Thirty-six years ago the band Boston was a major player in a drama playing out in Memphis TN. The band’s debut two years earlier had by August 1978 sold seven million copies on its way to becoming the top selling debut ever (now over 17 million ), and the follow-up Don’t Look Back was being rush released to North American rock radio stations. Boston, led by guitarist/composer Tom Scholz, was barely two years from playing Beantown roller rinks and armories, but now their third date on the headline Don’t Look Back tour was set for August 15 in Memphis’ 10,000 seat Mid South Coliseum in the birthplace of rock and roll. A few days earlier I had moved to the sweltering city in wilting 100 degree heat and 90% humidity to join the newbie ROCK 103 , just as tens of thousands were arriving there from all over the world to mark the first anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley. Meanwhile in a wage and benefit dispute with the city, the Memphis Police had gone on strike, and the day of the scheduled Boston concert, 1400 firefighters walked out.Welcome to Memphis, y’all.
City leaders immediately imposed a curfew making it illegal to be out after 8pm until 6 am, but there was just one little sticking point: local concert promoter the late Bob Kelley had sold out ten thousand Boston tickets in advance for an 8 pm start. A compromise was hastily brokered so that, on a weekday no less, the concert would start at 4 pm, allowing everybody to get off the Memphis streets before National Guard troops enforced the curfew.
As I walked home through the deserted Memphis streets to the Orange Mound neighborhood just before midnight, I was listening to the late night ROCK 103 deejay over a little portable radio when his voice suddenly cut out at the same precise moment as every street light first dimmed to a dirty yellow glow, then a second later went pitch black. Without any headlights from the banned cars nor any light coming from the buildings and homes, I suddenly realized that I was in an unfamiliar city of 3/4 million population, without police or emergency fire/rescue services, at midnight in the hot inky blackness of a massive blackout. A decade before cell phones were available, it probably made no difference because I could not make out where I was, nor did I know anybody to call. Over the next 24 hours, 166 houses and buildings would burn, but I am proud to say that the Boston concert August 15, 1978 in Memphis went off without incident. – Redbeard
Tom Scholz performing the “Star Spangled Banner” to kick off the recent Boston Marathon benefit for victims of the terrorist bombings.