By Dianne Ballon
Fifteen hundred kids showed up.
On a cold February night in 1970, the Junior Class at Burlington High School arranged with deejay Ron Robin from WMEX, a rock concert, featuring The Grass Roots at our high school gym. This was the era when rock music ruled the airwaves. We were 16 years old.
What I remember most is collecting money for the tickets. I was the class treasurer. Everyone wanted to come. Ticket requests arrived via postal mail, straight to the high school office. Every day Mrs. Tintle handed me a huge stack of mail. I’d sit at the back of the office and open envelope after envelope from every kid on the planet!
Hundreds of envelopes poured in, and that’s when the adults started to get nervous. It soon became clear that this was not an ordinary high school dance. The soar in ticket sales caught the attention of the fire department regarding the capacity of the gym, and because of the numbers, the need for extra security was added to the list.
The line up was chosen by Ron Robin from WMEX Radio. He brought nationally known L.A. based recording artists The Grass Roots to play at our high school gym. The Grass Roots 1967 and 1968 hits Let’s Live for Today and Midnight Confessions hit the top ten.
Also billed to play that night, was the lesser known Beacon Street Union. The Beacon Street Union, made up of Boston University students, recorded with MGM records, but never quite made it nationally. Another band playing in the line up that night was Boston-based Sugar Creek. One of the band members, Jonathan Edwards, would soon leave Sugar Creek and make it on his own as a recording artist, with his first 1971 hit, Sunshine.
Also scheduled to play were The Undertakers, a local Burlington band who won the high school’s “Battle of the Bands.”
Our class sponsored many school dances including “The Battle of the Bands” where 8 or 10 local bands competed to win. I usually worked on collecting tickets or helping to clean up. At the end of the night, there would always be one or two broken drumsticks lying around, and that’s when I started collecting drumsticks. I’d write the name of the band and the date on the drumstick and bring it home.
The night of the big concert, I added a Grass Roots drumstick to my collection. In retrospect, I should have had it signed. By the time I reached college, the novelty wore off, and the drumsticks were nowhere to be found.
We received a lot of press for the success of the concert. One headline from the Woburn Daily Times, published on page two, read: “Police Chief Praises Conduct— Rock Concert Termed ‘Complete Success.’”
“A rock concert held in Burlington high school gymnasium last night, sponsored by the junior class and featuring the nationally known ‘Grass Roots,’ proved a complete success and was highly praised today by Police Chief Edward C. McCafferty.
“Chief McCafferty, noting that some 1,500 youths filled the gymnasium at all times, while others came and left, stated that he was extremely pleased by the conduct of the concert fans. The Chief stressed that his officers had not been confronted with any disturbances and highly praised the administration of the concert by the junior class.
“The interior of the gym was set with three stages, one at either end and one between the seats on the side, providing a constant change of action as one group finished and another began. The seats were filled throughout, although not always by the same people… with youths filing back and forth between refreshment tables outside and the gym floor, where clusters of people were either dancing or watching the group that was playing.”
I asked my sister’s friends, from the Class of 1970, what they remembered. Patty (Peitzsch) Sasso who called my Mom “Mrs. B.” recalls, “I actually do remember this concert clearly – one of the very few high school memories I have. This may have been the time Mrs. B., Mrs. Piantedosi, and Mrs. Gilbert all chaperoned and embarrassed us by dancing alone and with each other.”
Upon further inquiry into the recess of memory, Aleta (Piantedosi) Devaney said, “Not sure if our Moms chaperoned this— they chaperoned a summer dance at Pine Glen with Mr. Hatch. Do you remember Jackie?”
My sister Jackie replied: “Me and Aleta spent the dance in the ladies room because Mama and Mrs. Piantedosi were doing the jitterbug after specifically being asked by us not to dance!”
David Hatch, our class advisor, whom I still call Mr. Hatch, set the chaperone record straight for The Grass Roots concert. He remembers his brother and sister-in-law came all the way from Manchester, New Hampshire, to help out as chaperones.
