Monday, January 5, 2015

Des Moines Skywalk Mystery: When Exactly Did The Who Play Vets Auditorium?

Out here in the fields, we fight for what's real... 

The Who played a historic concert in Des Moines sometime during the '70s but there seems to be some confusion as to when it actually happened. 

The concert is noteworthy for a variety of reasons. 13,534 fans paid to see this iconic show which goes down as the biggest crowd to attend an event at Vets. Also, an equipment failure stopped the show cold in it's tracks for about 20 minutes, and The Who had to retreat to their dressing rooms while things got patched back together. It's also been said that The Who themselves came out after the show and greeted those who remained at the front of the stage.

The Who in Des Moines (Photo by Brad Harvey)
(Click to enlarge)

Brad Harvey was a sophomore at Drake in '75 and he and three friends - one from Chicago, as Chicago's show was sold out - attended the concert together in Des Moines.

"The official word was that Entwistle's amps blew out and the show was interrupted for about 20 minutes while repairs were made," Harvey recalls, referring to The Who's bass player. "When they came back onstage they said they would continue with the complete show but they didn't do the usual section from Quadrophenia."

Doug Diaz, who also attended the concert remembers Keith Moon saying that the failure of Entwistle's rig "probably blew out the whole town."

One can only assume that Des Moines, Iowa seemed like a small town to a band like The Who in 1975. And as loud as they were known for playing, it's not hard to imagine their sound carrying all the way to Valley Junction. The fact that John Entwistle blew his amp out might not be so unique. It probably happened often on the 1975 tour, but it is cool that it happened at Vets Auditorium, which has become a pillar of rock and roll history.

A placard in the skywalk commemorates the night The Who played
although the date appears to be wrong. (Click to enlarge)
Currently on the west side of the building where the Auditorium meets the skywalk, there is a placard on the wall that describes the evening. It goes into small detail about the equipment failure and the size of the crowd. What is confusing is the date on the placard, which says that the concert occurred on December 2, 1977. There is no other record of The Who playing anywhere in Iowa in '77.

According to Anyway Anyhow Anywhere: The Complete Chronicle of The Who 1958-1978 (Written by Andy Neill and Matt Kent) the band played at Veteran's Memorial Auditorium in Des Moines, on December 2nd, 1975. It's easy to see where the mistake is - the person who designed the placard simply got the year wrong.

However, the confusion doesn't end there. In a timeline constructed by The Des Moines Register in 2005 of concerts that occurred at "The Barn," as Vets came to be known due to it's barn-like shape, it lists The Who playing in 1975, but on December 1st.

Ticket display in the skywalk.
(Click to enlarge)
This date is backed up by a giant ticket display that in on the wall just a few steps south of the (old) main entrance to Vets in the skywalk where the placards are. 

The wall is filled with replicas of ticket stubs of concerts that took place at Vets. There is one ticket stub from the concert in question, but it is cut-off and we are unable to see it in it's entirety. However a "1" is clearlt visible, as well as "1975." In other words, the ticket stub replica emulates the same date as the Des Moines Register article (December 1, 1975.)

Now that everybody is thoroughly confused, it gets even more complicated. The website Setlists.com has The Who playing a concert at Veteran's Memorial Auditorium on December 2nd, 1975, which essentially brings us full circle. I think it is safe to say that the concert occurred in '75, but on which date - December 1st, or 2nd?

A partial ticket replica on display in the skywalk.
(Click to enlarge)

So yeah. Confused yet? 

To recap, here is what we just covered:

The placard at the old entrance of Vets has The Who playing on December 2, 1977.

The book, Anyway Anyhow Anywhere: The Complete Chronicle of The Who has the band playing at Vets on December 2nd, 1975.

The timeline supplied by The Des Moines Register lists the Who as having had played on December 1, 1975, as does the replica ticket on display in the skywalk.

Setlist.com records the concert as taking place on December 2, 1975.


I guess until an actual bona-fide ticket stub appears, we should just assume that the concert happened at some point in early December of '75. I'm leaning towards the 2nd, because it seems to me that a published book would have it's facts straight, and this date is "verified" by the setlists website. It should also be noted that other tickets on the skywalk replica display have inconsistencies, such as the misspelling of band names, etc. Maybe accuracy wasn't high on the list of things they were looking for when they hired the display makers.

Other ticket replicas have inconsistencies as well, such as misspelled words.
Molly Hatchet is clearly spelled wrong. Another has Loverboy as two words.

We do know that a helluva concert occurred at Vets Auditorium featuring The Who. It drew a record sized crowd and experienced an unexpected break, and for those who hung around long enough afterward perhaps even a chance to meet the legendary band.

Brad Harvey wonders if this event made a lasting impact on The Who. "They never came back to Vets after that, he states. "They did play at Hilton Coliseum in Ames and the Unidome in Cedar Falls."



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