Original publish date: August 18, 2014 Reissue date: August 20, 2020
Last week, I shared the details of Janis Joplin’s visit to Indiana Beach in Monticello on August 14, 1968, 46 years ago. It still seems strange to me. The place most Hoosiers identify with the cartoon crow popping up out of a cornfield to squawk “There’s more than corn in Indiana” is the very same venue where Janis Joplin performed live for a crowd of 100. Not to mention, she strolled the midway before the show checking out the food and arcade games like any other 25-year-old. It got me to thinking, who else played the “Beach Ballroom” that I didn’t know about.
Since I never attended a single Indiana Beach show, I was fortunate to track down a couple fellows who did. Gary Brewer and Brad Long were gracious enough to share memories and files with me about the bands who played the park back in the day. Brad recalls, “I attended a few concerts at Indiana Beach years ago – Blue Cheer, Ohio Express, The Who, and Brownsville Station / Alice Cooper. I intended to continue my research and make a list of all the acts I could and all the dates they performed there, along with the opening acts from back then, who included The Chosen Few, REO Speedwagon, etc. IB was indeed a big music place in the sixties and I can remember that The Beach Boys, Byrds and Yardbirds were just a few who played there.”
Brad, a Logansport native, has an impressive list of bands with whom he’s performed and recorded with in his own right. He started playing in 1967 and his bands have included The Psychedelic Oranges, Celebrate, Tobias, The Lynx and Lincoln Supply Depot and has recorded albums on the Line Records label, whose artists included Jimi Hendrix and the Yardbirds. So, Brad has the necessary street cred to talk about Rock ‘n Roll at Indiana Beach in the 1970s.
Gary Brewer has an equally impressive musical pedigree and also recalls attending Indiana Beach concerts in the 1960s, “I used to go see some of the big name bands at Indiana Beach in the 60’s, my mom & sister & I vacationed there in ’68 and ’69, and I saw the Grassroots, Iron Butterfly & Lemon Pipers then… later in both of those summers, I persuaded some older band friends to take me there to see the vanilla fudge (twice). They also had local teen bands playing 6 nights a week in the ballroom, too, along with lounge bands upstairs above the tiki gods in the fountain.”
Gary, who used to play in Duke Tumatoe’s band and has ties to the Eastside of Indianapolis (his dad was a Tech grad), is an ex-guitar player with the Faith band. He recalls, “They (Faith) occasionally opened up for the bigger name bands in the ballroom, when they were still known as the Chosen Few. I saw them open for the vanilla fudge, and they also opened up for the Who. In 1968, the stage was facing towards the lake which I think they (Vanilla Fudge) had been swimming in (before the show), & the opening act was the Chosen Few (later known as Faith). The stage is back in that same spot now, pretty much.”
Indiana Beach Ballroom today.
“But, in 1969, i have mixed memories of it’s (the stage) location. When they (Vanilla Fudge) performed in the show, they were at the farthest end of the ballroom, facing towards the entrance & the game room, boardwalk, etc… but, it seems like, when they first arrived (late), they did a soundcheck, and were facing where the 1968 stage had been (opposite side of it). That doesn’t make a lot of sense, though, unless they moved the stage, for some reason? Or, there was another one? But, I think it’s a possibility that the stage was in one location for the soundcheck, and moved later for the show. Some of their equipment didn’t show up in time and they (The Chosen Few aka Faith) played with a scaled-down set-up. And during the soundcheck, they messed around with a led zeppelin song as they’d just taken them on their first U.S. tour a few months before.”
During Gary’s stint with the Faith Band, he recalls, “While were riding in the car somewhere, the Faith guitarist told some stories about the Who show. He said they were all having a party in one of the rooms (with the Who), and Keith Moon slipped off somewhere (he may’ve gone down the balcony). I think he ended up in an elderly lady’s room, and she came knocking at the band’s door, holding onto Keith’s earlobe, trying to return him!” When the Who played Indiana Beach in July of 1968, guitarist Pete Townshend knocked out a large chunk of the ballroom ceiling while destroying his guitar on stage. (It has since been patched but the spot may still be seen in the old ballroom.)
Gary, who hadn’t been back to Indiana Beach since 1969, drove back up there in the mid ’90’s, and says, “it was like going back in time. Except for a few new rides, it looked just as it did when I last visited there. Mr. Spackman, the owner, still walked the grounds daily, usually with an unknown, pretty girl in tow. I started driving back up there, on a regular basis, sometimes not even arriving until 30 minutes before closing. But, I’d take a few laps around the boardwalk, and that would last me until my next visit.”
