South Florida’s Rowdy Rock Palace

Gate-crashing an Aerosmith concert, 1978.
“Local Rock Audiences Need Etiquette Lesson”
“Concert audiences are getting out of hand again. It’s time for South Florida concertgoers to reflect a bit about concert etiquette if there is such a term for rock ‘n’ roll shows. One thing is certain, rock concerts, no matter what the variety – heavy metal, rap, punk, pop, reggae or other – are not two-hour havens for anarchy and rudeness to fellow spectators, performers or even the (Hollywood Sportatorium) concert hall.”
– South Florida Sun Sentinel, March 13, 1987
The Hollywood Sportatorium was South Florida’s Rowdy Rock Palace in the 1970s and 80s. Every band that mattered blew through its decrepit old doorways and concrete hallways. Built in 1969 out on the edge of nowhere, the Sporto was the best place to run wild on a Saturday night in South Florida. Get a little wasted, catch your favorite band and let the weekday fade into the swampy lowlands of the untamed Florida night.
As late as 1985, the Sportatorium was the largest indoor concert venue in the state, with a full house holding 15,500. It was located on the outer banks of dusty old Pembroke Pines, with only a two-lane dirt road in and out. From day one the Sporto was a crumbling mess. Surrounding the parking lot was a moat, which served as communal piss pot for concert goers. It was not uncommon for a car to off-road it straight into the water while a bunch of drunk rednecks relieved some beer as nature intended.
Of course the Great Florida Southern Rock bands held court: The Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet, Outlaws, Blackfoot. It was a right of passage for a young Southern Gentleman of a certain age and intention to get hip to the scene surrounding the Sporto. If you grew up in Florida, Southern Rock was part of your bloodline, the defining soundtrack to your wasted youth and the Sportatorium was where you went to commune with the brotherhood.
I’m goin’ back to the Gator Country where the wine and the women are free
– Molly Hatchet
South Florida in the 70s was Rough & Tumble, and the Sportatorium personified the wide-open, anything goes lifestyle of its dusty inhabitants. Tailgates, fireworks and general Southern Style Mayhem were natural parts of the concert experience.
The parking lot was where it all went down; pre-show brews, weed, fistfights, gate-crashing, drug busts. Just another Saturday night at the Molly Hatchet & Outlaws show. The Sporto always brought out the fringes of the Longhair Muscle Car crowd. A distinctly Southern Man who rarely wore shirts, sported homemade tattoos and drank the cheapest beer possible out of some sense of Redneck American Pride.
Can of Schlitz anyone?
Raising some hell at the Sporto was an accepted part of the ritual:
In 1980, a bunch of Ted Nugent fans rioted after cops busted some pot-smoking longhairs and threw them in a trailer. The rest of the crowd didn’t think that was cool and an hour-long standoff ensued.
A 1981 Rush concert erupted in a tear-gas dust-up as Broward County’s Finest tried to fight off a gate-crashing crowd of about 500. Bienvenue Canadiens!
Bruce Springsteen was so pissed at a 1981 show that he vowed never to return to the Sportatorium. Seems that some rough-necks had their own fireworks show…inside.
“All right, whoever threw those can come down to the front of the stage. We’ll give you your money back and throw you the fuck out of here.”
A little Ramble Tamble on the edges of the Redneck South never hurt anybody, did it?
At age 13, I went to the Hollywood Sportatorium for the first time. My first Live Rock Concert, AC/DC on the 1983 “Flick of the Switch” Tour.
Blistering loud, hell-fire blues rock from a bunch of hard-drinking bad asses from the other side of the planet. It scared me shitless, my young mind shredded by the sheer power coming off the stage. The songs were fast, the experience hot and violent. My small suburban existence was shattered and I would never be the same.

