Setlist History: Major League Baseball Stadiums As Rock Venues

Major League Baseball stadiums are big, clumsy, awkward, ridiculous places to hold a concert.

Since most parks have no roof, the acoustics can be bad, and since the playing field is so long and flat, there are certainly some dead areas on "the floor" one would rather not be. And if it's still baseball season, as it is now, some teams choose to cover the infield, preventing fans from trampling across the all-important manicured grass.

And yet, if a band or an artist has reached the level of popularity where arenas simply cannot contain all the love that city has for it, and if the football stadium is way too large, the ballpark it is.

It all started with those pesky Beatles. When the Brits invaded with their first North American Tour in 1964 they booked reasonably-sized venues to make sure they could sell out their shows on their debut full tour around the colonies.

They quickly graduated to basketball arenas and even one crazy football stadium gig in Florida where Ringo had to have his drum kit nailed to the stage thanks to the 45 MPH winds.

Come 1965 though, they went for it by opening the tour at New York's Shea Stadium, home of the Mets.

Was the sound any good? Nope.

Did anyone care? Oh hell no.

But to meet demand John, Paul, George and Ringo on that tour also played on the fields of the Atlanta Braves, the Chicago White Sox, and the Minnesota Twins.

John Lennon knew it would be his last show with his mates so he brought a camera along to document their final gig at the notoriously chilly 'Stick.

The following summer they played at the homes of the Cleveland Indians, Cincinnati Reds, St. Louis Cardinals, the Mets again, the LA Dodgers, and their final full concert was held at the home of the San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park.

They knocked out their 11 songs in 29 minutes.

The setlist of the Beatles final full concert.

Speaking of Dodger Stadium, who could forget 28-year old Elton John in 1975 with his sparkling Dodger uniform posing for a sold out crowd at Chavez Ravine?

The pianist had just seen back-to-back albums debut at #1, a feat, “no one had ever done before,” he wrote in his 2019 memoir, Me. “Not Elvis, not the Beatles.”

And since the Beatles were the benchmark, he not only played Dodger Stadium, he played there on consecutive nights.

Elton played 30 songs each of those fall evenings in LA, and was sure to incorporate a pair of Beatles hits as a tip of the (bedazzled) cap.

Last year on his farewell tour, his final stop in the US was his return to Dodger Stadium.

Elton's final song in '75 was a cover of The Who, another band that became no stranger to baseball stadiums.

In 1982, The Who were planning on retiring on top.

Their album It's Hard was their 10th and, let's face it, the last that mattered. It was their last tour with Kenny Jones who had replaced the irreplaceable Keith Moon.

And to make sure the giant baseball parks like the home of the A's, Angels, Padres and Expos were filled, they had the likes of John Cougar Mellencamp, Billy Squier or The Clash open for them.

The Clash made the most of their drizzly appearance at Shea Stadium in '82.

Like The Who, The Clash were going through some things, but theirs were more serious. Despite finding huge success with their shimmering album Combat Rock with "Rock The Casbah," "Should I Stay or Should I Go" and the track M.I.A. would sample "Straight To Hell," it would be the last studio LP with the dapper duo of Mick Jones and Joe Strummer.

Both The Who and The Clash released albums from their Shea Stadium appearances.

All killer, no filler. What an incredibly packed and tight set.

In 1992, U2 brought technology, an oversized faux rockstar persona and their chart topping Achtung Baby album to arenas and baseball stadiums of the US for their Zoo TV Tour.

They even brought a telephone.

At RFK Stadium in Washington DC where a decade later the Washington Nationals would play for a few years, Bono picked up the phone to talk to George Herbert Bush who was President of the United States at the time, and living not far from the show.

When the switchboard operator refused to patch the Irishman into the most powerful man in the world, Bono, wearing sunglasses at night, greased back hair, and a shiny suit, asked if he could leave a message.

The operator sounded confused.

But Bono's message, on brand with the Zoo TV theme was simple: watch more television.

So these were all major league baseball stadiums. Have there been shows at smaller, minor league parks? Of course. Those may not have as much historical cache, but every show matters.

Elvis famously played at Seattle's Sick's Stadium on Labor Day Weekend, 1957.

Sick's was the home of the Seattle Rainiers at the time, the Triple-A affiliate of the Reds.

The King of Rock 'n Roll emerged from a dugout around 10:30pm (two hours after he was expected) to the shrieks of over 16,000 fans who had paid between $1.50 and $3 to hear him sing many of his hits.

If not for Myrna Crafoot who wrote the songs down in her diary as they were performed we might never have that setlist today. So thank you, Myrna.

Also in the crowd was 14 year-old James Marshall Hendrix, whose friends called him Jimi. He, too, was amazed by the show, so much so that several months later he drew this picture of the King.

By Jimi Hendrix

But maybe the most interesting tour that took place at a minor league baseball stadium occurred at several of them.

In 2004, Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson set off on a co-headlining tour at 22 minor league parks.

“Having produced several of Bob Dylan’s concerts in these types of venues over the years, we found that the special atmosphere of a minor league ballpark adds a unique element to his already great shows,”Jam Productions tour promoter Jerry Mickelson when it was announced.

Dylan and Willie going to these smaller towns was huge news for them.

“A complete tour of these ballparks will have fans, young and old, experiencing a great evening of music.”

It began at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, NY, home to the Baseball Hall of Fame. They played almost every night.

Aug. 6: Cooperstown, N.Y. (Doubleday Field)
Aug. 7: New Haven, Conn. (Yale Field)
Aug. 8: Brockton, Mass. (Campanelli Stadium)
Aug. 10: Wappinger Falls, N.Y. (Duchess Stadium)
Aug. 11: Altoona, Pa. (Blair County Ballpark)
Aug. 12: Aberdeen, Md. (Ripken Stadium)
Aug. 14: Salisbury, Md. (Arthur W. Perdue Stadium) [RAINED OUT]
Aug. 15: Richmond, Va. (The Diamond)
Aug. 17: Charleston, S.C. (Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Park)
Aug. 18: Sevierville, Tenn. (Smokies Stadium
Aug. 20: Jackson, Tenn. (Pringles Park)
Aug. 21: Lexington, Ky. (Applebee’s Park)
Aug. 22: South Bend, Ind. (Coveleski Stadium)
Aug. 24: Comstock Park, Mich. (Fifth-Third Ballpark)
Aug. 25: Peoria, Ill. (O’Brien Field)
Aug. 27: Madison, Wis. (Warner Park)
Aug. 28: Des Moines, Iowa (Sec Taylor Stadium)
Aug. 29: Sioux City, Iowa (Lewis & Clark Stadium)
Aug. 31: Lincoln, Neb. (Haymarket Park)
Sept. 1: Wichita (Lawrence-Dumont Stadium)
Sept. 3: Oklahoma City (SBC Bricktown Ballpark)
Sept. 4: Kansas City, Kan. (Community America Ballpark)

Willie and Bob liked it so much, they did it again in 2009 and brought along their pal John Cougar Mellencamp.

Bob Dylan gets back on the road in a few weeks as he continues his Rough and Rowdy Ways Tour in October.

First stops are in Missouri followed by Chicago and other parts of the Midwest and East.

During the first legs of the tour he played every song from his latest album except one: the only tune in his deep catalogue that went #1, "Murder Most Foul," 17-minute dredge about JFK's assassination.

Get your tickets to that tour on Bob's website.

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Last updated: 3 Oct 2023, 22:29 Etc/UTC