LEWISTON — In the spring of 1958, “a tall, skinny youth in buckskin shoes, tight-fitting Ivy-League trousers and a tastefully fitted sports coat” took the stage at the Lewiston Armory and sang some of the biggest hits in the nation from his debut album, including “That’ll Be the Day” and “Peggy Sue.”

Publicity photo of Buddy Holly

Buddy Holly Brunswick Records

The Lewiston Evening Journal said the singer, whom it misidentified as Billy Holly, praised the 5,000 young people who’d gathered to watch as “a good crowd, not at all rowdy.”

It was the first real rock ‘n’ roll show to hit town, featuring a lineup of stars that included Danny and the Juniors, Frankie Lymon, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry and, of course, Buddy Holly and the Crickets.

It may have been the first major rock show in Lewiston, but it was far from the last. For a small city in a thinly populated state, Lewiston has hosted an amazing array of acts over the years.

Among the rock ‘n’ roll legends who have taken the stage in Lewiston are Jimi Hendrix, Queen, Bruce Springsteen, Aerosmith and the Grateful Dead. Some, like Bob Dylan and Chuck Berry, appeared in the city more than once.

Dylan, a songwriter so revered that he won a Nobel Prize for his words, played in Lewiston three times: in 2000, 2008 and 2013.


“They weren’t coming here as has-beens. They were coming at the height of their careers,” said Ford Reiche, who wrote a book about the rock scene in southern Maine.

All told, at least 23 inductees into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame performed in Lewiston in the half century following the Armory show in 1958.

Ford Reiche holds his book, “A Long, Long Time Ago Major Rock and Roll Concerts in Southern Maine, 1955-1977,” last month in Lewiston. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Reiche said Lewiston had a couple of things going for it: “a very strong cultural proclivity for music” due largely to the Franco-American community and the nearby Maine Turnpike that made it possible for people from Kittery to Orono to get to concerts easily.

As a result, national tours by the hottest bands would often hit “all the big places” like New York City and Chicago, “plus Maine,” Reiche said.

Until the opening of the Cumberland County Civic Center in 1977, Lewiston had two of the largest venues in the state: its armory on Central Avenue and a building called the The Colisée today, which has been known in various incarnations in the past as the Androscoggin Bank Colisée, Central Maine Youth Center, Central Maine Civic Center and Lewiston Colisee.

Before the city cracked down on allowable numbers, they could each hold crowds exceeding 5,000 people, more than anywhere in Portland during the first quarter century of the rock ‘n’ roll era.


Rock ‘n’ roll roots

At the dawn of the rock ‘n’ roll era, the Lewiston Evening Journal sent “an inquiring reporter” out to talk to young people in the community to find out what teenagers thought about the new music — and whether it was forced on them somehow.

Claire Bolduc, a junior at Lewiston High School, said the bumps and grinds of rockers like Elvis Presley might excite audiences in bigger cities, but students in places like Lewiston who had the “right parental training” could handle it. Besides, she said, rock ‘n’ roll was just a fad and likely to be replaced soon with calypso music.

Felice Blair, a senior at St. Dominic Academy, liked rock ‘n’ roll, but preferred a “clean-cut American singer, with manners” like Pat Boone rather than Elvis Presley, “who does not seem to realize how his singing and acting affect the young crowd.”

Danni Levesque, a freshman at St. Dominic’s, said “vivacious, young people” like the fast pace of the music for dancing and listening. “Rock ‘n’ roll is here to stay,” Levesque insisted.

Judy Shaw, an Edward Little High School sophomore, sought music she could understand, unlike Presley’s “Hound Dog,” which she found “almost senseless.”

A sophomore at Lewiston High, Connie Germain, had no qualms about the new music.


“Man, I dig it the most, to say the least!” Germain said. She liked its “terrific beat” and “superb rhythm.”

“Though singers come and go,” German said, rock was going places.

The first big rock concert in Lewiston

When the house lights dimmed early in the evening at the Lewiston Armory on Monday, May 5, 1958, the city began rocking.

A 1958 newspaper advertisement for Alan Freed’s “The Big Beat” concert to be held at the Lewiston Armory, featuring Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly and the Crickets and other rock stars of the era. Portland Press Herald

Alan Freed’s “The Big Beat” had come to town. Tickets were $2.50, one paper said, and somewhere between 4,000 and 8,000 people crammed into the building to watch.