Walking through the front gate felt like going to the rodeo, or the circus. The place reeked of stale beer, parking lot dust covered the floor. Concert T’s were hanging to the left which ran about fifteen bucks. To the right was the beer stand. Schlitz on draft in a plastic cup.
A South Florida delicacy.
Through the tunnel to the seat. If your tickets were on the floor, you got a fold-out plastic chair that you stood on to get a better view of the stage. Once the concert started and the lights went down, the joints came out. In those days, they were passed the length of the row, back and forth, many times over. Poor ventilation meant a heavy fog of smoke throughout the venue and contact highs were easy to come by.
I distinctly remember pieces of the ceiling falling from the rafters, hitting me on the head. AC/DC was shaking the foundation.
Apparently, Robert Plant had a similar problem on a 1986 tour. Speaking from the stage a night after postponing a gig because heavy storms wreaked havoc with the roof, Plant said incredulously “This is the first gig I’ve ever done that was rained out inside the building.”
AC/DC destroyed the Sporto and a lot of young minds that night in 1983. The show ended with “For Those About To Rock (We Salute You).” Canons blasting from the stage. A deafening sound synced with a flood of scorching white lights blinding the audience.
What could possibly be better than this?
After that I was hooked. The hard rock indoctrination of a young South Florida boy was complete. I went to the Sportatorium every chance I could, catching shows by Genesis, Yes, DIO, Ozzy, The Firm and countless others.
The show and spectacle that was Saturday Night at the Hollywood Sportatorium went on, but only for a few more years. The old metal barn shut its doors to concerts in 1988 and was razed to the ground in 1993.
Today a supermarket stands in the footprints of one of the rowdiest concert halls ever to host a rock show.
I wonder how much a six-pack of Schlitz goes for?
Tailgate ’78.
Photographs by Suzzy Hald.
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20 Responses to South Florida’s Rowdy Rock Palace

  1. Pingback: Ain't no Fun waiting Round To Be A Millionaire » Blog Archive » South Florida's Rowdy Rock Palace |

  2. Joe Popp says:

    Great piece on FLA! The Jacksonville Coliseum was my place like this. I went to so many shows there… good memories…

  3. Pingback: Best Seat in The House |

  4. Kenny says:

    Awesome piece…Ah , the memories that place gave me…It was truly a place not to mess around in…I remember the fights inside & outside the place…Lots of everything & some people were lucky to make it out alive…

    The traffic going in was hell..I remember leaving 2 hours before a show started & still getting in when the opening act was on…It is amazing to think of what that area became..

    I remember this one time, I honestly can’t remember what show it was,a huge fight broke out on the floor during a concert…I remember seeing the police outside the venue..They weren’t coming in…People were screaming for help…I went up to one of the cops & asked why they weren’t doing anything about it…

    I still remember this cop’s answer: We take in the ones that are on the floor, not the ones who are still fighting…God the memories..

    If anyone has any pictures of the Sporto, whatever kind, i would like to see them….

  5. wilson says:

    selling acid, pot and ludes in the traffic riding our bikes from miramar. then laughing at folks getting busted for dealin in the parking time A guy driving, and much older tried to rob us, we were kids.yet folks saw us at every show peddlin bikes,peddlin dope. we had A clientele/following. I hollered, and 3 guys bailed out of the back of A 4×4 and beat his ass for us.later in NC I met one of the guys,Rick was his name.we had pockets full of cash yet we’d still jump the wall on the south side. about 15 of us would bum rush the security,they’d grab onea us and the rest would go back and fight them to get our pard,I could tell A thousand stories of the sporto and the shows.we did them all for about 5-6 years,from 14-20 until they closed it.

  6. wilson says:

    I’m gonna write A book about all the south florida times for A kid from 1959-1990.airboatin, snake and alligator huntin,concerts,sex drugs R&R.I lived through it all.

  7. justfired up says:

    been there too first concert was lynyrd skynyrd i belive it would have been oct 1977 not sure of year but it was the last tour i hitchhiked without having a ticket with my friend lisa sneaked in but my friend got caught that place was crazy drugs more drugs pot everywhere people roaming inside and out wow it was crazy i was about 14 or 15 years old a the time there will never be another place like it

  8. Denis Nerney Homestead says:

    I went to a three dog night concert there about 1972 or 3 the usual shit happened lots of drugs, lots of alcohol. I had a great time danced my ass off but as we were leaving I noticed that everybody was pissed there was allmost a riot an I said to my buddy in full hippy mode “Why do we always have to fight Why can’t we just love one another He imformed me that the band never showed up.

