Vetrock began as a benefit concert that was staged at a military base near Philadelphia in May 1999. The first show was so successful that there was a second concert at the same venue the following year, as well as a few others in other parts of the country during the year 2000.
What follows is an advance story to promote the first concert and a second article which covered the event itself. The advance story for Vetrock 2000 at Willow Grove, Pa., will be added soon. There is a link below with a few photos, although more will be added when the negatives are retrieved from the archives.
Classic-rock fans are in for a treat this weekend. Bucks County Chapter 210 of the Vietnam Veterans of America is sponsoring Vetrock '99, a benefit concert at the Willow Grove Naval Air Station on Saturday to raise funds for various charities in the county, including Habitat for Humanity, D.A.R.E. educational programs, food banks, and veterans hospitals and clinics in the area.
To do so, the promoters have lined up a number of artists who were popular during the years that our country was involved in the conflict in Southeast Asia. Among the acts slated to perform at the all-day festival are John Kay & Steppenwolf; Blood, Sweat & Tears; Felix Cavaliere, formerly of the Rascals; Jay Black & the Americans; the Lovin' Spoonful; America; and the Box Tops.
Cavaliere has released a few solo albums and had a Top 40 hit with Only A Lonely Heart Sees in 1980, but he is primarily known as the voice and creative force behind the Rascals. Cavaliere and Eddie Brigati wrote most of the material for the band, which had 10 hits that reached the Top 20 in the 1960s, including Lonely Too Long, It's A Beautiful Morning and People Got To Be Free.
"It's awfully difficult for a person to spring out of a group once the public associates you with the band," said Cavaliere, who along with Brigati, Gene Cornish and Dino Danelli formed the Rascals in 1965.
"Me and Mick Jagger both had trouble doing it. Paul McCartney was probably the one who was able to do it best. I don't know if it has anything to do with the (solo) music, but I'm happy that people know me from the band. I've been doing real well in the last couple of years."
Interestingly, it was a Beatles connection that helped get the Rascals on the charts. Sid Bernstein, the group's manager, also produced the Fab Four's concert at New York's Shea Stadium in August 1965, and he splashed the ballpark's scoreboards with the message "The Rascals are coming!" Although none of the 60,000 Beatlemaniacs in attendance knew who the Rascals were, everyone found out when the band's first record was released in November of that year.
"(Beatles manager Brian) Epstein was upset about it and I don't blame him because it was free advertising but it was a good idea, and it worked," recalled Cavaliere. "A lot of people saw (the message), and a lot of people heard about it. Our first record, I Ain't Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore, reached the top twenty, and then Good Lovin' hit number one."
With its driving guitar riff, Good Lovin' was reminiscent of 1950s rock 'n' roll, but other songs embraced other styles. Groovin' had the soul that Motown artists were turning out at the time, and How Can I Be Sure? demonstrated that the Rascals could do pretty ballads as well as anybody. Cavaliere thinks that the band's diversity contributed to its success.
"Definitely," he said. "We came from the clubs (in New York) where you had to play everything to please the audience. Also, we had the good fortune to be around when the Beatles were around. The Beatles broke all of the rules. Everything that they did was different, so we could do just about anything."
The Rascals split up in 1972 but reunited for a short set at the induction ceremony when the band was enshrined in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in 1997.
Unlike other classic bands that regroup with a few replacement members, fans will see all five original Box Tops on Saturday. Although there were several personnel changes during the group's hit-making days, the starting five, who cranked out such classics as The Letter and Cry Like A Baby in 1967 and '68, respectively, reunited to record a new album, Tear Off, in 1998.
"It was pretty bizarre, considering that we all live in different parts of the country," said John Evans, who played guitar and keyboards in the Box Tops' original lineup. "(After the band split up) we all stayed involved in the music industry, and most of us kept in contact through the years.
"We all grew up in Memphis, but I'm the only one who still lives there. (Lead singer) Alex (Chilton) lives in New Orleans. (Bassist) Bill (Cunningham) is in Washington, D.C., and (drummer) Danny (Smythe) is in Chicago. (Lead guitarist) Gary (Talley) works as a session guitarist in Nashville."
The Box Tops were teenagers when their first release rocketed to the top of the charts.
"Alex was sixteen when we recorded The Letter," said Evans. "The rest of us were seventeen, eighteen and nineteen. Alex and Bill were still in high school."
Chilton's distinctive gravelly voice made him sound much older, and one explanation for it was that the band did numerous takes while taping The Letter, which made him sound raw on the record.
"I remember doing thirty-two takes," said Evans, "but Alex just had that voice. I think he was probably out all night with his girlfriend, and it was cold that day, and he was smoking two packs of Camels a day in those days. But if you heard him talk, he just talks like that."