Gary continued, “A few months ago, Mr. Spackman passed away, at the age of 100. I drove up for the funeral showing, and spoke to the family, all of whom had left Indiana Beach. They shared a funny story, around that time, of Cream’s appearance at Clowes Hall, in March of 1968. (I attended that show, by the way, and it was great!) After the show, Eric Clapton heard that B.B. King was playing that night at a local Knights of Columbus or possibly an American Legion or Eagles club, but, i’m pretty sure it was a K. of C., anyway, Eric was already friends with B.B. King, and wanted to go see him. So, they took Eric & Ginger Baker to the place. I didn’t know there was such a thing, but this particular K. of C., or whatever it was, was comprised of mainly black folks. But, they said they had a time with Ginger, because he was chasing all the girls around!”
Gary concludes by recalling, “I went to many of the shows back in those days…they were scattered around venues all over the city, many on the eastside. The Rivoli, The Irving and Melody Skateland…. the nationally-known surf band, the Astronauts, played on the steps of Eastgate once, back in the 60’s. and across the street, at the YMCA, were their weekly teen dances, which were legendary.”
While it may not come as a surprise that big name bands played the Circle City back in the day, often stopping on the eastside for shows, concerts and partying, the idea of Indiana Beach being considered a hot music spot does come as a surprise. A 1968 Indiana Beach publication offers a picture of the Mothers of Invention with a young Frank Zappa, his Fu Manchu mustache and soul patch combo looking as “hip” today as it did in June of 1968. The Who belted out their hit “I Can See For Miles”, The Yardbirds sang their standard “For Your Love”, The Turtles’ performed “So Happy Together”, and Lovin’ Spoonful harmonized the classic “Summer In The City” live on stage at Indiana Beach.
Along with the shows came images of the band members roaming the midway, sunning on the beach, swimming in the lake, crashing the bumper cars and riding the rides alongside Hoosiers who had no idea who they were. Legend claims that the Turtles rode their motorcycles down the midway and that Cher took a long ride on the skyride. But wait, let me blow your mind with a partial list of bands and the dates they played the Beach Ballroom:
The Beach Boys July 19, 1963-Jerry Lee Lewis July 17, 1964-Everly Brothers July 31, 1964-The Kingsmen (Louie, Louie) July 9, 1965, Aug. 5, 1966, and July 21, 1967-The Byrds July 23, 1965-Righteous Brothers July 30, 1965-Sonny & Cher Aug. 20, 1965- Mitch Ryder & Detroit Wheels May 29, 1966…Lovin’ Spoonful June 24, 1966…The Mindbenders July 15, 1966…Paul Revere & the Raiders July 22, 1966-Simon & Garfunkel Aug. 5, 1966-Yardbirds Aug. 12, 1966 (with a young Jimmy Page on bass and Jeff Beck on guitar)-Tommy James & The Shondells June 2, 1967 (Crimson and Clover & Mony Mony)-Jefferson Airplane July 3, 1967-Sam the Sham & The Pharaohs Aug. 18, 1967 (Wooly Bully & Little Red Riding Hood)-Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention June 21, 1968-Gary Puckett & the Union Gap and Ohio Express June 28, 1968-The Who July 12, 1968-Janis Joplin/Big Brother and Holding Co. Aug. 14, 1968-Guess Who Aug. 29, 1968-Iron Butterfly with REO Speedwagon Aug. 30, 1968 (In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida)-Boyce & Hart Sept. 1, 1968 (I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonight & Last Train to Clarksville)-The Box Tops June 27, 1969 (The Letter)-Spencer Davis July 3, 1969 (Gimme Some Lovin’)-The Grass Roots July 11, 1969-REO Speedwagon July 3, 1970 & Chicago July 17, 1970 which is generally considered to be the last big show in the ballroom.
The Indiana Beach ballroom also hosted hundreds of other performances, including legendary big bands who drew massive crowds in the 1940s. Records from most of those performances at the Lake Shafer amusement park in the 1940s and early 1950s are sketchy at best. Some played more than one night, an entire weekend, a whole week of shows or even stayed and played for a month. Those acts included Glenn Miller June 1940-Benny Goodman June 25, 1941-Louis Armstrong June 12, 1955 and again on July 27, 1962-Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey June 28, 1955; Aug. 1, 1956-Dave Brubeck July 3, 1956-Bill Haley & the Comets May 31, 1957 & June 22, 1962 and Duke Ellington Aug. 20, 1957. The “Heart-throbs” and “Folkies” were well represented too with acts like Fabian, Ricky Nelson, Peter, Paul and Mary and the Kingston Trio.
The Monticello stop was usually sandwiched between gigs in Chicago and Indianapolis. By the early 1970s, cavernous arenas started to pop up for big rock tours. The arena rock era led to bands being more theatrical (Alice Cooper & Kiss, for example) and elaborate sound and lighting systems made places like the Indiana Beach Ballroom seem archaic and outdated. The list of legendary Indiana Beach bands are all but faded memories now. However, it is fun to think that back in the day, it was possible to drive an hour north of the city to see music history come alive in a room filled with less people than you might find at a Costco or Sam’s Club on any given Tuesday afternoon. And all this for the price of a $ 3.25 ticket.