Monday, February 1, 2016

The Biggest Rock n Roll Show of 1956


Today's post starts another series of documenting early rock n' roll package tours.  The Biggest Rock and Roll Show of 1956 was a 45-date tour headlined by Billy Haley and the Comets.  This package is quite a show with all the acts except the headliner African-American.  As racial tensions are peaking throughout the country, the potential for trouble exists at every tour stop.  Several shows are cancelled because of racial troubles including bomb threats, protests, pickets, and violence.  The success of the tour winds up with two dates being added during the tour, making it a 47-date tour. Information on this tour regarding attendance comes from Bill Haley's personal diary.
 
Talent: Bill Haley & Comets, Platters, Bo Diddley, Drifters, LaVern Baker, Clyde McPhatter, Big Joe Turner, Red Prysock, Shirley & Lee, Roy Hamilton, Five Keys, The Turbans, Frankie Lymon & Teenagers
 


April 20, 1956 Hersheypark Arena, Hershey, PA
 
8,000 attend tonight's opening show.  As the headliner, Haley earns $1,430 for tonight's show and every show during the tour.  LOOK magazine sends a reporter to cover the tour's first couple of dates.

LOOK magazine photo of Bill Haley and the Comets at Hershey, PA

 April 21, 1956 Warner Theatre, Atlantic City, NJ
 
6,000 people attend tonight's show.  LOOK reporters interview Haley and others in the package.
 
April 22, 1956 Mosque, Richmond, VA
 
Two sell-out shows tonight with 9,600 attending and thousands turned away. 
 
April 23, 1956 Municipal Auditorium, Norfolk, VA
 
Another two sell-out shows tonight as 7,000 people attend and 5,000 are turned away.
 
April 24, 1956 Catholic Youth Center, Scranton, PA
 
The crowd is rowdy tonight as 3,000 are crammed into this small venue.  Bill Haley is punched in the eye as he leaves the stage.
 
April 25, 1956 Arena, Philadelphia, PA
 
Another two sell-outs as 11,000 fans jam the arena for two shows.
 
April 26, 1956  Westchester County Center, White Plains, NY
 
An unruly crowd tonight as another 5,000 are turned away and those that make it in will not stay in their seats.  An estimated 6,000 are in attendance.  Haley is again assaulted as he leaves the stage.


April 27, 1956 Mosque Theater, Newark, NJ
 
The tour has its smallest crowd tonight as only 3,000 show up.
 
April 28, 1956 Onondaga County War Memorial Auditorium, Syracuse, NY
 
Another big crowd as 10,500 attend the sell-out show.  Another large group of people were turned away. 
 
April 29, 1956 The Forum, Montreal, Canada
 
Two sell-out shows bring 16,000 fans out.
 
April 30, 1956 Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto, Canada
 
A record setting crowd of 13,000 for a single show.  The press and TV are pressing Haley about whether rock and roll is dangerous.
 
May 1, 1956 Auditorium Theatre, Rochester, NY
 
Two sell-outs with 5,500 in attendance.  An attempt to pull Haley off the stage during his set fails.
 
May 2, 1956 Memorial Auditorium, Buffalo, NY
 
A crowd of 9,000 attend the concert with another 3,000 attending the premiere of Rock Around the Clock.
 
May 3, 1956 Syria Mosque, Pittsburgh, PA
 
A big crowd of 9,000 fill the Mosque.  The crowd was energetic but well  behaved.
 
May 4, 1956 Veteran's Memorial Auditorium, Columbus, OH
 
Two shows tonight and during the second show, the crowd dance din the aisles but no violence.
 
May 5, 1956 Memorial Auditorium, Canton, OH
 
Two shows tonight with 7,000 in attendance.  After the shows, the package stops for food along the turnpike and a fight takes place between some of the acts.  They hit the road and Haley hopes the situation isn't picked up by the press.
 
May 6, 1956 Olympia Arena, Detroit, MI
 
A new record crowd tonight as 22,500 fans for two shows.
 
May 7, 1956 Dayton University Fieldhouse, Dayton, OH
 
5,500 fans show up tonight.
 
May 8, 1956 Arena, Cleveland, OH
 
Tonight's show is attended by 4,000 fans.  The Associated Press reports on the fight a few days prior and Haley is upset that the press named him as involved.
 
May 9, 1956 Gardens, Cincinnati, OH
 
May 10, 1956 Indiana Theater, Indianapolis, IN
 
Two sell-out shows tonight and after the show, the package drive to Chicago arriving at 6:30 a.m.
 
May 11, 1956  International Amphitheatre, Chicago, IL
 
The crowd was well behaved although only 6,000 fans show up.  Haley had expected a bigger turnout and blamed the lack of promotion and the wrong venue.
 
May 12, 1956 Kiel Auditorium, St. Louis, MO
 
Two sell-out shows bring 8,000 fans out.
 
