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A Mecca of Glaze & Haze: The Cape Cod Coliseum

J. Geils Band concert flyer

In spite of the bad sound and dreadful steam-bath heat, a who’s-who of 1970s classic rock played at the Coliseum. A sampling includes: Tom Petty, Peter Frampton, KISS, Van Halen, Marshall Tucker, Jackson Browne, Foreigner, Alice Cooper, Doobie Brothers, Aerosmith, and J. Geils Band (which held a record 10 performances).

Matt Reid remembers the sights, sounds, and scents…

Reid, proprietor of Booksmith Musicsmith in Orleans, moved to the Cape permanently in 1974 after spending vacations in South Dennis. For two summers he actually parked cars in the old dirt lot adjacent to the building and saw a number of shows, notably Emerson, Lake and Palmer. He says the atmosphere was “laid back” and “no one got in trouble.” Each concert was reminiscent, he says, of a mini Woodstock, the ’70s version of tailgating with plenty of booze and marijuana emerging from station wagons and vans, and where the attire was decidedly casual—denim, bare feet, and the occasional bikini top. Reid also recalls that local businesses and homeowners despised those events and evenings due to traffic and noise.

Looking back in 2019, it is easier to understand why the Coliseum closed. Professional hockey’s center of gravitational pull moved west (where the New York Islanders and Edmonton Oilers dominated the league in the 1980s). Music changed, too. It went mobile (Sony Walkman) and was embraced by television (MTV). Furthermore, contemporary music acts, like the generation it entertained, went off Cape to new places like Great Woods and Harborlights Pavilion.

By the mid-1980s, live entertainment and sporting events evolved into a model of state-of-the-art production values, where bigger was better. Modern facilities were built in metropolitan hubs to accommodate such needs. Meanwhile, local demographic changes were unfavorable to the Coliseum.

While the Cape’s population was growing, it was also growing older. From 1970 to 1990 the population grew from 96,656 people to 186,605 people; it aged by 5.2 years in the same period. Simultaneously, there were concerns that rapid development on Cape Cod was unsustainable. Quite probably, then, the Coliseum would have not been permitted to expand or refurbish. Besides, it was always more grit and grime than glitz and glamour. The 1984 Sweatbox was frozen in time, a relic from a by-gone era. A remnant of short-lived revelry.

Perhaps most importantly, pop culture also radically changed. The 1970s Me Generation of self-realization and narcissism later gave way to the 1980s Generation X of self-indulgence and materialism. Ever so briefly, though, the old Coliseum bridged those stark generational and cultural divides on Cape Cod. Like the Dead’s lost sailor bridging broken dreams.

A special thank you to JoAnne Cummings Beatty of Hyannis, James Dow of Centerville, Todd Kennelly of Yarmouth Port and Bob Viamari of Yarmouth for their old ticket stubs, posters, photos and memories.

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