair well and saw our friends, along with a number of other folks, all sitting on the stairs at the bottom.  They did not look happy.

There were a couple of cops standing, facing them, talking.  We couldn’t hear what the cops were saying but we didn’t really need to.  I motioned to Donna that we should go back up and she agreed.  So up we went, three or four flights at least and then down the hallway where we sat in the dark talking quietly trying to figure out what to do.

We decided to go back up and out the catwalks and then down the stairs on the other side and out, hoping there to meet up with the others after the cops threw them out.  Before she would go with me though, Donna wanted to go back down and check on her boyfriend, James, one more time to make sure he was OK.  I’ve never been quite sure what was intended to be accomplished by that little trip, but I was, throughout that time, deeply in Donna’s thrall and so would have agreed to accompany her just about anywhere.

We got down to where we’d been able to see them before only to find that they were gone.  We crept closer, hoping perhaps we could catch sight of them, just to confirm that they were OK.  That was when one of us stumbled and one of the cops still standing around the bottom of the stairs heard it and looked up.  I don’t know if he saw us at that point but he had definitely heard us.

We headed back up the stairs, slowly and quietly at first but when we could hear the cop’s footsteps behind us we sped up, panic growing into our feet.  Soon we were nearly running up the stairs and if he’d had any doubts before, that cop had to be sure that we were up there now – our rapid footsteps were echoing through the stairwell.

Several flights up we cut off down the hallway to where it got darker.  We found an unlocked door and went in to what turned out to be a dressing room.  In the moonlight and street lights coming through the window we could see the rows of mirrored make up tables and chairs along the walls.  We heard the cop coming and split up, with Donna hiding in a bathroom stall and me under a table.  We tried to stop breathing.

The door opened.  The cop stepped in and flipped on the light.

“You guys might as well just come on out now, I know you’re in here.”

The question of course was: did he really know, or was he just guessing?  Should we come out, or should we stay put, stay quiet, and hope he would just go away?

“Come on guys, come on out; don’t make me go looking for you.”  It wasn’t what you would call a friendly sounding voice, but neither did it drip threat – weariness or frustration perhaps, but not threat.  Simultaneously, we both came out from our hiding places.  The cop gathered us up, asking if we were the only ones.  We quietly told him we were and for some reason he believed us.

He took us downstairs and out to a loading dock where what looked like 75 or 85 other kids were already sitting around with various cops and security guards walking around in front of them.  We searched until we saw our friends and wandered over to join them.  The cop who’d brought us didn’t seem to have any particular investment in where we sat; once we wandered out of his immediate concern he headed back off to the backstage area.

There was a low vibrating kind of rumble in the large chilly room, everyone seemed to be talking among themselves in small groups.  Donna and I told our friends what happened to us and they told us what happened to them.  Then someone noticed that Tim was not with us.  No one could remember clearly the last time they’d seen him.  We looked around to see if he’d been shunted off with some other group of miscreants, but he was not to be seen.

We were truly worried; Tim had been the only one of us who had dropped acid for the show.  He was out there somewhere, stoned out of his gourd and lost.  Or worse, maybe he had fallen off the catwalk into the void.  Maybe he was out there somewhere lying on top of the ceiling, hurt and tripping in the darkness while the ceiling vibrated beneath him with the pulsing of the music and the thrashing of the crowd.

We looked at each other now with a new somberness.  We weren’t sure whether we should tell the police that Tim was lost up there somewhere, or just hope that he was OK where ever he was.

Concert producers, the Belkin brothers had a  general procedure for dealing with folks caught sneaking into shows:  scare ‘em some, give them an earful and then take them outside and send them on their way.  And this was fully what we expected to happen to us.  We were now just waiting for the moment to come – bored, disappointed and worried about Tim.  We figured that once they let us go we would find some way to get back in and look for him.

Then there was a hubbub back by the large garage doors.  Into the loading dock area sauntered an average height, long-haired hippie type carrying a guitar case and wearing a wide brim hat.  It was Country Joe McDonald, one of the headliners, arriving to do his portion of the show.