  9. Jose P. says:

    My first concert was at the the Sportatorium 1980 The Police with Joan Jett opening…. I was 16 years old, it my Highscholl girlfriend and a couple of friends. Great memories!

  10. Terri Belanger says:

    I grew up in Coral Springs and went to concerts at the Sporto starting in 1975. Saw almost everyone on the list. Best memories and music. I remember the Robert Plant delay and did not know about it until I got there because we had his tape in the whole way. My brothers and friends have the best stories of the best days of Rock! Miss the Sportatorium!

  11. DayleeAlice says:

    My father took me to see Bob Dylan here in January of 1974, which would have made me just a little over 6 years old at the time. I remember walking up to the venue and seeing all these people holding picket signs and chanting, “Bob’s dead. Bob shaved his head.” I only have a couple of flashes of memory of the concert itself, but I do not remember any fighting that day.

  12. David houston says:

    I was at the 81 rush show that was gassed by B.S.O , first concert for me there was KISS in 79. I’ve seen probably 60 shows there. What a piece of my Jr. high and high school years that dump was. Loved it though!

  13. flamingull says:

    Nothing like it and never will be again. In the early days there weren’t chairs. If you got there early you got to the front without stepping all over people and their stuff. If you got there late, you just pushed youself through everyone who got there early and stepped all over them and their stuff. The point was to get to the front but when you got there you could hardly even raise your arms it was so tight with people. I remember the Santana concert was so tight with people that a wave of people would start from people pushing from behind and there was nothing you could do but become part of the wave and then the wave would go the other way when people pushed back. You couldn’t even fall down if you wanted to. I saw many great concerts there. Elton John twice, Buddy Miles, Deep Purple, Spirit, Ted Nugent, Black Sabbath, Van Halen was the opening act for them and David Lee Roth mooned the crowd. Sly and the Family Stone. I remember some guy climbing up and into the rafters which was cool until he fell into the crowd. Getting there was alwasy an epic pain in the ass. The traffic only crawled, two lanes one east and one west. Sure miss those days

  14. Brad says:

    1978 – Aerosmith. Waiting in line, heard the opening act start playing. Larry Smith (RIP) and others jumped on the gate and tore it down. Everyone went it, tickets or no tickets. After a couple of songs someone threw firecrackers on stage. Steve Taylor said throw these MFers out or we are leaving. They started to play again. More firecrackers, End of show. Was still a great day. A dump, but right for the times IMHO.

  15. Kenny D says:

    My first concert there was KISS Dynasty tour! They came out of the stage floor ala Spinal Tap.
    My first true religious experience was Van Halen Fair Warning 81 82? WOW!!
    My mom worked at the bar at Hollywood Lakes down the street. She told me she saw Chuck Berry there and only 28 people showed!!!!
    That place was Amazing. Mike Oliver /Head of Security offered me a job and I said no! Why…? I just came from an Iron Maiden show and saw a Security guy get his ass handed to him!! What great memories. Mötley Crüe pranking an unknown opening act Guns n Roses by pouring flour on them from above…
    Axel stops and says “This is the most cocaine I’ve seen in my whole life!!”
    I could go on and on… Love this piece on a memorable institution I think about often..

  16. Todd D says:

    I was there in April of 1974 and saw Lynyrd Synyrd. I think April 11. I can’t remember the band that played before them. I went there from West Palm Beach. I saw the most of the original members at this time.

  17. John Goldacker says:

    Tearing up a bit, lol. Wow. Amazing….home sweet home.
    From my first major rock concert Alice Cooper’s Welcome to My Nightmare (w Suzie Quatro), to one of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s final shows 5 nights before the fatal plane crash, to the lifelong scar on my pinky from the razor blade laced barbed-wire that I got caught on going over the wall for Bob Seger 12/10/77.
    Other fave shows: Clapton/Charlie Daniels, Roger Waters, Queen/Thin Lizzy, Elton, 1st Boston tour, CSN, ZZ Top (3times), and Linda Ronstadt. Then there was “A Day For The Kids” – A Benefit Hosted by Charlie Daniels with headliners Grinderswitch. Unkowns/newcomers on the bill: Pat Travers, Molly Hatchet, and AC/DC!!

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