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<h1 class="essaytitle_db">Led Zeppelin rocks Seattle's outdoor Green Lake Aqua Theatre on May 11, 1969.</h1>

On Sunday May 11, 1969, the up-and-coming British rock 'n' roll band,Led Zeppelin, performs a legendary concert at a most unusual venue:Seattle's Green Lake Aqua Theatre. That theater -- an outdoor stage seton the western edge of one of the town's most popular parks -- had beenbuilt in 1950 to feature shows by the Aqua Follies and so it boasted astage with a 40-foot diving tower on each side, and a pool between thestage and the 5,000-capacity concrete grandstand. Although the theaterwas generally dedicated to rather lite fair -- "swimusicals," comedicplays, and a jazz festival or two -- by 1965 rock 'n' roll promotersbegan producing the occasional show there with pop stars such as Sonny& Cher or Ian Whitcomb. So, clearly, bringing the world's heaviesthard-rock band, Led Zeppelin, into the place was raising the stakes ina seismic way -- and the theater would ultimately pay the highest priceby sacrificing its life in the wake of that thundering event.


The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported that on thatsunny day "several thousand of the whimsically clad and nearly uncladyounger set" attended, but that "only about half the crowd" paid fortheir entry tickets -- the "rest bent their freeloading ears to theamplified sounds from a variety of places. Some roosted in the trees,many crowded onto one small dock, it submerged slightly. A flotilla ofcanoes, rented rowboats and rubber rafts surrounded the back side ofthe stage, where a few also treaded water. A hundred perched on theroof of a concession stand. And a thousand or so sprawled out on thelawns around the theater, forming a wall-to-wall carpet of humanbodies." The Seattle Times concurred: "The audiencewas everywhere. The benches in the Aqua Theatre were filled tooverflowing ... . Several energetic souls treaded water in the poolbetween the stands and the stage. There were even two swimsuit-cladfellows perched atop the roof of one of the diving towers."


A Landmark

The show – which was produced by counterculture impresario, BoydGrafmyre, in conjunction with KOL radio (whose top DJ, Burl Barer,emceed the event) -- began about 2 p.m. with an unremarkable openingset by the Vancouver B.C., rock band Spring. Next up wasCambridge-based songster, Jaime Brockett, and his talking-blues FMradio hit, "The Legend of the U.S.S. Titanic." Then, while the roadieswere setting up Led Zep's gear, Seattle's own hippie jug-band,Translove Airlines, played a shambling set. The Seattle Timestolerantly noted that bandleader Jimmy Winkler was a fellow "[g]iftedwith a complete lack of talent, but an abundance of charm" and thus,"he has become a landmark at Seattle concerts" where "at nearly everyconcert [he] appears on stage at the earliest and slightest lull in theprogram" (Gressel). True to form, at the end of his band's set, Winklerreportedly jumped into the theater's pool to the great delight of theaudience.

Then, right before the headlining performance by Three Dog Night -- aLos Angeles-based pop group with a trio of soulful vocalists -- it wasLed Zeppelin's turn. A supergroup that had risen from the ashes ofEngland's esteemed psychedelic blues-rockers, the Yardbirds -- LedZeppelin had actually already played the Seattle Center Arena (onDecember 27, 1968, albeit in an unadvertised opening role for VanillaFudge). But since the January 12, 1969, release of theirearth-shattering eponymous debut album,Led Zep's popularity had skyrocketed. Still, Three Dog Night -- whosesecond AM radio hit single, "One," was resting in the nationalTop-10 -- were the more famous band that spring. Meanwhile, Seattle'spremier AM radio station, KJR, had Led Zep's debut single "Good TimesBad Times" single in their Fab-50 charts that May, and KOL-AM alsobegan pushing the same ultra-heavy tune.