He looked around him at the 75 or 85 kids corralled into the loading dock area and kind of whistled quietly.  Then he came walking over toward us.

Both Jim and James had distinctive and striking hair.  Jim’s was long, wavy and, already at 19, salted with grey.  It reached out sidelong from his head into the air; imagine a mushroom cut in half from crown to base with his narrow face looking out at you from the center.  And James, whose hair was not quite so long but equally impressive, had a large white boy Afro.  Both had scruffy goatees inhabiting their chins.  Even next to Donna’s long startlingly blond hair and in a room full of hippy eccentricity, these two stood out.  From across the area Country Joe zeroed in on them.

“So what are all you people doing back here?” He asked James.
“They caught us sneaking into the show.”
“So what are they going to do with you?”
“Take us to jail, I guess.”
Country Joe took a sweeping look around the room, “They gonna put all you people in jail?  They must have a pretty big jail in this town.”
He looked back at James and promised “I’m going to do a song for you folks.”  And off he stalked.

We were blown away.  A personal encounter with Country Joe himself!  And he was going to do a song for us.  That almost made the fact that we would not be there to hear it acceptable – almost.

We continued to languish in the loading dock.  The police were working their way around, talking to kids, checking IDs and writing things down.  After they’d talked to everyone they came through and singled some of us out; Jim and Donna and I among them.  At first we weren’t sure why, then we figured it out.  We were all 18 years or older and we were going to jail.  Jim and Donna were each 19 and I had turned 18 in November, just in time for inclusion in this select group.  There ended up being eight of us, three girls and five boys. We said goodbyes to James and our new friends.  They loaded us into police cars and drove us away.

All of the minors were eventually sent home.

We were really scared now; a small bunch of young hippie kids headed for Cuyahoga County jail.  When we got there it was dirty and cold, the walls had been painted too many times.  They fingerprinted us.  They took the contents of our pockets and anything loose that we had and put it all in big manila envelopes.  All the cops seemed bigger than life-size in their dark blue uniforms.  They carried a tone in their voice assuring us that they were accustomed to being obeyed and would accept no less from us.

We were allowed to make a phone call.  I called Mom.
Guess where I am?  I said.
“Where…?”  Mom answered, letting the word trail off, dripping suspicion.
The rest of that conversation, like much of the jail stay itself, is a bit of a blur for me now, 37 years later.  I’m sure we went through the standard recriminations.  I know Mom told me she didn’t know what to do because Dad, who was on the night shift at the Chevy plant, was already at work.  That meant it was after 11:00 PM, because that was when his shift started.  Finally she said she would call him and see if he could come down to get me, but she couldn’t guarantee anything.  He would be pretty mad.

After our phone calls they separated the boys from the girls and Jim and I had to say goodbye to Donna.  She and the two other hippie girls were taken off in one direction; the five of us guys in another.  Jim and I at least had each other, but Donna was all alone among strangers.

They took us guys into a cell block with what seemed like 20 doors, all open and the other prisoners kind of milling about smoking, talking, fidgeting.  The five of us stuck together and moved into a single cell.  There was room for two or three of us to sit on the wooden bunk, the others sat on the floor.  There was a metal toilet up against the wall, open for everyone to see, which, being seriously pee-shy, I prayed I wouldn’t need to use.  I don’t remember much else about it.

We were sitting in there talking hesitantly among ourselves, wondering what was going to happen next, wondering what kind of people were in there with us.  Then we heard a series of loud clangs, each one getting closer.  Before we realized what was happening, a cop was standing in the open doorway of the cell.   We heard him count “1, 2, 3, 4, 5″ and then he slammed the door shut and the five of us were stuck in that single cell for the rest of the night, or until somebody showed up to bail us out.

I can’t remember if I slept at all, sitting on that cold floor.  We continued talking quietly for awhile, but that soon tapered off.  We couldn’t believe that they were going to leave us all in that single cell with one bunk all night.  Looking back, I think they probably did us a favor.  We were surely safer in that cell with each other than mixing it up alone with the more criminal elements.