Another news clipping entitled, “The People Behind the Scenes,” includes Class President Michael Cunningham, Vice-President Tommy Young and me standing with Ron Robin and Mr. Hatch. What I like about the photo is that we were standing in a science classroom. Lined up on the shelves behind us are glass jars containing who knows what…. illustrating just how young we were. We were still learning.
I reached Ron Robin, who is still in broadcasting. Ron is current owner of 102.3 The Dunes, a Classic Hits format FM station out of Truro serving most of Cape Cod. I asked Ron if it was common for a small high school gym out in the suburbs to have such a national act at the height of the pop/rock scene.
Ron Robin: “Thanks for bringing back some great memories! Back in the day, it was not common for high schools to bring in rock concerts. What I remember was that someone at the high school contacted me about doing some sort of benefit. I don’t remember what it was for but it was for a Burlington High School club or organization.“
I was music director as well as DJ at WMEX and had contact with a lot of groups who were looking to promote themselves and their music. Fellow DJ and friend Bud Ballou and I were given the opportunity to hire the Grassroots [sic] and this opportunity seemed to be a good fit for Burlington High. So we hired the group and offered it to the school.”
Ron and WMEX would make a similar arrangement in 1973, bringing Aerosmith to Beverly High School to benefit the student council. He remembered the Aerosmith tickets selling at $2.50 and asked if I remembered what we charged per ticket.
Added to our gross earnings was a percentage from the refreshment sales, which was handled by the Sophomore Class of 1972. Doing the math, the tickets for The Grass Roots concert sold at $4.00 a piece. That price would be unheard of today, but it was a lot of money in those days, when a gallon of regular gas sold for 36 cents per gallon and a loaf of bread sold for 36 cents. Ron Robin’s closing comment summed it up best when he said, “Yikes! That’s almost 50 years ago!”
After the concert, I tucked all the news clippings into my yearbook. When cleaning out my parent’s house, some fifty years later, I found more from that incredible night. A letter from the school board, signed by superintendent Dr. Dunseith, was sent to each junior class officer, congratulating us on the success of the concert. I love the line: “Members of the school committee were elated over the fact that a large number of teen- age individuals could come together in a highly emotional activity and still have major control of the total situation.”
I found a tally sheet written in my hand doing the math, figuring out the total amount we collected in ticket sales. The sum of $6,160.45 was collected and a surprising 80 percent was paid to WMEX/Ron Robin. This left our class, after expenses, with a profit of $1,058.29.
On the back of a yellowed “Teacher Attendance Sheet,” I found a handwritten receipt from Ron Robin for the $1,500 we paid him up front.
And, then I found the original signed contract on WMEX letterhead: “The New WMEX marks the SPOT!” The contract, typed on a manual typewriter, all in uppercase, states:
“THIS IS AN AGREEMENT BETWEEN WMEX RADIO ANNOUNCER RON ROBIN AND BURLINGTON HIGH SCHOOL. RON ROBIN AGREES TO ACT AS M.C. FOR A CONCERT AT BURLINGTON HIGH SCHOOL ON TUESDAY EVENING FEBRUARY 17, 1970 BETWEEN 8 & 11 PM AND WILL ARRANGE FOR HIRING THE MAIN ACT WHICH WILL BE DUNHILL RECORDING ARTISTS “THE GRASSROOTS” [sic] PLUS AT LEAST TWO OTHER ACTS. THE GRASSROOTS [sic] WILL PERFORM FOR EITHER ONE 60 MINUTE SET OR TWO THIRTY MINUTE SETS, THE DECISION TO BE MADE BY MUTUAL AGREEMENT.”
And so, on February 17, 1970, a Tuesday night, fifteen hundred kids attended a rock concert in our high school gym. The Grass Roots played a 60-minute set from 10-11 pm. Now where’s that broken drumstick?