The Orlando Sports Stadium first opened in 1967 and later named after wrestler Eddie Graham was on the east side of town out in the middle of nowhere on the Econolahatchee Trail. It was a very basic indoor arena, no air conditioning, concrete floor, wood plank benches, and plywood doors on the stalls in the bathroom, if you were lucky.
I started going to Rock concerts in 1971 when I was 17 and, at the time, there were no other venues for Rock concerts in Orlando. Thinking back on it now, it’s amazing that headline acts agreed to perform in such a small, rather disgusting, venue. If you wanted a seat, you sat just a few feet above the roller rink shaped floor on two 2×4 boards that could deliver hefty splinters. The only other choice was to sit on the concrete floor in front of the stage where spilled drinks was the rule more often than the exception. Most of us tried to get to the front row where we were rewarded with music so loud pouring from the stacks that your hearing was diminished for hours and your ears rang for days. The tickets were always around $5.00-$10.00 each which was about the cost of a album at the time.
There were so many concerts and name acts that I can’t even begin to recall them all, but these are the bands / performers I saw and heard at the Orlando Sports Stadium. Three Dog Night, Led Zeppelin, Ruth Copeland, Black Sabbath, Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes, Southern Comfort, Cactus Power, Foghat, Bob Dylan with the Rolling Thunder Review, John Sebastian, Jefferson Starship, Rod Stewart and Faces, Grand Funk Railroad, Tin House, Pacific Gas & Electric Company – PG&E, Rare Earth, Edgar Winter’s White Trash. . .
The John Sebastian concert was one that will stick in my mind forever. A crowd who did not have tickets gathered outside the front and were trying to storm the gate. The manager got scared and called the police which resulted in two deaths. Police rushing to the scene heading east on Colonial ran a red light at 436 killing the two girls in the car at that intersection. Other officers arriving on the scene, decided to tear gas all of us in the arena. We remained seated trying to hear Sebastian playing his acoustic guitar as he tried to calm everyone inside as the commotion taking place at the entrance overpowered his microphone. We finally had to head for the exits when the tear gas came wafting in. Those of us who were seated on the floor, had to help a fellow in a wheel chair out since he could not go back to the entrance. Several guys lifted him in his chair from the floor to get out an exit behind the stage.
News of the event started reaching the local rock station WLOF radio. The disk jockey on the air at the time asked people who were there to come to the studio or give them a call. We did not have cell phones back then and we knew where the station was located, so we drove to WLOF to tell them what we had experienced.
Needless to say, there were no rock concerts there for a while. When the concerts finally resumed, there was no “festival seating” as they somehow blamed that as the cause. The last concert I saw there was Three Dog Night (for the second time). We were forced to go directly to our seats and were not allowed to move from our seat to take photos or dance. It was dull.
The “obituary” for the Orlando Sports Stadium was published in the November 15, 1995 edition of the Orlando Sentinel:
“Back in its day, it was the place for music lovers and sports enthusiasts. Before Walt Disney World, there was the Stadium. The Orlando Sports Stadium, once host to some of the top names in music and sports such as Elvis Presley and Muhammad Ali, slowly has been coming down in the past week. Blighted and unwanted, the historic landmark on Econlockhatchee Trail in east Orange County is being demolished to make way for single-family homes… With all the residential growth, it is difficult to have concerts there because the building is not insulated, and noise permeated through the neighborhood, Hoffman said.”
“Time took its toll on the stadium. In 1993, the Orange County Building Department closed the facility because of code violations. Steps were taken to bring it to code, but permits eventually were dropped and the land put up for sale. Grover C. ”Pete” Ashlock, an Orlando businessman, built the stadium in 1967, bringing in boxing matches, rodeo events and rock concerts… The stadium also has been host to the likes of Bill Haley and the Comets, Roy Rogers, Gladys Knight and the Pips, James Brown, Sade, Lawrence Welk, Led Zeppelin, 2 Live Crew and Jane’s Addiction…”
Listen to Charlie Hoeck and Mike Worrell reminisce about the sports stadium.