The other cells seemed to hold a preponderance of drunks and druggies, with whom we, as obvious hippy-types, were presumed to belong.  Men cried out with anger or fear or threat – sometimes to other prisoners, sometimes to no one in particular; sometimes to us.  We ignored them as much as we could.  We certainly didn’t answer them. And we waited and prayed to be bailed out.

Donna remembers being there long enough, before she was bailed out, to be served a less-than-appetizing sandwich consisting of a bologna-like substance on white bread with browned and wilted lettuce.

The stasis of the cell allowed Jim and my thoughts to turn back to Tim.  We were worried about him.  We tried to remember the last time we’d seen him, but couldn’t put a finger on it.  We wondered what we’d tell his mother if he didn’t turn up.  We knew we’d have to tell the police then, so they could look for him in that immense attic space.  We tried not to think of where he might be.

An hour or so after we’d been locked in, a guard came to the door and called out the name of one of the guys and took him away; his bail had been posted.  He was going home.  I wasn’t sure if Dad would bail me out or just let me stew in jail overnight to teach me a lesson.  Knowing his anger well, I wasn’t entirely sure which option I’d prefer.

Then the guard came and called out Jim’s name.  His mother was downstairs with the bail money.  We said goodby and he promised to try and find out if Tim was OK. In time the guard showed up again and called out my name.


It was a few hours before dawn when my mother showed up to bail me out, having first met my father at the Chevy plant to get the bail money.  She ran into Donna’s mother at the jail, who was of course there for the same reason, and the two of them had a chance to commiserate about their wayward children.  She told me how mad Dad was and how ashamed he felt to have his co-workers know that he needed to bail his son out of jail.  I figured I was really going to be in for it this time.

But once Dad got home from work it became clear that he was not going to try to beat me and that he had perhaps given up on yelling.  Things were in fact a lot more low-key than the last time I’d landed in jail, in August of that same year.   At least there were no drugs involved this time and the offense itself had more of the feel of a prank, I suppose, than a crime. Of course this was not going to be the end of it, by far.  I still had a court appearance to make in the morning.

To be more precise, we still had a court appearance to make that morning – Dad would be accompanying me.  Now that my worst fears about his reactions had proven unfounded, I actually found it comforting to know he would be there with me.

In the morning, after very little sleep, we all found ourselves in the hallway outside the courtroom: Donna and her mother, whose wrath I feared nearly as much as my father’s; Jim and his mother, who waved to me and smiled; and me and my dad.  My dad and Donna’s mother would not allow us to speak with each other or Jim.  Jim’s mother, who we all called “Ma” didn’t seem to understand that attitude, but didn’t press it.

Dad keep looking over at Jim, who, in deference to the court appearance, had his long hair tied back into a pony tail that burst out of the temporary confines of the rubber band into something resembling a grey-streaked pom-pom resting between his shoulders.  He wore old blue jeans cinched with a wide leather belt and broad buckle, a green army surplus jacket over a plaid shirt, a single strand of tasteful love beads and a button with a peace sign.

Nodding toward Jim, Dad said to me, sotto voce, “Boy, is that what you really want to look like?”  I presumed the questions was rhetorical and didn’t bother responding with what was for me the all too obvious answer:  yes, of course it was.

Jim managed to mouth enough words from across the hallway to let Donna and I know that Tim was OK.  We would find out later that Tim had been the only one of us to make it into the show; he spent most of the concert dancing in front of the stage.  He never seemed quite sure of how he had gotten there, we could only presume it had something to do with his operating on a molecular level at the time, but get there he had.  It made us wonder if maybe we all should have been tripping.  Maybe then we’d all have made it inside.  The old proverb about God watching over children and drunks seemed like it needed to be updated to include those who are tripping on LSD.  Later, Tim would tell us that Country Joe had dedicated a song to the folks in the back who wanted to get into the show but got caught – the song was called “Mr. Big Pig.”

