Transform A Gathering Into A Community: A Marc Myers Book Review


Music historian, critically acclaimed author and regular Wall Street Journal contributor Marc Myers takes on the task of sharing the stories of those who made rock music what it is today in his latest book, Rock Concert: An Oral History as Told by the Artists, Backstage Insiders, and Fans Who Were There.

Decades after the rise of rock music in the 1950s, the rock concert retains its allure and power as a unifying generational experience - and as an influential multi-billion dollar industry. Rock Concert presents a 360-degree account of live rock’s emergence by weaving together groundbreaking stories from those who were on stage, in the wings, behind the scenes and in the audience.

Rock Concert begins with the blossoming of R&B concert circuits in the 1950s. From Los Angeles auditoriums to Memphis fairs, industry veterans share where they played their music and the importance of radio.

The hippie gatherings of the 1960s brought less rock ‘n’ roll and more folk and pop. The emergence of FM radio majorly impacted how musicians found their audience while musicians also used their voices for political activism. Concert promoters, sound system engineers and music festivals were born, with a lot of trial and error to follow.

Growing arena tours in the 1970s was exactly the kind of overhaul that the rock concert needed. After the violent events of The Altamont Free Concert on December 6, 1969, it took a while for arenas to ease resistance on letting rock artists perform at their venues. Image, media and branding became essential to promoting music, inspiring the cover of The Beatles’ Let It Be, Chicago’s first nine studio albums and the iconic Hot Lips logo for The Rolling Stones.

The 1980s is where visual branding reached its peak. MTV began broadcasting on cable TV on August 1, 1981. For the first time, audiences could see artists on their television playing their music live or in the form of a music video. It encouraged album and concert ticket purchases, the latter becoming computerized for the first time.

Throughout the book, readers get to hear first-hand accounts of Elvis Presley’s superstardom, Beatlemania, the Grateful Dead’s free-flowing psychedelic jams and Pink Floyd’s operatic, live production of The Wall. Drawn from his original, in-depth interviews with 94 wide-ranging sources, Myers combines tales from iconic performers like Joan Baez, Bob Weir, Alice Cooper, Steve Miller and Angus Young; stories about disc jockeys who first began playing rock on the radio such as Alan Freed; audio innovators who developed new technologies to accommodate ever-growing rock audiences and venues; music journalists such as Cameron Crowe, who went on to create Rolling Stone magazine; and the roadies, tour managers, regional promoters and festival organizers who orchestrated concerts to create a rounded and vivid account of live rock’s stratospheric rise from 1950 to 1985.

These first-hand accounts not only give the reader insight into what it was like to be on the stage or behind it, but it lets the reader feel as though they were actually there when it happened. Rock Concert brings these stories to life once again, allowing those that were there the opportunity to shed light on how they changed the music industry.