Cleveland, Ohio's Memorable World Series of Rock Run

Ralph DiMatteo Culture History

We have used the phrase, "If you're a native Clevelander of any length” in many a posting, but this time we need to add “and a die-hard music fan," because we will be revisiting the World Series of Rock, which ran in Cleveland from 1974 through 1980.  

The easiest thing to do to report on these amazing events would be to simply list the who’s who of artists that performed for over 80,000 music fans of all ages on any given year the shows ran, but we felt this event deserved a more personal approach.

As it was truly a memorable time for music fans, and since I myself am a lifelong Clevelander, I really did not have to look too far for first-hand accounts from friends who attended at least one of these spectacular events. What I was especially impressed with from the two friends I spoke with was their recall of even the littlest detail that made the event's memories so long-lasting.

The History of the World Series of Rock in Cleveland

So, before I get into those accounts, for those not totally or even a little familiar with the World Series of Rock, here is a brief synopsis.

The event was made a reality by Belkin Productions in partnership with WMMS, one of the most important radio stations in rock music history. Since Municipal Stadium, where the event was held, was the home to the Cleveland Indians, shows could only be scheduled when the team was out of town, for there also had to be enough time to repair the damage to the field that was caused by allowing seating on the infield/outfield grass close to the stage.

The day-long events featured 3-6 artists/bands each year. The 1974 World Series of Rock saw three events, four in 1975, and in 1976 there were no shows due to extensive field damage in 1975. Aerosmith was one of the bands scheduled to play the first show of 1976, but they cancelled when they were told fans would not be permitted on the grass close to the stage, prompting 1976 to be discarded altogether. The schedule resumed in 1977 with four shows on a protection system of outdoor carpeting over plywood.

Although it was highly anticipated each year for the impressive list of artists scheduled to perform, it was just as much known for its drunkenness, drugs, and rowdy behavior that made Cleveland Municipal Stadium apprehensive about allowing the events to take place each year.

The Downfall of the World Series of Rock

Sadly, the move towards stopping the events altogether got its biggest boost on July 28th, 1979, when violence - which included several shootings, with one fatality - and robberies of those who had waited outside of the stadium overnight for the general admission access the next day being the main targets of the mayhem. It was then that Art Modell - yes, that Art Modell, the head of the Stadium Corp. - decided that after the July 19th, 1980 show headlined by Bob Seger, there would be no more World Series of Rock events held at Municipal Stadium. 

As a footnote, the general admission ticket price for the show was $12.50. Below is a picture from one of the events sent to me by my friend Vik Beltitus, who attended the show with his brother Rob and friend Rick Kvortek.

Personal Recollections of the World Series of Rock

Now might be a good time to shift a bit towards some personal recollections shared with me by friend - and might as well be my brother-in-law - John Pelsoczi, or more affectionately known as “Ratt” to his friends.

John went to every World Series of Rock, and along with Vik (mentioned earlier) and my late brother Dave, the three of them are an absolute wealth of not only music history but the history of behind-the-scenes things that made the bands famous or even infamous. True students of music history, and my brother’s collection alone, shows a diverse knowledge and appreciation of all styles.

But back to John - he shared with me how the general admission seating worked. It was something you would have thought would have caused a stampede, but people all seemed to realize they were all there to share in and be a part of the same thing.  

There were, of course, the same issues with the old stadium restrooms as there would be for the bigger crowds at any Municipal Stadium event: long lines, poor water pressure, sinks used for purposes other than washing hands, and, of course, women using the men’s rooms because the lines were just too long to wait in for the women’s.

John was able to confirm some of the rowdy behavior as well but felt honestly that the drug use was and always has been a bit overstated - at least with what he personally witnessed - but the alcohol flowed freely to pretty much anyone regardless of whether or not they were of age to consume.

In one of my favorites of his World Series of Rock stories, it was so hot on this particular day that Cleveland firefighters were either spraying their hose from or just over the roof of the stadium to keep the crowd cooled as if in a rainstorm. John could only recall it was a year that Bob Seger performed, as he remembered that Seger came on stage in only a pair of white shorts.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this trip down memory lane and, as always, there is a lot to discover about yet another wonderful piece of musical history that cements Cleveland’s reputation as the rock 'n' roll capital of the world!

The Bands That Played at the World Series of Rock

The full lineups of the World Series of Rock are a who's who of the greatest rock bands in the world; here's just a taste of who played at these iconic shows:

  • The Beach Boys
  • Lynyrd Skynyrd
  • REO Speedwagon
  • Joe Walsh
  • James Gang
  • Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
  • The Band
  • Chicago
  • The Rolling Stones
  • Yes
  • Rod Stewart
  • Aerosmith
  • Blue Öyster Cult
  • Pink Floyd
  • Peter Frampton
  • Kansas
  • Electric Light Orchestra
  • Foreigner
  • Journey
  • Fleetwood Mac
  • The Cars
  • Thin Lizzy
  • AC/DC
  • Ted Nugent
  • Scorpions
  • Def Leppard

More Resources on Cleveland's Rock History

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