Thursday, July 06, 2006

Rock 'n' roll, Cleveland style

Compared to the fuselage of Otis Redding's downed airplane or Jim Morrison's Cub Scout uniform, a snow dome featuring a miniature Rock and Roll Hall of Fame doesn't seem like much. But it's our small reminder of a noteworthy Sept. 1, 1995 trip to Cleveland for the grand opening of rock's greatest edifice.

My wife Sue and I traveled to our Ohio destination along with thousands of die-hard music fans to tour the museum commemorating rock's legends and to attend a star-studded concert featuring the biggest names in the business, both past and present.

We arrived downtown for the dedication ceremony as the throng in front of the pyramid-shaped glass building began to rapidly expand to about 10,000 people. Rock 'n' roll pioneer Little Richard positioned himself on the podium, beaming and welcoming the crowd like a greeter at a department store chain.

Organizers lined up a host of celebrities to participate in the ribbon-cutting including Cleveland Mayor Michael White; Gov. George Voinovich; Rolling Stone Magazine publisher Jann Wenner; Yoko Ono, widow of Beatle John Lennon; musician Paul Schaffer and Atlantic Records executive Ahmet Ertegun.

But, following the broadcast of Jimi Hendrix' version of the "Star Spangled Banner" and a fly-over by two Harrier jets, we realized we had a big problem: entry to the museum was to be controlled by timed tickets purchased in advance, a fact we hadn't known. But, Sue did some fast talking to a museum official and after waiting for hours in the sun, we finally got in the door.

The $92 million dollar building housed an impressive collection of rock 'n' roll memorabilia, including Janis Joplin's psychedelic Mercedes-Benz, report cards from the Everly Brothers, posters of early Chuck Berry performances and other treasures.

As we were taking a break, the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, and his entourage breezed through the facility. Luckily, Sue was one of just a few people who got to shake his gloved hand before the Hall of Famer disappeared into a VIP-only area.

But, the excitement was just beginning. The next day we were going to see many of our rock 'n' roll heroes perform live at a concert at Cleveland Municipal Stadium.

We arrived at the venue to another throng of nearly 65,000 fans but we were able to take our seats just before the historic six-hour show began. First up was a duck-walking Chuck Berry, the father of rock 'n' roll. Clad in a white tuxedo, Berry performed "Johnny B. Goode" backed by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

There were many great moments. Heartland rocker John Mellencamp put his all into "R. O. C. K. in the U. S. A.," name-checking some of rock's giants. That was followed by the Pretenders, Johnny Cash and Aretha Franklin.

James Brown performed "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" and John Fogerty stormed through two Creedence Clearwater Revival classics. Soul Asylum played tunes with rock renegades Iggy Pop and Lou Reed. Then, George Clinton tore through two Sly and the Family Stone gems with guest Larry Graham.

The crowd roared approval when Bruce Springsteen appeared to do "Shake, Rattle and Roll." Then, Jerry Lee Lewis joined the band for piano-pounding renditions of "Great Balls of Fire" and "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On."

The acts kept coming as the hours passed. Natalie Merchant, Jackson Browne, Bruce Hornsby, Bob Dylan, Booker T. & the MG's, Sam Moore, and southern rockers the Allman Brothers took turns on stage. Slash and Boz Scaggs teamed up for their version of "Red House."

Many of the performances appeared on a two-disc set distributed later by Sony Music. But only concert-goers and those watching on live television got to see Sheryl Crow, the Kinks, Carole King, Heart, Robbie Robertson, Little Richard (who made his entrance standing on his piano), Eric Burdon, Martha Reeves and Jon Bon Jovi.

At the end, Berry appeared on stage again for an anti-climatic All-Star version of "Rock & Roll Music."

We left the stadium tired but satisfied. Rock's finest had given us their all. Who could ask for more?

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