In 1972, it was the closest that rock 'n' roll in Augusta ever got to Woodstock ... but without the mud.
Thirty-nine years ago this month, three nationally known rock acts converged on Augusta for one day of anything but "peace, love and understanding."
Argent, Bloodrock and the Irish blues man Rory Gallagher headlined the only outdoor concert that took place at "Rock and Roll Park." The site, on Furys Ferry Road behind Warren Baptist Church, had previously been called "Rodeo Park," where equestrian events and even car races took place.
Ticket prices for the Aug. 26 event were a whopping $4.50 in advance and a wallet-busting $5.50 at the gate. Gee, I wish that I still had mine.
It was billed as a "Free-Form Concert" in the ad that ran in The Augusta Chronicle the Sunday before the show. The main promoter was Michael B. Leonard, whose company was called Cosmic Productions. You can almost smell the tie-dye.
The opening act was a group of locals whose leader eventually achieved more fame than all three of those group's combined: Steve Morse and Dixie Grit. Morse, now the lead guitarist for Deep Purple, had just graduated from high school and was about to leave for college in Miami where he and fellow Augustan Andy West formed the Dixie Dregs.
Argent, led by Zombies founder Rod Argent, were the headliners that day as its single Hold Your Head Up was a big hit at the time. Bloodrock was a one-hit wonder whose D.O.A. was a smash two years earlier but, curiously, the band did not even play its only hit that sweltering night.
Gallagher turned in the hottest set of the concert with tunes such as Messin' with the Kid and Bullfrog Blues. Gallagher (who died in 1995) and his '61 Stratocaster really impressed local guitarist Robbie Ducey, who was 21 at the time.
"Rory really 'smoked it down' and just blew everyone away with his set," recalls Ducey, a fine axman in his own right. "He was just amazing to watch and hear."
Local artist Donna Sue Whaley was 18 at the time and actually got to meet Gallagher.
"We picked Rory and his band up at Bush Field and then hung out backstage afterwards," she said. "It was very exciting as everyone knew that this concert was something very special ... and it was!"
Longtime Augusta musician and chef extraordinaire Spencer Shadden worked with promoter Leonard and John Curtis at the show. Shadden, who had just turned 15, recalls that "the area was so overgrown and took the longest time for us to clear the field and bleachers and help set up the stage."
Michael Bryan, then 17 and now an educator, agrees that the park "wasn't in very good shape."
"My good friends Billy Rossignol, Gene Gilbert and Cal Ball worked for days in the summer heat to get the field concert ready," he said. "The promoter (Leonard) gave us free tickets in exchange for our work, which was fine by us. We all just wanted to help."
Former Richmond County officer and current law student Pete Lamb was one of the rock deejays in Augusta when WFNL-AM was the city's first "progressive" music station. Lamb, then 18, said, "There was a great deal of hope that Augusta could actually be like the rest of the country as far as music festivals were concerned. We were all so very excited because more outside concerts were planned after this one."
Unfortunately, those shows never happened, and promoter Leonard blames that on overzealous law enforcement.
Bill Anderson, the Richmond County sheriff at the time, rode around in a golf cart with a TV reporter, trying to video arrests of kids caught smoking marijuana for publicity ... and undoubtedly, re-election purposes.
Leonard, who later brought numerous acts to town, including Van Halen, Heart, Jimmy Buffett and the Allman Brothers, knew that he had a serious problem on his hands.
"Bill Anderson had all of his narcs going around trying to bust people for smoking pot, which was ridiculous. I never saw anyone lighting up. He was the reason why I never promoted another show at the park," said Leonard, now 67 and retired.
Anderson was later caught selling five pounds of marijuana and was sentenced to five years in prison. Current Richmond County Sheriff Ronnie Strength told The Chronicle in 2000 that "Anderson would have still been sheriff today if he had kept his nose clean."
That was something Anderson was unable to do. In 2000, police officers seized eight video machines and $2,800 from Anderson's K&C Collectibles in Augusta.
"The police ruined what should have been a pivotal day in Augusta music history," said concert-goer Marshall Thomas. "It was obvious to all of us that Anderson and his staff were trying to make the day as uncomfortable as possible for all of us."
Leonard can laugh today about that magical day in Augusta when young rockers came together to enjoy rock 'n' roll in their own hometown.
"I was able to get all three groups for $10,000!" he said. "I don't even think that we paid Steve Morse and Dixie Grit anything as they just wanted to be a part of the show.
"If I recall correctly, we broke even on the concert. All I wanted to do was to show people that if you presented good music right and treated folks right in Augusta then they would come to the concerts."