The traveling show included many of the top rockers of the era, from Danny and the Juniors to Jerry Lee Lewis. Freed, a deejay, didn’t make the show because he was busy dealing with legal problems elsewhere.

It isn’t clear who played first or in what order they followed one another.


The Lewiston Daily Sun mentioned that the show started 45 minutes late, about 8:15 p.m., because some equipment, including drums, never made it to Lewiston following a show in Montreal the night before. They apparently managed to borrow drums from a local band so the show could go on with the appropriate beat.

All that’s known for sure about the show itself is that in the closing minutes, Lewis was “pulsatin’ the ivories” on the piano, the Sun said. Somebody playing a guitar managed to perform a split “on the dusty stage floor” without missing a chord, the Journal added.

The stories in the Sun and Journal both focused on crowd behavior rather than what went on in the spotlight.

The Journal mentioned one girl who left because she didn’t want to be associated with rock ‘n’ roll any longer. She supposedly threw out her records when she got home.

But most of the crowd whooped and hollered and clapped without posing any problems for the 14 police officers on duty. They made only one arrest, of a young man who tried to get up close to the stage. Struggling to get the unnamed youngster out of the concert, Patrolman Arthur Ferguson broke his watch and lost his hat.

City government never embraced rock

One persistent them through the many years of rock ‘n’ roll in Lewiston is that authorities were always dubious.


They worried about riots, drugs and mayhem.

And every now and then, they found a little evidence to bolster their fears.

Poster for the Queen concert in 1975 in Lewiston City of Lewiston

After the Queen concert in 1975, for instance, Mayor John Orestis said, “We don’t have these problems with other dances — Lawrence Welk-type dances where laws are obeyed.”

Among the complaints cited by police after the Freddie Mercury-led band’s concert were: “A couple observed having sexual intercourse in a phone booth,” almost $2,000 worth of windows broken, bottles and snowballs thrown at officers and the necessity of rescuing someone stuck in a basketball hoop, according to a Lewiston Daily Sun account.

The city promptly decided to limit future concert attendance to 1,500 instead of the 4,500 authorized before the Queen concert. But officials soon reversed course when a municipal lawyer told councilors they couldn’t set arbitrary standards.

The city, though, remained so worked up about the issue that Lewiston at one point in the 1970s had an official Rock Concert Committee. It wasn’t put in place to encourage more concerts, of course. It aimed instead at seeking to regulate fans.


One consequence of the near-constant fretting about audiences going wild is that newspaper coverage of concerts through the decades was either nonexistent or focused almost entirely on crowd control.

There is a whole lot more information in the Lewiston dailies about how many police officers were on hand for any given show than there was about the performers on stage.

There’s probably a lesson in there for journalists today.

Rocking ‘n’ rolling in Lewiston

City Hall wasn’t always an obstacle.

Program from the 1965 “Shindig!” tour that played May 11 at the Lewiston Armory. It drew as many as 2,500 fans to hear Gerry and the Pacemakers and other hot groups of the day. Private collection

In 1961, the Fireballs, a reasonably hot group at the time, played a 99-cents-a-person concert in the auditorium at City Hall.

Will Anderson, who wrote a history of rock in Maine, said it didn’t work out too well. Only 10 fans showed up.


In 1965, a tour connected to the ABC television show “Shindig!” arrived at the Armory with Gerry and the Pacemakers as the main attraction — not quite on the level of The Rolling Stones, who appeared shortly afterward. The show also brought to Maine stars Shirley Ellis, the Dixie Cups and more.

Promoter Abe Ford from Boston moaned to the Journal that he’d “dropped a bundle” on the show and pulled in too few fans to make it worthwhile. Police said about 2,500 fans showed up, but Ford pegged attendance at just 1,000 and insisted he’d never book the place again.

Whether or not Ford ever backtracked, others were happy to give Lewiston another chance.

Jimi Hendrix was among the acts booked in the years that followed, offering fans at the Armory in 1968 a show that included “Foxy Lady,” “Purple Haze” and a rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” that became famous when he played it a year later at Woodstock.

