Now Hear This: Alumni’s Greatest Hits

Lead guitarist Gary Richrath rocks Assembly Hall at a 1971 REO Speedwagon concert.
From Chances R to REO, Illinois graduates share their music memories from the rock ‘n’ roll revolution days on campus.

“When I first came to UIUC in 1969, there was a local group that played all the little local joints — bars, pizza joints, etc. We all thought they were pretty good, for a local band. Their name? REO Speedwagon.”

Bob Herlien ’73 ENG

“The best show I’ve ever seen was U2 back on Oct. 22, 1987, at Assembly Hall. This was part of U2’s ‘Joshua Tree’ tour, and U2 was just starting to get big. The energy and excitement on campus was absolutely amazing. Bono was all over campus, like he was just some regular guy, interacting with the students, including playing and singing at the Tri Delta house.”

Scott Isenhart ’90 ENG

“The Replacements in ’82 or ’83. Best of the bunch. Caught them at a pizzeria above the former White Hen Pantry on the [southeast] corner of Sixth and Green. They were touring for their bootleg cassette, which is still hiding somewhere in my parents’ attic. I had a beer at the pizzeria’s bar with Paul Westerberg, who was drunk before they played their first song!”

Julie Siegfried Risenhoover ’85 ACES

“In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s it was Talking Heads, Joan Jett and the Pretenders at [Foellinger Auditorium]. We hung out at Mabel’s for live music, where chairs were passé … just pillows man!”

James G. Graham ’81 SW, MA ’84 LIR

“How good was the music scene? Good enough to walk a mile in sub-zero weather to pick up a date, then walk another mile to the club, then dance and stay late, then repeat the long walk home. Worth it? Oh, yeah. … The local music scene in Champaign was far better than the many far more famous groups I saw at Assembly Hall – Rolling Stones, Chicago, Blood, Sweat and Tears and on and on.”Stephen Chicoine ’72 LAS

“As far as live music and venues, you cannot beat the Canopy Club in my opinion. It is just the right size with the perfect lighting to enjoy a concert. … The Canopy Club is actually my favorite venue, and I have been to numerous venues all over the country.”

Brandon Steffen ’03 BUS

“I saw Wilco live at Foellinger Auditorium. I remember that I was surprised that they were playing at Foellinger because I didn’t think of that as a music venue … only as a place where I had history class. So it was very cool to see Wilco perform at night, in the same building where I just had history class.”

Brandon Steffen ’03 BUS

“One of the funniest things I remember is hearing Steve Goodman singing an entire song praising the Assembly Hall, thinking he was there, then finding out at the end that we were in [Foellinger Auditorium]. He felt really foolish and was good at laughing at himself.”

Nancy Landeen Berendt ’78 LAS, MA ’80 (UIC)

“I recall going to a concert in about 1970 [or] ‘71 at the Assembly Hall. The warm up bands were B.B. King and Ike and Tina Turner. Then the Rolling Stones came out! Mick Jagger looked up at the shape of the Assembly Hall and said, ‘I feel like I’ve been swallowed by a giant clam.’”

Ken Bus ’72 LAS, MA ’75 LAS

“For U of I students, C-U was a local music mecca. You could hear up-and-coming talent in clubs around town for cheap.”

Mabel's on Green Street brought nationally known groups to campus.

Mabel’s on Green Street brought nationally known groups to campus.

Mark Bohrer ’77 ENG, MS ’82 ENG

“It’s amazing how many acts recorded first at Pekin, Illinois’, Golden Voice Studios. Dan Fogelberg, REO Speedwagon and Starcastle all did their first vinyl there. Thanks for sparking so many good memories.”

Mark Bohrer ’77 ENG, MS ’82 ENG

“Most disappointing concert – Grateful Dead. They were wonderful live but hated being confined to a concert with a time-limit – and we knew that going in. When the Assembly Hall power was turned off to stop the concert, both the band and the crowd hated it.”

Joyce Snodgrass Donahue ’74 LAS, MA ’76 LAS

“There were the ‘dorm window concerts.’ On a nice day, people would be out lounging around on the grass, while others were blasting their speakers out the windows. The most popular two songs were ‘Smoke on the Water’ and ‘Stairway to Heaven.’ Ah, those were the days!”

