Pretty much everyone these days has been to a music concert. It may have been Rock-and-Roll, Country, Pop, Rap, or any number of others, but concerts are here to stay. So, how did they get here? The event that is now recognized as history’s first major rock-and-roll show actually started out as a dance called the Moondog Coronation Ball, held of March 21, 1952, in Cleveland, Ohio. It was initiated by host Alan Freed, at the suggestion of Cleveland record-store owner Leo Mintz, who decided to sponsor three hours of late-night programming on WJW to showcase rhythm-and-blues music. Alan Freed was then installed as host. Freed quickly took to the task, adopting a new, hip persona and vocabulary that included liberal use of the phrase “rock and roll” to describe the music he was now promoting. It must have been an exciting time for him, to be there for the invention of concerts.

The name of the event came from Alan Freed himself, who hosted the enormously popular “Moondog Show” on Cleveland AM radio station WJW. He was initially hired in 1951 to be the host of a classical-music program, but when Mintz told Freed about the trend he was watching among his young customers…of all races toward rhythm-and-blues records by black musicians, Freed took his career in a different direction. The two men got together and decided to promote the new show by having a dance and concert to promote those hot new artists. With that, the Moondog Coronation Ball was born. With the promotion kicked into high gear on the local radio station, tickets sold out in a single day. Still, that didn’t stop thousands of teenagers from lining up outside the biggest venue in town in the hours before show time. These days, we would think a riot was about to take place, and…maybe it was. It was a chilly Friday night in Cleveland, and outside the Cleveland Arena the scene would look quite familiar to anyone who has ever attended a major rock concert. But no one on this particular night had ever even heard of a “rock concert” before, much less stood in line for one.

On tap for “The Moondog Coronation Ball” were headliners Paul Williams and his Hucklebuckers, as well as Tiny Grimes and the Rocking Highlanders (a black instrumental group that performed in Scottish kilts). While musicians who have to cancel, or problems with equipment have been known to shut down an event, no one could have expected that the incredible demand for tickets proved to be the event’s undoing. The problem was exacerbated by massive ticket counterfeiting and possibly by overbooking on the part of the event’s sponsors. The arena had a capacity of 10,000 people, but an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 fans turned out for an event. Those fans who could not get in, though they held a ticket, legal or not, were trying to gain entry. Less than an hour into the show, the massive overflow crowd broke through the gates that were keeping them outside. In an effort to save lives, the police quickly moved in to stop the show almost as soon as it began. The angry fans wanted an explanation. On the radio the very next evening, Alan Freed offered an apology to listeners who had tried to attend the canceled event. The only thing he could do was to be honest with them and apologize. Freed told his fans, “If anyone…had told us that some 20,000 or 25,000 people would try to get into a dance, I suppose you would have been just like me. You would have laughed and said they were crazy.” The “failure” of the Moondog Coronation Ball was actually its success. Who could have known?

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