Thursday, May 21, 1965. A day that was supposed to be the biggest ever in Roanoke rock & roll music history. Instead, bad planning and the weather combined for a fiasco.
Roanoke promoter Pete Apostolou had booked the 1965 Dick Clark Caravan of Stars show at Victory Stadium. Pete had arranged the show several months earlier and had no idea that by show time, one of the acts, Herman's Hermits, would be coming off of a #1 hit, Mrs. Brown You Have A Lovely Daughter and have two other songs, Silhouettes and Wonderful World, on the radio at the time. The lineup was to also feature Freddy Cannon, Bobby Vee, and Little Anthony & The Imperials. Also, the Detergents would be on hand to sing Leader Of The Laundromat.
|This newspaper ad run prior to the show had the date wrong, the song title wrong, and the wrong spelling of Freddy's name.|
Jack Fisher recalls that "at the time that Clark put the show together the Hermits had one minor hit, by the time they hit Roanoke they had three songs in the top 10 and were challenging the Beatles and Rolling Stones in the popularity department. They became the headliner." Yes, this was going to be the biggest night in Roanoke pop music history and over 15,000 tickets were sold to people who were promised the show would go on "rain or shine."
WROV was deeply involved in bringing this show to Roanoke. Jack Fisher and Fred Frelantz were to be the emcees of the show. Jack and Fred hosted nearly every Roanoke rock concert in the 1960s and this was no exception. Pete Apostolou was friends with then WROV General Manager Bernie Mann, as well as Fred, Jack and others. And the manager of Herman's Hermits, Freddy Cannon, Little Anthony & The Imperials and the Ikettes was former WROV star Ron Sunshine.
|Rain or shine. On the day of the show, this ad promised that one way or another, it would go on.|
The station had run a contest in which local high school kids could write letters explaining why they wanted to meet Herman's Hermits and win a chance to have dinner and a "press conference" with them at the Town & Country Restaurant on Franklin Road. This led to the first bad omen of the evening. Warned of a mob of teenagers, the restaurant hired a dozen cops. But only a few uninvited guests showed up. Meanwhile, Herman's Hermits were running well over an hour late. Finally, Fred showed up in his black Thunderbird followed by a cab carrying Herman's Hermits. But because of their running behind schedule, the press conference had to be cut short and ended up being about 15 minutes long.
Meanwhile, at the stadium, all was well until it started raining around 5:30 that afternoon. Not to worry, thought all, the show doesn't start for two and a half hours and it will surely quit raining by then. They were wrong. If anything, it got worse. Pete Apostolou recalls "It kept raining and raining and raining. I had told the stadium people to put up a wooden platform, and they put up a metal one. The outlets were out there with the wires running all over the ground and the ground was covered with water. They all used electric instruments, you know. Someone would say 'Will you go up and play?' and they said, 'We'll get electrocuted!'"
|Earlier that day Herman's Hermits posed with the WROV air staff. F: Lek Leckenby, Barry Whitwam, Peter Noone, Keith Hopwood, Karl Green; R: Fred, Ron "The Weird Beard" Hart, Jim White, Jack, Gale Henley.|
The grounds crew tried to hang a large tarp over the stage but it kept filling up with water and sagging too low. About every fifteen minutes an announcement was made over the public address system, reassuring the fans that the show was "going to start any minute" and for two hours the fans patiently waited in the rain. Jack Fisher adds that "some of them probably STILL have colds that they caught that night." And then the public address system failed. Then the ticket booths were closed, the stadium staff left, and the fans were left to fend for themselves.
And they were MAD! Dozens of angry parents called the newspaper to express their disappointment. The Roanoke Police Department reported hundreds of calls. WROV received hundreds of irate calls, as well. Pete Apostolou originally announced that the show would be rescheduled for early the next afternoon but changed his mind after hundreds of parents called to ask how kids in school until 3 and 4 p.m. could attend a show at 2:30. The Roanoke Times reported that one Harrisonburg man said he brought six teenagers to town for the show. "When we got there, the reserved seats didn't mean a thing," he said. "The girls are from out of town and they feel they've been taken; it's the same as robbery."
|Drenched, angry fans wait in the rain for rides home.|
"Those children were out there for two hours," a Roanoke mother said. "It isn't the money so much, it's the idea, you know. Everybody is mad as the devil," she said. "This is leaving a very bad taste in my mouth" said another mother. "Rain or shine for whom—for the kids to sit in the rain." "I am sick," said another mother who got soaked with her two teenagers at Victory Stadium. "Boy, I stood there with my kids until 10 o'clock. We couldn't get anywhere near our seats. It was awful!" It was a public relations disaster and something had to be done to fix the damage.
Ron Sunshine recalls that "after the rainout the tour went its merry way to the next city. Pete Apostolou called me the next day and asked me what could be done for a make up. I told Pete I would get back to him after I spoke to Herman's Hermits.
"I called Pete back after a few days and made him the following offer 1) Herman's Hermits would come back and do an afternoon show on the day they were doing a night time concert in Richmond. 2) all the amplifiers would be supplied locally, as all the Hermits equipment was going to be in Richmond and the last was that myself, my partner and Peter Noone would all be partners in the event with Pete Apostolou getting 25% (I think that was the number) and 75% of the profits going to us.
|Keith Hopwood and Peter Noone during the make-up show.|
"As far as the world was to know the promotion was to be all Apostolou's and Herman's Hermits were were doing it out of their friendship for WROV. As Freddy Cannon and the other acts were not available that day we got Major Lance who had a big record at the time to be on the show. His manager arranged for him to play the show for expenses as it was a chance to play before a very large crowd."
And so 3:00 PM on Sunday, June 13, Herman's Hermits returned with guest Major Lance in a "startling green-gold suit" instead of the usual "Caravan of Stars" lineup. To make up for loss of the "Caravan" Herman's Hermits performed for about 40 minutes instead of the 10 minutes they would have sung to end the original show. During the show, Peter Noone is said to have waved a "Jack Fisher In Club" card from the Victory Stadium stage. The Roanoke Times reported that only about half of the original crowd of 15,000 turned out. But it was a beautiful day. They saw the Herman's Hermits, Lance, Christiansburg's "The Teensmen" and Roanoke's "Divots." Finally, the story had a happy ending.
|Herman's Hermits returned on June 13 and did an extended show.|
There's a funny story about the original show that most folks don't know. Freddy Cannon was a longtime friend of both Fred and Jack. Freddy arrived in Roanoke before the show, visited them, then went to Fredís apartment for a nap. They told him that they'd be back to get him and take him to the show. Then they headed off to the dinner/press conference at the restaurant and forgot all about picking up Freddy.
Jack recalls "it was a fun filled evening, I sat next to Peter Noone and had a great conversation with him. As the night wore on we soon forgot all about picking up Freddy. When we got to the show site, there he was trying to convince the 70-year-old security guard that he was THE FREDDY CANNON and was slated to open the show that night. He was not winning the argument.
"When Fred and I walked up he was at once relieved to see us and then angry that we had forgotten to pick him up. I remember he said , "You guys dropped me and started sucking around the Hermits, you front runners" cursing us all the way , he then asked us to tell the security guard who he was so that he could enter the building. We shrugged, and said we had never heard of him and walked off. We returned of course and got him in but Iím sure he never forgave us for this slight."
|Future WROV star Phil Beckman saw the make-up show and shot this photo from the stands.|