Row, Row, Row Your Boat

Among those fans who'd opted to watch the show from awatercraft were Mick Flynn -- a guitarist with the local band,Meatball, and one of Seattle's first vintage gear experts -- and hispal and housemate, Richard Green. "Me and my buddies were living overin Wallingford," said Flynn, "and we wanted to go to the show. Wecouldn't afford tickets, but we did have enough money to rent a rowboatat Green Lake. So what we did was: we rowed across the lake and watchedthe show from the back of the stage -- which was pretty cool! We wereprobably within six feet of the amps so we had a really good view of the band" (Interview). "There was three or four of us in the rowboat," adds Green, "and werowed over to the Aqua Theatre. It was a beautiful sunny day in theafternoon. We floated up to the dock which was the backstage area andthere was actually a fence around the back of the dock and we held ontothe fence with our fingers so we wouldn't drift away. And from ourposition we could see the amplifiers and people milling aroundbackstage. So Led Zeppelin came on and from our position we could lookthrough the stacks of amplifiers and see Robert Plant and Jimmy Pageonstage playin' their guts out. And I remember Robert Plant's hairblowin' in the wind. It was such a thrill to be there" (Interview).

Good Times

The show began, as Green recalls, with guitarist Jimmy Page runningonstage wearing a hip black leather motorcycle jacket and hammering outthe riffs to the old Yardbirds classic, "Train Kept a Rollin'," beforethe rest of Led Zep joined him. "The Green Lake show was pretty cool'cause they were doing the first album," says Flynn, "and that'swhat they sounded like. Page was using his Les Paul [Gibson guitar] andplaying the Marshall [amplifier] heads through the RickenbackerTri-Sonic cabinets. He also had the Danelectro [guitar] that he used onthe instrumentals: [like] 'Black Mountain Side.' I think [that solobit] was kinda a combination of Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin stuff he wasdoing" (interview).

Some in the audience had, presumably, not yet been exposed the Led Zeppelinalbum and came wanting to hear the AM radio hit, "Good Times BadTimes." But the band was first going to play that single's flipside andtheir crowd reportedly responded with some disappointment: "Iremember," another fan wrote years after the fact, "Robert Plant sayingto the audience that they were going to play the single 'CommunicationBreakdown,' to a light smattering of boos and requests for 'Good TimesBad Times,' which is what the local stations were playing more often"(Wade). Led Zep's Set-list

Though no journalists are known to have documented Led Zep's preciseset-list that day at Green Lake, the following is a reasonablereconstruction gleaned from various sources:

  • "Train Kept a Rollin'"
  • "I Can't Quit You Baby"
  • "Dazed and Confused"
  • "As Long As I Have You"
  • "Killing Floor"
  • "White Summer" / "Black Mountainside"
  • "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You"
  • "You Shook Me"
  • "How Many More Times"
  • "Communication Breakdown"
  • "Pat's Delight"
  • "Good Times Bad Times"

Green and Red

Meanwhile, at mid-set -- "when Page was out doin' his solo bit," asFlynn recalls, "Robert Plant and John Paul Jones came back to where wewere and we partaked in some weed with them. That was kinda cool. Theycame over and chatted with us." "I remember that at some point," Greenadds, "Robert Plant was milling around behind the amplifiers and I saidsomethin' to him and he walked over towards us. We had some small talkback and forth and we happened to have a joint lit at the time -- Iremember it being Panama Red! -- and so we handed him the joint, hetook a couple hits off of it and handed it back and thanked us forcoming. He said 'I hope you enjoy the show' and that was it" [laughter](Interview).

Like many fans, Flynn and Green loved the show, and later even got achance to chat with Led Zep's star guitarist: "Page came over," saysFlynn, "and we talked for a moment. said somethin' about hisguitar. 'Cause I was always interested in checking out the gear -- alot of that stuff you just didn't see 'til these guys came through: twin Marshalls and stuff" (Interview)

You Shook Me

From all accounts, Led Zeppelin shook the theater to its veryfoundations -- along with surrounding neighborhoods. One can only havesympathy for all of the traumatized animals in the adjacent WoodlandPark Zoo. Not to mention for poor Three Dog Night, who faced thedaunting task of following Led Zep onto that stage. Plenty oftestimony, however, attests to the fact that the headliners performedwell under the circumstances. Indeed, contemporary reviews were split: Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter (and KOL-FM DJ) Patrick MacDonald was ecstatic over Led Zep -- even in advanceof the show he was already stoked, writing that their musicianship was"most impressive" and that "One could not improve on them. They aresuperb, musically and vocally."