Joyce Snodgrass Donahue ’74 LAS, MA ’76 LAS

“Mabel’s was the place to go for live music right on the strip. I went there regularly with my friends to see Kool Ray and the Polaroidz and other local bands. Great place.”

Gail Schmoller Philbin ’81 LAS, MS ’83 MEDIA

“My favorite and shortest show was when Ozzy Osborne came to Champaign. He had this great Gothic stage set up. His band came out and started rocking. Soon the Oz man came out from below stage, took the mic in his hand and screeched, ‘Over the mountain.’ He then proceeded to collapse backward to the ground. His band played out the song and various roadies came out and carried Ozzy off stage. Everyone thought it was all part of the act until the lights came on, followed by an announcement that Ozzy was ill. What a great memory.”

Michael Comm ’84 BUS

“Spent lots of weekends at the Red Herring Coffee House in Urbana. Though Dan Fogelburg had already moved on, he was still considered a house favorite! REO Speedwagon played regularly in town; it seems like they were often at the Red Lion Inn in Champaign. Monday nights were dime beer night.”

Mary McCarty Lewis ’74 LAS

“Met my husband at U of I in grad school. I dragged him to the Ravi Shankar concert in 1973. Being an engineer and not into the Eastern/Indian scene, he spent most of the concert exclaiming how unbelievable the acoustics were at Krannert Hall. … We’re still married 37 years later.”

Isola Enger Metz ‘73

“Thanks for taking the time to write an article on the campus music scene! I can still look at my CD collection and remember when and where I purchased an album on campus, and the feeling of excitement as I completely immersed myself into being a heavy metal fan.” — Steve Duvall ’02 AHS
“I remember going to a Peter, Paul and Mary concert at the Assembly Hall during the time I was at Illinois. It was just after the Assembly Hall opened, and the place was packed. What I specifically remember about that concert was a statement made by Peter, or maybe it was Paul. The audience had started clapping to one of the songs they [were] singing, and he said, ‘You can’t clap because you can’t clap!’ That stopped the clapping, and it has stuck with me for the last 50 years!”

Gary Herridge ’65 ENG, MS ’66 ENG

“In ’86, I have vivid memories of seeing Journey at Assembly Hall. I wasn’t going to go to the show, but a bunch of folks from the dorm I lived at freshmen year were going and they had an extra ticket. Couple that with the fact that there were a bunch of young ladies going, and I was in!”

Mark Giltmier ’90 ENG

“Saw U2 in 1982 at [Foellinger Auditorium] when I was a senior in high school. Took my daughter to [Sports Authority Field] this last year while [she was] a senior in high school to see U2, so a complete circle.”

Steve Brown, MS ’85 ENG

“Farm Aid! Was there all day and can go on and on about that. Sun came out when [the] Beach Boys hit the stage. Mellencamp, Neil Young, Dylan, Billy Joel, Roy Orbison, Van Halen with Sammy Hagar, etc., etc.”

Steve Brown, MS ’85 ENG

“Big change in the 1980s had to be the emergence of Mabel’s as the hot place for new local bands. I was especially big on Vertebrats and Combo Audio. I produced and directed the cable documentary of the Vertebrats at Mabel’s. It was almost a compulsion – I had to do it; there was something about the band and their audience that fascinated me.”

G. David Frye ’79 ENG, MS ’85 ENG

“I am sorry to say that the current music scene does not really compare to what was happening here in the ‘70s and ‘80s. I don’t think it’s just me being an old fuddy-duddy. Truth is, there isn’t the same drive to bring interesting but not necessarily famous acts to town. Back then you had the [Illini] Union, Channing-Murray, student organizations, churches and the local bars all working to provide entertainment every weekend.”

G. David Frye ’79 ENG, MS ’85 ENG

“Being a townie from Urbana, we started the bar/music scene at a young age. … Since we were all young and bullet-proof, we bought the ticket and took the ride. … I started at the U of I in ’75 and didn’t finish until ’83, if that’s any indication of how much fun we were having.”

