‘Rock Concert’ Gives Oral History of Entertainment Evolution (BOOK REVIEW)

Admittedly, Rock Concert is not the catchiest title for a book. However, it is a worthwhile examination of a phenomenon that has been around for more than half a century. The book focuses not only on how the rock concert has developed over time, but also on the part that rock concerts have played in the development of society. Author Marc Myers points out that the earliest rock concerts in the 1950s had as much to do with racial integration as the government did. Specifically, he points out that long before schools and other public institutions were forced to integrate, suburban white youths were attending concerts of black artists, much to the chagrin of both parents and authorities. Perhaps the best example of this is when Lance Freed (son of noted rock n roll DJ Alan Freed) recounts a story with Rosa Parks in which he says it wasn’t Alan Freed’s intention to desegregate the country with music. Parks responded, “I understand. But it was the music that brought everyone together. He was the pied piper who led the charge.” 

It would have been easy for Myers to focus on the artists and promoters that helped push concerts forward. However, he also incorporates input from those who developed the technology to help move concerts from auditoriums to arenas and even race tracks, as in the case of the Summer Jam at Watkins Glen in 1973. At the end of the book, he even gets input from those who started ticketing services that allowed fans to buy tickets without having to go to the arena that hosted the concert to wait for tickets to see their favorite band.

With voices as varied as Alice Cooper and noted Deadhead Bill Walton, Myers tells the story of how concerts grew from local auditoriums to Live Aid, which spanned two continents simultaneously before the days of the internet and social media. When you think about that now, you realize just how impressive it is. 

The book only covers the history of concerts through Live Aid. Myers notes, “The rock concert didn’t disappear the day after Live Aid ended.” He goes on to say that by the 2000s, “the rock concert had fizzled as a rite of passage and was more of an event parents took children along to experience.” That may be true, but this book illustrates just how instrumental concerts have been in changing the societal landscape. Whether it’s suburban white kids going to see R&B artists or Woodstock, which showed that a huge festival could be conducted with little to no violence, the rock concert has been an indelible part of the American landscape. Myers does a great job of examining all the aspects that helped concerts develop. Even if concerts aren’t what they used to be on a societal level, they aren’t going away anytime soon. And thank goodness for that.

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