One theory offered for the immediate success of The Letter was its timing. In 1967, the country was involved in the early stages of the Vietnam War, and for the first time, that generation had to deal with family members and friends going off to fight in a place that few had even heard of. Communication between soldiers and those at home was strictly by mail, and The Letter just might have touched a nerve in America.
"I've always thought that there were two reasons that The Letter was so successful, and that was one of them," agreed Evans. "The other thing was that the song was under two minutes long, and a lot of disc jockeys used it to squeeze in another song (during their shifts)."
It wasn't quite Woodstock, but it was pretty good. Vetrock '99, a benefit classic-rock concert sponsored by Bucks County Chapter 210 of the Vietnam Veterans of America, was a smashing success, according to the promoters, the artists and the nearly 25,000 fans who made up the throng assembled at the Willow Grove Naval Air Station for the all-day festival on May 15.
"It was a huge success," said Mike Dano, of Gross/Dano Entertainment, one of the promoters of the event.
"It was wonderful," said Robyn Bates, the executive director of Vetrock '99. "For a first-time event, I think it was astounding that we were able to pull this off."
Unlike Woodstock, where organizers were unprepared for a crowd of nearly a half-million people at the 1969 rock festival, which was marred by storms and shortages of food and medical supplies, Vetrock '99 went off without a hitch. The weather was fabulous, and the crowd-control measures and food and water supplies were more than adequate.
"We had a lot of help from the Navy," said Bates. "We started (organizing) this last May. We sat down with Navy (representatives) in September, and they worked with us monthly, weekly and sometimes daily until we got everything worked out."
While the fans were more interested in the performers, military officials apparently were more than willing to lend a hand to Bucks County Chapter 210, which has a long history of service to its community. The beneficiaries of the concert included Habitat for Humanity, D.A.R.E. educational programs, food banks and veterans hospitals and clinics in the area.
Both the crowd and the artists represented a slice of life from the Vietnam era. The bulk of the audience were 40- and 50-somethings with their families, although there were plenty of youngsters on hand, and several of the artists acknowledged their ties to the war in Indochina.
Jay Black, of Jay & the Americans, told the audience that he went to Fort Bragg, N.C., on a regular basis in the 1960s to entertain troops before they were dispatched to Southeast Asia.
John Kay, of Steppenwolf, recalled a concert performance in Honolulu, Hawaii, around the same time.
"Mixed in the audience with all of the Hawaiian kids with their long hair were a few guys with no hair at all," Kay said. "It turns out they were (soldiers on leave) from Vietnam. They told me after the show that they listened to our music in Vietnam and how much it meant to them just to have something to remind them of home."
In addition to Kay and Black, other acts who appeared were David Clayton-Thomas with Blood, Sweat & Tears; Felix Cavaliere, formerly of the Rascals; Al Jardine of the Beach Boys; America; the Lovin' Spoonful; War; the Animals; the Box Tops; and the Dovells.
The afternoon did not pass without incident. While Blood, Sweat & Tears was performing God Bless the Child, a man went into convulsions in front of the stage. Fortunately, a medical crew was able to get to him almost immediately, and Clayton-Thomas calmed the crowd down.
"Stand back, folks, so these guys can do their work," Clayton-Thomas pleaded. "The poor guy probably had too much sun."
When one of the medical technicians signaled for the band to continue, Clayton-Thomas declined, saying, "That's all right. We'll wait. What you're doing is far more important."
The unidentified man was taken to a hospital, treated and released, according to Dano.
"I think it had something to do with the heat," he said. "Initially, it looked like (the man) was having a heart attack, but it turned out to be heat stroke."
The crowd estimates varied during the day. Stage announcers usually quoted figures around 18,000.
"Whenever I looked, I thought that there were only about eighteen-thousand (people), but it was very deceiving to just look at the crowd," said Dano. "Some people came in the morning to see the early acts and ended up leaving because, I guess, they had other things to do, and then more people arrived later.
"Our advance sales through Ticketmaster were fifteen-thousand, but the Vietnam vets and the people from Habitat (for Humanity) also sold tickets, so we ended up with well over twenty-four thousand."
If you missed it, you'll get another chance. The concert was such a success that there are plans to make it an annual affair.
"The base commander (Capt. Thomas Nagelin) has approached us with a five-year contract, so we have to sit down with him and talk about it," said Dano. "We were also approached by representatives from the (Vietnam Veterans of America) office in Washington, D.C., to talk about doing this all over the country."
And while there were video crews all over the place, it's not likely that you'll find the tape at a local outlet anytime soon.
"I don't think we're going to market (the video)," said Bates. "We're probably going to use it to sell the concept to other places around the country so that we can continue to raise money for the causes."
There are plenty of Web sites for the many artists who appeared at the Vetrock concerts. I recommend the two artists who were kind enough to grant interviews for the story to promote the first show. Click for Felix Cavaliere or the Box Tops.