But MacDonald's counterpart at The Seattle Times,Janine Gressel, was far more impressed with Three Dog Night. Thoughacknowledging (in a rather stingy four-sentence blurb out of a 15paragraph essay) that "The Led Zeppelin ... put on an instrumentallyexcellent performance" -- she presumably wasn't thrilled by singerRobert Plant's proto-heavy metal vocal stylings -- noting that ThreeDog Night, whose "singing is the core of this excellent band," simply"stole the show."

Concrete Breakdown

Possibly the aging Aqua Theatre had met its match with the mighty LedZep. Later that summer city inspectors discovered damage to thestructure and -- following one final show there by the Grateful Dead onAugust 20, 1969 -- its brief life as a rock venue was over. Thefacility's dismantling began in 1970. Led Zeppelin and the Northwest had, however, merely begun theirmutually fond relationship. Not only would the band perform at theSeattle Pop Festival (at Woodinville's Gold Creek Park) on July 27,1969, but they would return to Seattle many more times before theirfinal show here (and fourth to the last American show ever) at theKingdome on July 17, 1977.

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I worked backstage at this concert. It was an afternoon concert with Three

Dog Night and a group from Canada that I cannot remember. I got to work

backstage because a friend of mine tipped me off on how to do it. The show

wasput on by Boyd Grafmire Productions. The on site manager was a Hawaiianwoman named Geri. I was told to find her and make my pitch to her. Ifound her and asked. She said yes. I was in. We basically moved stuffoff the stage. The Green Lake Aqua Theatre was built to put on shows bythe Aqua Follies. The was a pool (moat?) in front of the stage with two40 foot diving towers on either side. The seating capacity was probably2000 at most. The show started around 1pm with the Canadian band onfirst. Then Three Dog Night. I remember they played through Bruce amps.Mike Alsop played a Telecaster. Floyd Sneed played a double bass Rogersdrumset. I almost dropped the bass drum setup when we struck the stage.Zep was on last. I was given a cherry job. Go out to the street to meetthe band when they came in. I was given a blue armband to identify meas a crew member. I was 14 but big for my age so I probably looked likeI could handle the responsibility. I found the band in the van asadvertised. I stopped them and told them I would guide them in. Theycalled me a string of obscenities, and they sounded drunk. I walked thevan to the back gate through the crowd. We were in. We set up Zep'sstuff behind Three Dog Nights' stuff. Jimmy Page was using RickenbackerTransonic amps and cabinets. The cabinets have a unique trapaziodalshape. I don't remember what John Paul Jones used, or what drums Bonham

had. I do remember the Danelectro guitar that Jimmy Page used as it was

next to me for most of the show. The band came on around 5pm on an unusally

nice day for early May in Seattle. Of the songs I remember Robert Plant saying

to the audience that they were going to play the single "Communication

Breakdown",to a light smattering of boos and requests for "Good Times, Bad Times",which is what the local stations were playing more often.

Theshow was hosted by radio DJ Burl Barer. If I remember right he was fromKOL-FM, though it could have been KISW. I sat next to him for most ofthe show on a steamer trunk to the side of Jimmy Page. In July 2001 Ireceived a telephone solicitation from the Washington FirefightersAssociation announcing the next voice I would hear was going to be BurlBarer. I told him I sat next to him at Led Zep Greenlake. He said "Iremember it well..." and we talked for the next five minutes about theconcert. He said he has pictures of the concert. I might be in some. Ialso saw the Gold Creek Park conert at the Seattle Pop Festival and theSeattle Center Arena in October, both in 1969.


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