Ad for Jimi Hendrix in 1968.  The Bates Student

An editor of The Times Record in Brunswick somehow landed in the middle of a crowd of 5,000 that he estimated contained no more than a half dozen people over the age of 21.

He called Hendrix’s music mind-bending and ear-shattering that “has caught all the excitement of this psychedelic age.”


Bruce Roberts wrote about the concert for the Portland Evening Express.

“Hendrix played his electric guitar with his teeth,” Roberts said, “finally smashing it against an amplifier and then ripping out the strings and throwing them to the well-aroused crowd.”

All around were young fans with mod clothes and long hair who seemed receptive when Hendrix mentioned “how groovy it would be if people could march down the street with electric guitars,” Roberts said.

An amazing decade

Lewiston had a thriving local rock scene as well. Forde said there were “a lot of local bands” in the city, with frequent dances and enough talent that some of the groups got attention well beyond the city.

One of the local bands, Terry and the Telstars, even landed a recording deal. It opened for Hendrix that night in Lewiston.

All those groups, and the scene surrounding them, helped create a garage band vibe that caught fire among young people in the area and helped spur attendance at a growing number of major rock ‘n’ roll shows.


In some ways, the appearance of Jimi Hendrix marked an astonishing flush period for rock ‘n’ roll in Lewiston that extended until at least Bruce Springsteen’s show at the Central Maine Youth Center in 1977, which came shortly before a new venue in Portland offered space for bigger audiences than anyplace in Lewiston.

Commander Cody & his Lost Planet Airmen poster from 1974.  Private collection

Between Hendrix and The Boss, Lewiston hosted shows by B.B. King, Queen, Aerosmith, ZZ Top and many others by name-brand bands.

In 1974 alone, the lineup of concerts in Lewiston included Aerosmith, REO Speedwagon, Chuck Berry, Hot Tuna, Jesse Colin Young, Commander Cody & his Lost Planet Airmen, Procol Harum, Raspberries, ZZ Top, Brownsville Station and The Stampeders.

A 1974 newspaper ad touting the upcoming show at the Lewiston Armory by Procol Harum. Lewiston Daily Sun

The Armory was the site of most shows until Queen came along in 1975 and drew a crowd so rowdy that police officers were hurt and the building trashed.

Fortunately for rock fans, B.C. Cloutier cut a deal with the Franciscan Fathers to use the Central Maine Youth Center, according to Reiche’s book. The Franciscans got 10% of the ticket sales, he said.

Cloutier said the place had fixed seating for 2,300 but when they put plywood over the ice and set up folding chairs, they could squeeze in 6,500, he recalled, “larger than anything else in southern Maine.”


That opened the door for acts such as Peter Frampton — shortly before he released “Frampton Comes Alive!” which shattered sales records for a live album — Boston, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Cheap Trick and Springsteen.

Cloutier told Reiche that when Springsteen’s manager saw the “smelly locker room” that was supposed to serve as a dressing room for the band, “he had a cow. We ran out to get paint for the walls, curtains and a braided rug for the floor.”

But the concert itself? It was terrific. A fellow named Joe Maloney recorded it so people can still hear it today.

A reviewer for Sweet Potato said that despite the cold outside, and the freezing feet of everyone on the floor inside, people couldn’t believe seeing Springsteen falling off the stage into the audience, walking up the aisles and shouting, “Are you alive?” at the crowd.

“Was it the best concert I’ve ever seen?” the reviewer asked. “Probably.”

And it happened right in the heart of Lewiston.


Maybe, too, there really was something about Lewiston that tied it to the music.

As Springsteen once said, “You’ve always got to remember, rock ‘n’ roll’s never been about giving up. For me, for a lot of kids, it was a totally positive force … not optimistic all the time, but positive. It was never — never — about surrender.”


Note: Ford Reiche’s admirable new book on Southern Maine’s rock ‘n’ roll concerts, titled “A Long, Long Time Ago,” is available on Amazon and some area booksellers. Its list price is $30 for an oversized paperback chock full of photographs and stories.

Ford Reiche’s book, “A Long, Long Time Ago Major Rock and Roll Concerts in Southern Maine, 1955-1977.” Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

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