The Long Schlep From Queens to The Catskills

A personal look back at the iconic Concord’s rock & roll nights of 1970

Early Grass Roots publicity photo

When friends showed up at a regular touch football game on a Monday in, like, 1970, their passes were easy to pick off.

They didn’t have much left in the tank. Their parents let them make the trip from Queens to downtown the night before; which meant a bus to one subway and then a transfer at Grand Central to see The J. Geils Band at the Fillmore East. The Fillmore was a trip and a half from our neck of the woods. We’d passed it on the way to destroying a Manhattan Junior High School team at East River Park in a track meet. Four years later, I’d hear Peter Wolf howl, “Ain’t no excuse to take no abuse here in Syracuse!” And while my father sent me to Syracuse, he would never have sat there eating blintzes with my mother at Ratner’s next door, waiting for me, having his own good time while I rocked out at the Fillmore. He once picked me and a friend up from St. John’s’ Alumni Hall, driving my friend home after we saw Sly and The Family Stone. But I could walk to my friend’s house from ours, and St. John’s was in between. 

The Fillmore East, NYC back in the day

My family was Sternberg-centric. But my father resisted the notion of meeting up with his Florida relations down in Miami Beach for an extended President’s weekend. This was even though our uncle had a hotel and accommodations were reasonably priced. But this particular year my father got an idea from someone, perhaps one of the shoe company sales representatives whose shoes stocked our family shoe store’s shelves. There would be a rock weekend at the Concord Hotel in the Catskills. Maybe they were capitalizing on Woodstock, which was only 12.5 miles away the year before. As much as I liked Florida, the music option sounded better. By 13, I had already, essentially, pled No Contest to Columbia Records for buying Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen, John Sebastian and other LP’s albeit not the legal age to have to be responsible to pay up. But the Concord’s lineup was formidable, headlined by The Grass Roots. Livingston Taylor played the opening night and Canned Heat played the second. I think Taylor sang “Over the Rainbow” and Canned Heat played “Going Up the Country.” It was eclectic but not memorable. I remember Alive and Kicking, the band that had a hit with Tommy James’ “Tighter and Tighter.” They played all three nights, opening for each band. As opposed to us, who were there for the weekend, many people at our assigned table were there one at a timing, so to speak. They were younger, coming and going depending on the band. And this is where Alive and Kicking came into play when I spotted them on the grounds of the hotel. I told my father that they were the opening act; that the song they did was a big hit. My father, although there two nights in a row, said to Pepe Cardona, “We’ve seen you twice and you don’t tell us your name.” That made me want to run and hide because of course they said their names. My father was too preoccupied to hear it. And that night, Cardona announced to the audience that the band crossed paths someone who said they were here a few days but didn’t know our names. He emphasized that they were alive and we’d all be kicking when they were done. Good one.

The heyday of the Concord / remix by Ron Hart

I can’t testify that Livingston Taylor or Canned Heat did the songs that I mentioned, but I was in a zone when The Grass Roots were playing. I loved their songs. I would always play their music if it was on a jukebox. This was my first rock concert. This Concord show must have been after “Heaven Knows” was released. They did all of their hits. “Midnight Confessions” had been my favorite song of theirs until I heard Karla DeVito power it out at an MTV New Year’s party. After that, “Sooner or Later” took first prize for me. But the weekend was a downer in a way that, sadly, I’d experienced before and would experience again. My father made a mistake, committing to doing something because he didn’t want to do something else. The Concord wasn’t his scene after all. By the second night he asked older teenagers at our table to let me hang out with him, to babysit me. They said that they liked sitting with me, but they weren’t there to befriend me. My father would have been better off with his Sternberg-centric family in Florida. Did my father’s Midnight Confession, taking me to concerts to avoid his family, tell the world that he loved me? 

   

AUDIO: Alive and Kicking  doing the Tommy James-penned, “Tighter, Tighter”

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Billy Sternberg

Billy Sternberg graduated from Syracuse University's Newhouse School. He bought national TV commercial ad time for American Home Products. Their brands ranged from Anacin to Chef Boyardee to Black Flag Roach Motel. After that, he bought national TV time at Ogilvy & Mather for American Express, Kimberly Clark and Owens Corning Fiberglas. Because of this he was gifted many tickets to many events.

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