“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?
Photographs by Suzzy Hald.