As our case approached on the morning’s calendar the bailiff let us into the court room, but kept us off to the side.  The judge was currently dealing with an agitated young man who had a guard holding on to each arm.  He was ranting about fascist pigs and was clearly in need of restraint.  We were too busy taking in the courtroom (none of us had ever been in one before) and wondering about our own fates to pay much attention to what he had done or what was happening to him.  Then he seized our attention by lunging toward the judge, nearly out of the grip of the guards.  He managed to get close enough to spit on the judge’s face before the guards pulled him back.

The guards jerked him away from the judge, got a better grip on him and held him tight.  The judge calmly wiped the spit from his face and dealt with the remainder of the case without comment.  Then the man was dragged out of the court room and it was our turn.

None of this seemed a good omen to us.  We figured the judge would be in a terrible mood, his patience already tested, and not too well disposed toward mercy on the bunch of long-haired hippie types who were stepping up to the bench.

In the court room they separated us from our parents, sending them into the observer’s gallery, and directed the eight of us to stand off to the right of the bench.  Opposite us, to the judge’s left, stood Jules “Julie” Belkin and his lawyer.  Belkin, with dark slicked back hair, a shiny leather jacket and a slippery and sleazy demeanor, was the concert promoter whose decision it had been to have us arrested.  He was determined to make an example of us to discourage other people from sneaking into his concerts in the future.  So he was pressing charges.

We stood accused of vandalism, destruction of public property and trespass – all of which came as a surprise.  This was the first time we’d actually heard the charges.  We thought they were a little much – all we had done was sneak into a concert, or try to anyway.  We didn’t destroy anything or vandalize anything and if it was a “public” hall how could we possibly be considered trespassers?

Belkin started out by telling the judge what he was alleging we had done.  He said we had broken a window in order to get into the hall.  That was a flat out lie.  Maybe there was a window broken somewhere that night, but it hadn’t been done by any of us; we were not the vandalizing type.  We had our secret staircase and hadn’t needed to break any windows.

He said we had disrupted the thousands of people trying to enjoy the concert they had paid good money like honest citizens to hear.  He said we had interrupted the show and drowned out the performers with the noise we made coming down the stairs next to the stage.  It is my recollection that the band playing when we were coming down those stairs was Blue Cheer, who boasted of being the loudest rock band in the world and never tired of proving it.

Belkin was getting downright enthusiastic about all this.  He pointed at us and painted a most despicable picture of our assault on public hall and his show.  He was not the only victim here, he pointed out.  The entire population of Cleveland were the true victims, we had destroyed public property and disrupted the enjoyment of thousands of people with all the noise we had made attempting to obtain illegal entrance to his show.

When Julie Belkin wound down and completed his accusations, the judge asked him a few questions.  First about the broken window.  It turned out he had no real evidence to connect us with a broken window, no witnesses.  We could tell the judge was tossing that one out just by the look on his face.  And along with the broken window went the vandalism and destruction of public property charges, since, when queried by the Judge, Belkin could come up with no more examples of our wanton destructive acts.

Then the judge did the most amazing thing.   He looked directly at the concert promoter and he said:  “Mr. Belkin, my son took me to a rock ‘n roll concert two years ago, in that very hall, and I still haven’t got my full hearing back.  And now you are trying to tell me that these eight people,” he turned toward us and pointed while we did our best to look small and insignificant, “made so much noise that they drowned out a rock band?” He turned back to Belkin, “They made so much noise, these eight people, that the audience could not hear a rock band?  Mr. Belkin, I find that hard to believe.”

The judge then dismissed all the charges and found us guilty of disorderly conduct.  We were fined $25 each – a little more than the cost of a ticket.

He admonished us not to try sneaking into concerts anymore and advised us that if we could not afford to pay for a ticket, we should stay home.  Yes, your honor, we all solemnly agreed.  But inside we were jumping up and down with joy because this had clearly been a victory for the little guys, us.  The big, bad capitalist who was trying to get between us and the music had been vanquished.  Disorderly conduct! A slap in the face to the Belkin Brothers and hardly worth their effort.  We were proud to have been convicted of disorderly conduct.  Disorderly conduct was our goal, our obligation, our destiny!

My father paid the fine, making sure I knew that I would be expected to pay it back (which I don’t believe I ever did), and took me home.

