One of the first things taught to historians is how to evaluate sources when reasearching their subject. The same goes for those of us researching rock history. Today I'll talk about evaluating sources in the specialized field of rock concert research.
I generally lump sources by their type and then according to their reliability. Here are the categories I use:
Listing - This is usually a newspaper line item announcing a show. Usually in a entertainment section and taken from a press release. Depending on the proximity of the show date, I tend to rank this as moderately dependable. Here's an example of what I mean.
Ad - A newspaper or magazine advertisement with venue, promoter and ticket information. Often has a promo photo of at least one of the bands. This rate a bit higher in dependability for me since these are paid for by the promoter. If he's spending money, there's a good chance the show happened. Like this one:
Poster - Posters used to be a pretty dependable source for concerts but with the growth of eBay and the market for counterfeit posters, this now needs some investigation of their own validity. I now rank these as low in terms of dependability. Like this fake poster from 1964.
Handbill - Handbills are a bit like posters in that they are more of a starting point, rather than a confirmation. However, there isn't quite the counterfeit market for them so you don't see as many bogus ones to lead you down the wrong path. Here's one from 1965 Asbury Park Convention Hall.
Ticket stub - A bit above moderate in reliability but tickets were often printed for shows that where cancelled at the last minute. But they are great for identifying dates in the first place. Here's one from 1967 Hollies' show in Hawaii that was subsequently cancelled along with their entire U.S. spring tour.
Review - A show review in a newspaper or magazine is generally the confirmation I look for to ensure that a show actually took place. But they too can be misleading. Especially in the '60s and '70s, newspapers who did review rock concerts (and there weren't many) had a relatively early deadline for their morning editions. So many times, the headliner got little notice since the reviewer often left before they went on to file their story. Occassionally there was outright deception. Poco was to play the Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto on New Years Eve, 1970 and the review contained a brief description of their set amongst six other bands. Problem was...Poco never made it through customs into Canada and missed the show. I might never have figured that out except that the reviewer was fired when fans called him on it. Turns out the entire review was fiction!
Tour Itinerary - Official tour itineraries are gold for what was originally booked for shows but often do not reflect shows that were cancelled or postponed. Wish there were more of these around but most band members just tossed them once the dates were completed. Thankfully Poco's Road Manager Denny Jones kept copies from all the tours he did with them and noted changes on them too!
Fan recollection - Much like law enforcement, I take eyewitness testimony with a grain of salt. It's great additional confirmation when they give you enough details to make sure they were actually there. But more often, dates are several years off, bands are mixed up, and other details don't mesh. Hey, if you can remember the '60s, you weren't really there, right?