Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom creates ‘Hall of Fame’
As part of an effort to rebrand itself and promote its history, the popular seaside music venue is now sharing its story through 13 banners that hang on the walls.
The banners were tacked up in April and each carries the name of a famous artist who entertained at the ballroom and helped transform it into a destination for big names like U2, Led Zeppelin and the late George Carlin, who holds the record for the most sellout shows during his 30 years of performing at the beach.
It’s the Ballroom’s version of a “Hall of Fame,” featuring shows that represented a significant period of change or growth over an 85-year period leading up to the year 2000.
“Some people are blown away by bands that played here,” said Andrew Herrick, the ballroom’s marketing director.
The banners are just one piece of the ballroom’s plan to create a new look and feel for the estimated 125,000 people who come through the doors of the venue each year.
They don’t necessarily highlight the best shows that have taken place there because music is subjective, Herrick said. Instead, they highlight shows that shaped the ballroom’s history, beginning with Duke Ellington, whose performance in 1936 represents the big band era and the first time a national touring act came to the area, he said.
With so many talented performers gracing the ballroom’s stage over the years, deciding on which acts to include on the banners was tough. It was even more difficult because the ballroom wanted to make sure that each banner had a specific date for the performance. Jimi Hendrix and The Who performed at the ballroom, but because their exact dates couldn’t be nailed down, they weren’t included.
“We wanted to make sure we had the dates so it was authentic,” Herrick said.
Ellington’s banner is followed by one for Louis Armstrong, who was reprimanded by then-ballroom owner John Dineen after the jazz singer removed his jacket during a performance in 1941.
Dineen made Armstrong put the jacket back on for the show, which also came at a time when “check dancing” was growing in popularity.
The arrival of Simon & Garfunkel in 1966 introduced the ballroom to rock.
“What really turned this room around was the foray into rock,” Herrick said.
While they represented a period of soft rock, Simon & Garfunkel paved the way for future rock bands like The Doors, who performed in 1967. Janis Joplin earned her banner on the ballroom wall for her performance in July 1969, which came just one month before she played at Woodstock. Herrick described Joplin as an act that was “more of the, ‘You never know what you’re going to see here.’” Led Zeppelin played the first of two shows at the ballroom a month after Joplin and defined the real rock era at the venue.
“Led Zeppelin sort of represents what this room is. Rock bands love it,” Herrick said.
Another banner features Jethro Tull, whose performance was historic in many ways and was described as a turning point for the ballroom. The show held on July 12, 1971, was booked just before the band’s album “Aqualung” took off and became a huge success. So when the band arrived in Hampton, fans began rioting as they tried to get into the ballroom. The riot prompted the National Guard to be called in and the ballroom was shut down for three years. The ballroom later reopened with comedian George Carlin, who left his mark on the ballroom over three decades.
“He represented this growth in comedy that nobody had ever thought about,” Herrick said.
“Every show we ever did with George Carlin was almost sold out.”
By 1981, U2 had made its way to the ballroom, representing the arrival of the biggest touring band in the world. Herrick said tickets to U2’s show cost just $6.25.
Following in the footsteps of Carlin, stand-up comic Jerry Seinfeld appeared at the ballroom in 1988 just before he signed his deal with NBC and became a household name with the success of the TV sitcom “Seinfeld.”
The band Phish, which came to the ballroom in 1991, also has a spot on the wall because it changed the scope of independent music.
But the show that grabbed the most attention nationally, and the one that is considered the most emotional in the ballroom’s history, was Bob Weir & RatDog on Aug. 9, 1995.
The performance by Weir, the former rhythm guitarist for the Grateful Dead, came on the same day of Jerry Garcia’s death. Media and deadheads from across the country descended on the ballroom for the show, which quickly sold out.
“The music was healing and powerful,” Herrick said.
The final banner on the wall is dedicated to Godsmack’s show in 1999. The band from Massachusetts was chosen because it represents a local band that made it big nationally, and it was the first time that the ballroom tried selling tickets online.
The ballroom hopes to add more banners to the walls in the future as its story continues.
“We’re looking at doing this for a really long time,” Herrick said.
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