47 Years Ago Today: Led Zeppelin Destroys Green Lake Aqua Theater!

The weather today in 1969 was one of the first 80 degree days of late Spring in Seattle when one the greatest rock and roll bands of all time in their very musical prime laid waste to the city’s premier outdoor amphitheater, part of which remains to this day at Green Lake. 

It wasn’t Led Zeppelin’s first trip to the Jet City, they were here the day after Christmas opening for Vanilla Fudge at the Seattle Center Arena (now empty and called the Mercer Arena) while a record snowstorm raged outside, their second show on American soil. Their first album wouldn’t come out for another couple of weeks, and there were a handful of serious music fans familiar with Jimmy Page’s long studio career and work with The Yardbirds there to see them, but most were there to see The Fudge. All were blown away. The bands retreated to their hotel and Pagey and Bonzo being thoroughly English, had got to fishing from their windows, as The Edgewater Inn famously encourages, amidst a fairly raging post-show party. What came next was possibly the single most infamous bit of rock and roll debauchery ever, the “Mudshark” ( as immortalized in the Frank Zappa song) or “Red Snapper” (Probably closer to the actual fish caught) incident.

More on that in my interview with Denny Somach, author of Get The Led Out: How Led Zeppelin Became the Biggest Band in the World, in which Mark Stein of Vanilla Fudge drops the previously unknown fact the he documented it with his Super-8 movie camera, only to give the film to their tour manager never to be seen again…

By today’s second visit the headliners were Three Dog Night, but most had come to see Zeppelin. There were three other opening acts before them: Spring from Vancouver B.C., talking-blues folkie Jaime Brockett, and Seattle hippie jug band Translove Airlines. Word of mouth since December had been hugely positive, they were starting to get played on the radio, notably by KOL DJ-critic Patrick McDonald who’d seen them with Vanilla Fudge, and playing live every night since they were even better at the Green lake Aqua Theater.

Seattle’s nicest outdoor summer theater was built in 1950 at the urban lake’s South end, in time for the first-ever Seafair festival to house it’s Aqua Follies: Summertime “Swimmusicals” featuring music, synchronized swimming, dancing, comedy, and silly dives from the two 40-foot towers on either side of the stage. It had a capacity of 5600 seats, had been the site of jazz festivals, opera, plays, big name musical touring productions like Oklahoma and The King And I, even a week-long run by Bob Hope during it’s ’62 World’s Fair heyday. But then as now Seattle summer weather is…unpredictable, and the Aqua Follies folded in 1964. The Seattle Center facilities left over from the fair provided better places for large productions, and the Aqua Theater was in decline by the time the mighty Zep showed up.

The Seattle P.I. reported that only about half the crowd paid for tickets at the jam-packed theater. Many more sprawled out on the lawn surrounding the theater, climbed trees, the roof of a concession stand, hung on small flotilla of boats, canoes, rubber rafts, and air-matresses… some even treaded water in the lake. All were blown away, except apparently Heart’s Ann and Nancy Wilson, who were quite young and a bit put off by the overt sexuality of tight jeans and The Lemon Song, according to a post at the My Green Lake Website. ( Later confirmed by Nancy on KZOK)

A few weeks later, fearing serious damage from the over capacity crowd, City Inspectors did their thing, deemed the Aqua Theater unfit for public use, and ordered its demolition, but not before approving one more rock concert in August…but it was only the Grateful Dead. It was torn down shortly after, only part of the grandstands remain today, used as the Green Lake Rowing Club’s boat house.

Most of this info comes from an excellent article by longtime Seattle Rock historian Peter Blecha on the fabulous Northwest History site Historylink.org .

We do not know who owns the rights to these photos, so we can’t put them here. But the interwebs are a strange and wonderful place, and others are not as paranoid of lawsuits as us. So follow the links for images of Page, Plant, Bonzo, Jones, and maybe yourself if you were there.

There are more accounts (and the same photos) at Pinterest.

green lake aqua theater 059 47 Years Ago Today: Led Zeppelin Destroys Green Lake Aqua Theater!

I wish I’d been there, but I was 9. (Doug Cooper/Scotty Images)

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