Dad had done a pretty good job of suppressing his anger.  As we drove through downtown Cleveland, past Public Hall, the scene of the crime, he said to me:

“Boy, you know what I had to do to get the money to bail you out of jail in the middle of the night?  I was at work, boy.  I didn’t have that kind cash on me – $200.  I had to ask the men that I work with to loan me money to bail my son out of jail.  You know what that felt like, boy?  You know what that made me look like to those men?”

To questions like these I had no answer.  How could I have an answer for those kinds of questions?  So long as the money came when it was needed I had never really worried too much about where it came from.

“What if you were the father, boy?  And it was your kid that did something like this?  Wouldn’t you be mad?

“Yeah – sure I’d be mad.”

“Okay – what would you be mad about?”  He was trying to reason with me.  Trying to use the night’s experiences to teach me something about life.  This was a new tactic.  Something I didn’t recall him ever really trying with me before and I didn’t quite know how to deal with it.

“I’d be mad cuz he got caught.”

This was clearly not the response he was looking for – and I knew it.  Some demon inside me just wouldn’t let him have this small victory.  I couldn’t really admit to him that I had done something wrong, somehow that would have been against the rules; a submission I was not prepared to make.  I was only beginning to truly explore rebellion in an active way, there would be much more to come.

My father refused to be baited like that.  The rest of the drive home I recall being made in silence.

We never tried to crash Public Hall again.

Sebastopol, CA
begun September, 2007
draft completed April 6, 2008
Special Thanks to Donna,
who filled in some gaps in my memory.


  1. Enjoyed the story Joe. I don’t remember ever crashing a concert, I’ll have to think more on it. But in 1974 I did sneak into the Munich Octoberfest. Still have the mug I obtained there. Joe Balestreri

  2. Not sure how I missed being at this one. My Public Hall experiences were more successful: straight up the block wall, toe by toe, to climb in a hallway window adjoining the balcony for Grand Funk (for some reason, not really doing much for me), and what the underground newspaper Swamp Erie da-da Boom called a “Weatherman flying V wedge” at the doors for the Who. My companion, Carol Troiano, was small enough to slide right in, but I got stopped and sprayed with something that didn’t bother me. Another girl saw my plight, handed me a ticket over the people, and I went in and joined Carol (who had to leave halfway thru, being quite young and having an early curfew). The only other experience was at Musicarnival, a large tent, where myself and presumably the author of this blog merely lifted up the flap and climbed in to see Long John Baldry. Oddly enough, Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks had been booed off the stage at a Public Hall Steppenwolf show the night before, and came to play out here instead (in retrospect, probably some workaround regarding a contract provision of performing and getting paid). ‘Twas a great show. Some years later (approximately 7) I played a writer’s night in Mill Valley hosted by a quite inebriated Dan Hicks. I would have talked to him but he was beyond conversing that particular night.

    • I think you might have been out of town with your parents that week, otherwise I’m sure you would have been there. I do indeed remember the Long John Baldry & Dan Hicks show. It was put on by “A Friend” productions, who were tring to give the Belkin Brothers some competition. I believe the story I heard at the time was that Hicks wanted to do a show for “A Friend” but the Belkin Machine (they eventually controlled most venues from St. Louis to Cleveland) told them they’d never hire them again if they played for the competition. Of course, the combination of Hicks & Steppenwolf was not a good one & Hicks got Booed. Belkin did a similar thing putting James Taylor on as openign act for The Who – Taylor got booed too. Out of anger, so the story went, Hicks showed up at the Baldry show and played for free.
      They did a lot of shows in that Musicarnival tent. Do you remember the It’s A Beautiful Day show? That’s the one where we were just going to sit on the grass outside the tent & listen but they threw open the tent walls and let us all in. I ended up sitting on the stage in front of the speakers for most of their set (can probably trace my tinitus directly back to that evening). An amazing show. I remember one time “A Friend” passed out apples to everyone as we went into a show. The Belkins ground them into dust eventually, but not before they had a chance to put on some great shows. The Allman Brothers show they put on is one of my all time favorites.

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