Eric Jackson ’83 ACES

“Fortunately, I was at Illinois in the days before rock ‘music’ became popular. That was in the 1950s, when music consisted of big bands playing danceable tunes. So I regard the music trends since then as unfortunate and not worth wasting paper and time on.”

Homer Dalbey ’52 MEDIA

“By far the best local [band] was REO Speedwagon at the Red Lion for 50 cents. Although they had not yet made it big, they blew the doors off. Don’t suppose the fire marshal would have approved the place jam-packed, but what a great time! You could fool around and do anything in the corners because no servers or bouncers could get around. But good luck getting to the bar to get a drink!”

Carl Palczewski ’75 ENG

“By far the best place to go dancing was Chances R in downtown Champaign. Didn’t matter who was there, people were always willing to dance. They started playing early and it was hopping till closing.”

Carl Palczewski ’75 ENG

“I was the music director and 6-9 p.m. DJ on WPGU from 1977 to 1980 and had the best concert experiences on campus at [Foellinger Auditorium] and Assembly Hall, at the clubs and backstage.”

Kevin Johnson ’80 MEDIA

“One of the greatest things on the music scene in the ’70s was the love affair between Illinois and Harry Chapin. He would come there two or three times a year. Most times he was doing the concert for charity. He usually did them in [Foellinger Auditorium] because the cost was less so more could go to charity.”

Max Helix ’75 ENG, MS ’76 ENG, PHD ’79 ENG

“The day of the [U2 ticket] lottery, I arrived at the Illini Union to take my place in line. The tickets were being dispensed from an office on the second floor, straight down the hall from the Alumni Association. The line, without exaggerating, ran all the way down the stairs, wrapped twice around the entire ground floor hallway of the Union, and then out the [southwest] back exit of the Union and out across the Quad.”

Jeff Abbott ’88 LAS

“I was walking down John Street on the same block as Presidential Towers, heading to dinner at my fraternity in the late afternoon around 4:45 p.m. A lone man was walking toward me, in a long trench coat with shoulder-length hair. As he [drew] nearer, I realized it was Bono. I said, ‘Hey, Bono, the concert was amazing,’ and he stopped and said, ‘Thanks, man, that really means a lot.’ I had a brief moment to share [with him] … and thanked him for including the University of Illinois on their tour stop.”

Jeff Abbott ’88 LAS

“I remember seeing Yes in 1991. I won the ticket lottery and got second-row seats. We were … able to shake some of the band members’ hands – although Steve Howe pulled away and wouldn’t shake hands. He looked at me as if I had cooties. I think he had a phobia of germs.”

Sheri Steffes Menelli ’92 LAS

“Mabel’s was the center of the universe for us back then, because of George Faber. … We students didn’t have much money, but we always found a way to buy tickets for these shows!”

John Trumbull ’83 LAS

“REO Speedwagon was huge, justifiably, since they were local. … I only went to the Rolling Stones concert at the big cement flying saucer because my boyfriend was into them. I didn’t much like [them] at the time. Love [them] now! I’d go again.”

Kathie Fagan ’72 LAS

“Kool Ray and the Polaroidz at Mabel’s! Eargasm at the Red Lion. Springsteen concert at Assembly Hall really stood out. Others were Heart, Billy Joel, REO Speedwagon and Santana. The concerts were a huge deal. There would be a lottery to determine the order in which you could purchase tickets.”

George Mocogni ’82 BUS

“A favorite memory of mine from the ‘60s was hearing the group One-Eyed Jacks, which performed locally as well as in area towns. … This group had terrific vocals and sound- system integration for their time, and I compared them to the Beach Boys in vocal quality and music arrangements.”

Bob Stiehl, MS ’77 FAA

“I was the local and live music host on WEFT 90.1 FM for eight years … and had my finger on the pulse of the local music scene, in what I consider to be the richest era of C-U’s local music history. It was during the alternative/grunge boom of the ‘90s.”

Santanu Rahman ’96 LAS, EDM ‘00

“After I started going out with the woman to whom I have now been married to for 23 years, we realized we both were at [the same] party when we both remembered the Sturgeons playing ‘Blister in the Sun.’ I guess the gods didn’t want me to meet the love of my live that night, but [I met her] a few months later.”