May 13, 1956 Music Hall, Kansas City, MO
 
A disappointing 3,500 fans show up for tonight's show.  Haley blames poor promotion.
 
May 14, 1956 Civic Auditorium, Omaha, NE
 
A disappointing 5,400 fans attend tonight, 400 less than Haley had a few months ago by himself.  After the show, the package drove 540 miles to Denver, arriving at 9 a.m.
 
May 15, 1956 Coliseum, Denver, CO
 
A huge sell-out crowd of 9,000 fans attend as the tour enters the West.   The package head out at midnight for a laborious 850 mile drove to Dallas.  Haley's bass player Al Rex came down ill and was left behind.
 
May 16, 1956 Sportatorium, Dallas, TX
 
The package arrives in Dallas at 3 p.m. tired and beat.  Tonight's show draws 11,500 unruly and wild fans.
 
May 17, 1956 Municipal Auditorium, San Antonio, TX
 
The package arrives in San Antonio at 8:30 p.m. right at show time. Tonight's show draws 7,000 fans.
 
May 18, 1956 Civic Auditorium, Houston, TX
 
Another solid draw tonight as 9,000 fans attend tonight's show.  At 1 a.m. the package leaves for the 400 mile drive to New Orleans.
 
May 19, 1956 Loyola Fieldhouse, Loyola University, Baton Rouge, LA
 
The package arrives in New Orleans at 9:30 a.m.  There's enough time for sleep before tonight's show.  A crowd of 11,000 attended the show.  Prior to the show, Bill Haley and Fats Domino meet for the first time.  The package heads out at 1 a.m. for Birmingham.
 


May 20, 1956 Municipal Auditorium, Birmingham, AL
 
On the drive, the Comet's equipment truck turns over in Mississippi.  The truck is damaged and the drivers are injured, but not badly.   The package arrives to find pickets outside the auditorium as the White Citizen's Council had urged whites to stay away from the show.  A modest 5,000 ignore the pickets and attend the show, roughly half the crowd Haley drew last time he was in town.
 
May 21, 1956 Chatanooga, TN
 
A poor turnout as only 1,200 show up as racial tensions continue to mount.
 
May 22, 1956  Greensville, SC
 
Although two shows are scheduled, only the first show takes place with 4,000 showing up.  The second show is cancelled when a bomb is found in the hall.
 
May 23, 1956  Memorial Auditorium, Raleigh, NC
 
A strong 5,000 crowd that enjoys the show and is calm.
 
May 24, 1956  Ponce De Leon Stadium, Atlanta, GA
 
A record outdoor crowd of 10,000 fans at this show coincides with Haley's latest single release.   After the show, the package heads out for Jacksonville, 330 miles away.
 
May 25, 1956  Baseball Park, Jacksonville, FL
 
The package arrives at 8:30 a.m.   A crowd of 7,500 attend and they are calm and appreciative.   They then drive over to Tampa.
 
May 26, 1956  Ft. Hesterly Armory, Tampa, FL
 
The package arrives in Tampa at 8:30 p.m. just in time to make the show.  A total of 7,600 attend and no trouble is reported. 
 
May 27, 1956 Dinner Key Auditorium, Miami Beach, FL
 
The troupe leaves Tampa at 1 p.m. and take the scenic drive through the Everglades to Miami Beach.  They don't arrive until 9:30 p.m.  A record 14,000 attend this show.
 
May 28, 1956  Sports Arena, Savannah, GA
 
The troupe boards the railroad for Georgia.  Two shows are scheduled and 2,500 attend the first show.  However, blacks refuse to attend the second show and it is cancelled.  They leave Savannah at noon.
 
May 29, 1956 Charlotte, NC
 
A record 14,000 attend a single show tonight.  An estimated 5,000 people sent away.  The package stayed the next day in Charlotte since the next show is only  70 miles away.
 
May 30, 1956 Memorial Coliseum, Winston-Salem, NC
 
Another record crowd as 11,000 fans fill the Coliseum.
 
May 31, 1956 Township Auditorium, Columbia, SC
 
A modest 5,000 turnout tonight as the tour begins to wind down.  The package leaves town after the second show and drives to Richmond.
 
June 1, 1956 The Mosque, Richmond, VA
 
Another great turnout as 8,500 fans show up.
 
June 2, 1956 Municipal Auditorium, Norfolk, VA
 
Two sell-out shows for a total turnout of 7,000.  After the show, the troupe drives to the nation's capital.
 
June 3, 1956 National Guard Armory, Washington DC
 
Two shows with a total attendance of 11,000.  The afternoon show was calm but the evening show was unruly and wild. 
 
June 4, 1956 Syria Mosque, Pittsburgh, PA
 
Two sell-out shows and 9,000 fans see a great show. 
 
June 5, 1956 Municipal Auditorium, Charleston, WVA
 
Bad roads between Pittsburgh and Charleston means the package doesn't arrive until 7 p.m.  A good crowd of 6,000 to wind up the tour.
 


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