AUGUSTA — A who’s who of the music industry have taken the stage at the Augusta Civic Center in its 50-year history.

Those landmark performances have come from a bevy of well-known artists: Eric Clapton, Kiss, Aerosmith, Alabama, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, George Jones, Phish, the Grateful Dead, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bob Dylan, Loretta Lynn, Arthur Fiedler and Boston Pops, Kenny Rogers, Tom Jones, Liberace, Alan Jackson, and Pearl Jam complete with an onstage cameo appearance by former basketball star Dennis Rodman.

But there’s only one king, Elvis Presley. Presley played there May 24, 1977, in his only Maine appearance, just a few months before his death at the age of 42 that August.

A clipping from the March 30, 1977, edition of the Kennebec Journal. Kennebec Journal archives

Elvis fans camped outside, in the rain, at the Augusta Civic Center for two nights, some of them waiting up to 54 hours to secure their place in lines that wrapped around the building to buy tickets, which sold out in less than two hours. When ticket sales started there were between 5,000 and 6,000 fans lined up to buy them, with sales capped at six tickets per person. Thousands of fans who’d waited hours in line that morning were turned away empty handed when the 7,200 tickets for the show sold out, according to newspaper accounts.

Those who attended say Elvis took the stage late, around 10:30 p.m., to screaming fans, resplendent in a white and gold jumpsuit and singing hits like “Jailhouse Rock,” “Love Me,” “Heartbreak Hotel,” “It’s Now or Never,” “Hound Dog,” and “Don’t Be Cruel.”

Among the local residents lucky enough to score tickets for Elvis were the parents of Augusta native Margaret Noel, director of the Augusta Civic Center.


A clipping from the May 25, 1977, edition of the Journal Tribune. Journal Tribune archives

“I still have my mom’s ticket; it’s framed,” Noel said of the ticket stub for Elvis’ Augusta performance.

As part of a year-long celebration of its 50 years since it opened in 1973, officials of the city-owned civic center plan to try to break the Guinness World Records record of the largest gathering of Elvis impersonators. Ideally, this will happen on the May 24 anniversary date of Elvis’ show, officials said.

They’ll need more than 895 people to dress up as Elvis and come to the civic center to break that record. Noel said that day the civic center will offer free snacks, a cash bar, and a chance to make it into the record books, if they are able to secure a visit from Guinness officials that day. If not, the record attempt may be postponed.

Noel said participants in the record attempt can dress as Elvis from any era they choose: young, old, or even his Las Vegas phase.

Concerts by major acts at the Augusta Civic Center are more rare these days, as promoters increasingly bring major acts to larger venues, if they come to Maine at all. And a variety of meetings, conventions, trade shows and other events fill most of the building’s dates each year, some 200 days are booked, making it hard to find dates for concerts.

“We’re not going to get Taylor Swift here, the way we did Elvis,” Noel said.


Commanding officer of the new USS Augusta, Cmdr. Christopher Polnaszek, and Augusta Civic Center Director Margaret Noel Director chat Feb. 2 beneath a plaque in memory of Elvis Presley in the lobby of the Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

But several events are still planned this year, including a concert by Christian rockers Casting Crowns in April, a comedy show in March, “Dueling Pianos” in April, a comedy hypnotist show in May, a culinary festival in May, and the “Boo Ball” Halloween party in October.

In 1996, the relatively small venue scored a coup.

On a Thursday night in September, Pearl Jam, feuding with the giant monopolistic ticket seller Ticketmaster and thus playing only at a few select alternative concert venues, landed at the Augusta Civic Center for the band’s first and only Maine performance. While a full moon glowed outside, Dennis Rodman, an outspoken former NBA player and a friend of the band, came onstage as the band played “Alive” to close its first set, lifting singer Eddie Vedder, still singing, up onto his shoulders and striding around the stage.

A clipping from the Sept. 27, 1996, edition of the Kennebec Journal. Kennebec Journal archives

Augusta was one of only 10 shows the band played in the United States that year, according to a 1996 city of Augusta annual report.

That same year, the 1996 city report notes, the Augusta Civic Center hosted events including: World Wide Wrestling Federation; Brooks and Dunn; Kora Temple Shrine Circus, The Air Force Band, Lipizzaner Stallions, White Zombie, Pantera, and The Army Field Band.

In addition to concerts, the building has pulled in other forms of entertainment over the years, too. In past years those have included the Kora Shrine Circus; Lipizzaner Stallions; professional wrestling tournaments; an annual, free, children’s’ Christmas party for which area businesses donated gifts for children; an annual SnoFest winter carnival; Boston Celtics’ games; and the Harlem Globetrotters.


Noel and Melanie Baillargeon, major events coordinator at the civic center, said the facility has been around long enough now that multiple generations of families recall events there fondly. Noel noted many local residents had their first job at the Civic Center, selling concessions part time. Thousands of area residents have had their graduation ceremonies there, too.

Thus the theme of the facility’s 50th anniversary year: “Moments, Milestones and Memories.”

“The community has very strong emotional ties to the civic center; this is where people do things,” Noel said. “We’re still here, and we’re still making those memories.”

Musical artist John Denver performs at the Augusta Civic Center stage on April 10, 1984. Photo courtesy of Augusta Civic Center

Nonmusical performers have included Bob Hope, Bill Cosby, George Carlin, professional wrestlers, roller derby, ice skating performers, the “Bugs Bunny Follies,” “Sesame Street Live,” Jeff Foxworthy, Larry the Cable Guy, “The Price is Right” and “Lord of the Dance.”

And the building has hosted gubernatorial inaugurations, sessions of the state Legislature, a huge variety of trade shows, the hugely popular high school basketball tournaments which are underway now, and shows featuring cars, boats, snowmobiles, campers, guns, and oddities.

“The spectrum is broad, for sure,” Baillargeon said of the variety of shows that have taken place there over the decades.

Numerous entertainers returned to perform multiple times at the auditorium, including John Denver, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, J. Geils Band, Loretta Lynn, Arthur Fiedler and Boston Pops, the Grateful Dead, Kenny Rogers, Blue Oyster Cult, Aerosmith, Conway Twitty, Beach Boys, Charlie Pride, Alabama, George Carlin, Willie Nelson, Charlie Daniels, George Jones, Tom Jones, Oak Ridge Boys, Ricky Skaggs, Steppenwolf, Charlie Daniels Band, Alan Jackson and Boston.

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