Tim Dickson, MS ’88 ENG

“Rock music was a big part of my life during my years at the University between 1977 and 1981, to the point [that] I still have the Assembly Hall ticket stubs and a faded, now far-too-small Styx shirt. … I still love rock as much or more than I did then. I kept many of my LPs and fortunately married someone who loves the music and the stereo equipment as much as I do.”

Carolyn Vieth Boyles' husband loves music as much as she does.

Carolyn Vieth Boyles’ husband loves music as much as she does.

Carolyn Vieth Boyles ’81 LAS

“At that time, the two best local bands were the One-Eyed Jacks and REO Speedwagon. REO Speedwagon did a killer imitation of ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ by the Stones, which always got everybody going. The One-Eyed Jacks had some great-looking girls that went everywhere with the band.”

David Berman ’71 MEDIA

“We went to Mablel’s a lot in the 1978 timeframe. I lost my hearing to George Thorogood the night that John Lennon was shot to death in New York. You should have seen that buzz move through the crowd.”

Chris Etcheson ’81 LAS

“Without a doubt, the heart and soul of the music scene [from] 1979-82 was the Vertebrats. You know how you read that everybody that was at the first Sex Pistols gig ended up starting a band or doing something interesting? That’s how the early Vertebrats shows were.”

Cynthia Voelkl ’84 LAS

“For me, it didn’t get any better than listening to Duke Tumatoe & the All-Star Frogs at the original Red Lion Inn with a pizza and pitchers of cold beer. … Duke’s repertoire of R&B, rock, blues and funk was the best that came through C-U during my time on campus.”

Scott Pickard ’72 ENG, MS ’79 ENG

“It was a great time for music in the ‘70s. I remember fondly concerts at the Assembly Hall with Chicago, Blood Sweat & Tears, Emerson, Lake & Palmer and the time Loggins & Messina showed up late … [at] about 10 p.m., with finals the next day.”

Curt Lambdin ’74 FAA

“By far, my favorite place to see bands was Mabel’s on Green Street. It was small, hot, loud and sweaty. It was the perfect place to see the up-and-coming bands. The bands were right there in your face; you could see the strings on the guitars and what kind of beer the band members were drinking. We were poor undergrads and used to pay the cover charge and sneak our own beer in to drink for the night.”

Lee D. Stromberg ’86 ACES, PHD ’91 ACES

“When R.E.M. came to C-U in [the early 1990s], they packed Assembly Hall. I was working as an usher and remember looking on … seconds before the show to watch [lead singer Michael Stipe’s] entrance. ‘This is going to be a great show,’ I said to no one in particular. A strong voice responded from behind with, ‘Yes, it is!’ and ‘Excuse me, love.’ As the stranger slinked by and bolted onstage, I realized it was [Michael Stipe], who immediately started with [‘Stand’], one of my favorites!”

Marjii Guichon Middleton ’92 BUS

“During my time on campus, the place for live music was always Mabel’s. I lived at Lando Place Apartments, right there at Sixth and Green, and all the tour buses used to park in front of my building. I had the opportunity to meet a lot of up-and-coming bands, like Soundgarden, right in front of my place. My sorority pledge mom actually met her future husband there!”

Jeanne M. Bauer ’89 LAS, MA ’91 LER

“During my senior year, I frequently went to Mabel’s to see such bands as Kool Ray and The Polaroidz, the Vertebrats and Combo Audio. We had so much fun dancing to these bands! I worked as an account executive in advertising sales for WPGU, so we often went to Mabel’s for promotions as well.”

Julie Cato Guida ’81 MEDIA

“I met my husband [as an undergraduate] and we connected because of music. There was a great band called Otis and the Elevators that played at Mabel’s. I still have their LP and play it.”

Laura Luckman Kelber ’92 LAS, MBA ‘97

“I remember seeing the Ramones and the Talking Heads at [Foellinger Auditorium], though not at the same time. What a great setting. I was up next to the speakers at the side of the stage for the Ramones. I couldn’t hear through my left ear for three days after that concert. I think all the great music I heard while at the U of I contributed to my somewhat faulty hearing these days.”

