8 Things You Didn’t Know About the Concert for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
On Sept. 2, 1995, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame celebrated its official opening with a gigantic all-star concert at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. More than 60,000 people attended the show, which featured current and future Rock and Roll Hall of Famers paying tribute to legends and highlighting their own work. The Concert for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as it came to be known, was also broadcast live on HBO. Still, despite such high visibility, there are plenty of interesting tidbits about the marathon night about which you might not be aware. Here are eight things you might not have known about the Concert For the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Although the cavernous baseball and football stadium was demolished in November 1996, it was also a rock 'n' roll mecca that had previously hosted large-scale concerts by U2, the Who and the Beatles. In the '70s, it was also the site of a popular summer concert series known as the World Series of Rock, which featured nearly every major classic rock act going, including AC/DC, Aerosmith, Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones and Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band.
With such a huge concert lineup, there was bound to be some last-minute performance shuffling. Contemporary rap stars Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg were absent despite being advertised performers, as was Beach Boys legend Brian Wilson. Prince, then going by the Love Symbol, was also a no-show.
The Rock Hall had a rather nice ace in the hole to ease the pain of the cancellations: Bob Dylan, who did a five-song set that included “All Along The Watchtower,” “Highway 61 Revisited” and “Forever Young.” The latter featured none other than Bruce Springsteen as a special guest vocalist.
The Rock Hall concerts are always known for their once-in-a-lifetime pairings and performances. That was certainly the case when Jerry Lee Lewis performed “Great Balls of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” with the E Street Band, who were then taking the tentative first steps toward what would eventually lead to their permanent 1999 reunion. Either way, the Boss and his band were clearly in awe of (and deferential toward) the legend, who pounded away on the piano as he sang.
In a recent interview with the Rock Hall, E Street guitarist Nils Lofgren recalls that backing up Chuck Berry during the concert’s final all-star jam was a rather challenging (bordering on humiliating) experience. “I don’t think [Bruce and I] have ever participated in something that godawful musically since we were probably 13 or 14,” Lofgren recalls. “I didn’t even start playing until I was 14.”
Velvet Underground guitarist Sterling Morrison died of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma on Aug. 30, 1995, at the age of 53. Several days later, bandmate Lou Reed performed “Sweet Jane” at the Rock Hall concert in collaboration with Soul Asylum as a way to memorialize his bandmate. “No, I didn't attend his funeral,” Reed once told the Austin Chronicle. “I dedicated a song to him from the stage of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame -- I wanted his name to be heard on TV and to the crowds watching the show. I wanted to play ‘Sweet Jane’ for him one last time.”
The Grateful Dead frontman died about a month before the Rock Hall concert. Longtime friend and collaborator Bruce Hornsby dealt with the loss by “getting out and playing music,” he told The Daily Press in 1995. "It's the most enjoyable thing I do. And I think that's what Garcia would have wanted everybody to do. He would have wanted everybody to keep wailin'." At the Rock Hall concert, Hornsby performed a massive tribute set to the Dead's music, playing “Terrapin Station,” “Scarlet Begonias” and “Lady With a Fan” / “I Know You Rider.” As Hornsby noted in the same 1995 interview, "The reason I was there was a sad reason, so we couldn't get in but so celebratory a mood. But that said, once we were there, it was like a reunion. So many of my musician friends were there, it was a great hang."
The concert started at 7:30PM and was slated to go for six hours. And then things got behind — meaning the show ended up running until nearly 2AM, according to contemporary reviews. “For a while Saturday night, it looked like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame celebration concert at Cleveland Stadium wasn't just going to salute four decades of rock music but make us relive every minute of them,” quipped Los Angeles Times music critic Robert Hilburn.