Elvis, the Beatles, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Bob Dylan, Sammy Davis Jr., Tom Petty, Neil Diamond, Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, Kinks, Alice Cooper, Metallica, Bon Jovi, Pearl Jam – and even Lawrence Welk.
All of these performers have played the Cincinnati Gardens.
Frank Messer & Sons general contractors constructed the Gardens on 22 acres in Cincinnati’s north for a cost of $3 million. It was modeled after the popular and historic Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, Ontario. The design had no interior pillars or columns obstructing sight lines.
At the time of its opening in 1949, Cincinnati Gardens was the seventh largest indoor arena in the U.S. with a seating capacity of 11,000.
Many remember the Gardens as home of the NBA Cincinnati Royals that sported stars such as Oscar Robertson, Jerry Lucas, Sam Lacey and Nate “Tiny” Archibald. The Royals played there from 1958-1972. The Royals franchise still exists today as the Sacramento Kings.
My Number One Garden Memory
I remember Cincinnati Gardens as the site of the first big rock concert I ever attended on November 15, 1968. At the time, our small group of friends left Lucasville, Ohio, relishing the road trip to Cincy nearly as much as the opportunity to see the Jimi Hendrix Experience in concert. We attached no particular significance to the event other than we were young dudes on a mission with a unique opportunity to see what the Hendrix Experience was all about. We were young high school students and we were all about Jimi.
We had all purchased the 8-track tape of the album Are You Experienced, and we had already driven countless miles around our hometown in Southern Ohio accompanied by the unearthly sounds of "Purple Haze" and "Foxy Lady" and "Hey Joe." We had already been exposed to the footage of Monterey Pop and Jimi's famous guitar-burning ritual. And, naturally, we all had marveled at Jimi's guitar theatrics and amazing showmanship. But, this, our first true road trip together was special because it represented a rite of passage in the sense that we were 17 years-old, carefree, and entrusted to the wild spirit of rock and roll.
I remember we first stopped at a home in Cincinnati, a residence of a relative of one of our concert group. We had a good visit and headed to the Gardens. We parked and headed inside amid the large crowd. Like giddy children at an amusement park, we inhaled the sights and sounds of a major rock concert venue.We were too busy living the moment to buy souvenirs or to realize that we should savor (and preserve) the Hendrix Experience. I'm pretty sure no one took a photo or bought a program.
Hendrix at the Gardens. (By Richard Randy Chase?)
I really can't recall the set list. It wasn't that important at the time. Today, I am told, the set list included the following:
- Johnny B. Goode
- Are You Experienced?
- Stone Free
- Red House
- Foxy Lady
- I Feel Fine
- Hey Joe
- The Star Spangled Banner
- Purple Haze
The show was outstanding -- loud, heavy, and full of memorable Hendrix moments. Not one of us took drugs or acted crazy or charged the stage. We were there to see Jimi and to hear the Experience -- period. To us, Jimi was everything "groovy" and the legitimate sound of our times. Our attendance at the concert validated our "cool." We became experienced.
The concert ended and we drove back to our small hometown with some new memories rattling around our juvenile heads. Of course, once back home, our 8-track tapes became our personal soundtrack as we slid them into the players and recounted our concert experience with all our friends who didn't attend.
According to posts on JimiHendrix.com/encyclopedia, the concert was the last time that Cincinnati fans saw Jimi Hendrix live in Cincinnati before his death September 18, 1970. Jimi Hendrix died in London that day. The official cause of death was inhalation of vomit after barbiturate intoxication.
I am very saddened by the early death of Jimi Hendrix. In a way, I feel cheated of a lifetime of new music and new musical directions. Yet, I will always cherish my Cincinnati Gardens concert memories of 1968. I still listen to Jimi Hendrix and thrill to his great, innovative soul. I think I understand what this alien with a guitar was doing -- he was paving the way for so many other rock guitarists to experiment and push the boundaries of their music. I was just a young man when I saw Hendrix. I guess I'm eternally green and boyish in the memory.
"Look a golden winged ship is passing my way
And it really didn't have to stop, it just kept on going...
And so castles made of sand melt into the sea, eventually"
-Jimi Hendrix, "Castles Made of Sand"