Catherine Friedman ’80 LAS, MS ’83 LIS

“First and foremost, Mabel’s was a great place … no place else like it in C-U. I saw a lot of really good local bands there, and every now and then a bigger name would play. … It was cool to pay about $6 and be in the front row for great music … man, college was great!”

Mike Casteel ’88 BUS

“I was at the original Farm -Aid concert in 1985. Got there around 11:30 a.m. and stayed until the end. What an eclectic mix of dozens of bands, from X and Lou Reed to Neil Young and Foreigner. … Twelve hours of standing [at Memorial Stadium] in damp, chilly fall weather … a lifelong memory being made with about 15 friends who stuck it out with me.”

Mike Casteel ’88 BUS

“A few buddies … and I had a band back in the day called Feigning Hypodermia. What started as a way to cut loose on the weekends turned into quite the little experience for us. … Our lyrics ranged from goofy to just plain weird, and the music, although simple, was catchy. In fact, to this day, I have [a] copy of our album on my MP3 player. … Things ended for us when our lead guitarist, Colm, died in a car wreck over Christmas break. But before we lost him, he provided the lead vocals for our most locally germane tune, ‘Champaign-Urbana Blues.’”

Jon Van Benthem ’92 FAA, MARCH ’94 FAA

“I recall an all-night charity fundraiser/concert held at Huff Gym. I believe it was put on by one of the sororities. They had done a remarkable job of attracting some pretty respectable talent. I spent the wee hours of the early morning enjoying Harry Chapin sing his ballads. Harry had a certain affinity for the University of Illinois.”

Bill Kottas ’76 BUS

“The Red Herring opened on Friday, Sept. 15, 1967. It was absolutely packed that night, and my sister was one of the first musicians to play a stage set. I didn’t play onstage until September of 1970. The place was always filled with great singer/songwriters like Dan Fogelberg, Thom Bishop, Elliott Delman, Reinwand & Hamby, Les Urban, Linn Brown and Pete Swinnerton. … It was not unusual to see 600-800 people a night at Channing-Murray Foundation, which housed the Red Herring.”

Steve Cowan ’71 LAS

“I worked at the [Red] Herring from 1970 through 1973. … During that time I co-wrote a folk opera with Steve Melshenker called ‘The Ship,’ and we formed a group by that name which included Steve Reinwand (now Billy Panda), Mark Hamby and Todd Bradshaw. Getting gigs was never difficult on campus; there were many places to play acoustic music.”

Steve Cowan ’71 LAS

“When I transferred downstate in ’57-‘59, I hung out [at] Prenz Beer Joint and the Capitol. The Capitol had jazz like Brubek on the jukebox. My favorites [were] the “Going to Chicago Blues” and ‘Caledonia, Caledonia’ by Cab Calloway. It was great hearing a place full of people yelling ‘Caldonia, Caldonia,!’”

Carlene Lotty Blumenthal ’59 LAS

“I played in a campus band called the Mankind [from] 1966-68. We played at Kam’s and at many fraternity and sorority parties. Most of us were members of Phi Kappa Tau. But I remember the One Eyed Jacks as the best on campus at that time.”

Jim Oberweis ’68 LAS

“The Red Lion was the best! It replaced the Brown Jug as the go-to Thursday night place when the Brown Jug closed. I will always remember hearing REO Speedwagon here almost every Thursday night! This was before they made it big [on] the charts and on to Hollywood. Kevin Cronin was from my neighborhood on the south side of Chicago. They also played Rolling Stones numbers, and I especially remember dancing to ‘Brown Sugar!’”

Cathy Fitzgerald ’74 LAS, MBA ‘76

“Probably the best local band during this time period was the original REO Speedwagon with Terry Luttrell. They played at venues like Crystal Lake Park, Champaign County Fairgrounds, the Illini Union West Ballroom and the Urbana Civic Center. I could see them for $2 at the Civic Center in 1971! Great live show! Sadly, they were never the same after Luttrell left the band.”

Doug Carlyle ’77 ENG

Record Service on Green Street made the latest sounds available at affordable prices.

Record Service on Green Street made the latest sounds available at affordable prices.

HOT SPOTS: C-U’s thriving music scene – then and now

Read “The School of Rock” article from the Fall 2012 Illinois Alumni magazine.