Bill Graham, the producer who staged the Fourth of July rock concert in Moscow last Saturday, believes Soviet officials are eager for more of the once-discouraged Western rock ‘n’ roll--but he doesn’t see a lot of acts accepting the invitation. The problem isn’t politics, but logistics.
“I think there will be a loosening of attitudes (in the Soviet Union) because the response was tremendous to the concert,” said Graham, 56, during a phone interview Tuesday from his office in San Francisco.
“They’ve already asked me to come back, but we didn’t go over there to stage just a rock concert. This was an event to commemorate the completion of the peace walk.”
Graham, whose production credits stretch from the Fillmore rock ballrooms in the ‘60s to Philadelphia’s Live Aid concert in 1985, continued, “Don’t get me wrong: It was a glorious experience. The people were wonderful. But the logistics were a nightmare. This was by far the most difficult show we’ve ever put on.
“There is nothing there . . . in terms of what you need to stage an outdoor show . The basic ingredients simply don’t exist. The staging and roofing had to come from Budapest . . . some of the sound from London . . . a good portion of the lights from Sweden . . . three refrigerator trucks from Budapest to feed the 38 (stage) riggers that we brought in from Hungary.”
Graham, who’ll be honored here Thursday night by the Music Industry chapter of the City of Hope medical center for his humanitarian activities, said that the Soviet Peace Committee (which sponsored the concert in association with the U.S.-based International Peace Walk organization) helped “immeasurably” in staging Saturday’s massive outdoor show in Moscow.
“They helped get hotels, reduce the time it normally takes to get visas and trucks across border crosses, things like that,” he added. “Without that assistance, the time it would take to do a large show should would be prohibitive.”
Another problem facing promoters going to the Soviet Union, he said, is cost. The show expenses were approximately $650,000, which was offset by a contribution from Steve Wozniak (co-founder of Apple Computer and the US Festival sponsor( and a fee from Showtime (the pay-TV channel, which will broadcast a special on the concert later this summer).
Graham blamed most of the restrictions placed on the show on the inexperience of Soviet officials in dealing with stadium shows, not on politics or a nervousness over Western rock performers.
“The problems we went through was their fear of the unknown,” he said. “You have to understand there had never been an outdoor concert like this before and there had never been a joint American-Soviet concert.”
Among the restrictions: attendance limits that resulted in the talent lineup of James Taylor, Carlos Santana, Bonnie Raitt and the Doobie Brothers playing before thousands of empty seats in the 25,000-seat stadium.
“In our opinion, the facility (Ismailovo Stadium) could hold 40,000 people if you used the field and the (grandstand seats), but there had never been a concert on the field there and they insisted the most you could get into the stadium was 25,000. They weren’t trying to ‘keep the crowd down’ for any reason other than safety. Once the crowd was in, they saw how empty the place was . . . and realized they they could easily have let in thousands more.”
Despite the good will and cooperation, the concert was almost canceled, Graham said. It was touch-and-go as late as 5 minutes before the scheduled 4 p.m. start.
Just before the stadium doors were opened, dozens of security guards marched onto the field and formed a line at what would be the equivalent of the 50-yard marker in a U.S. football stadium. Their purpose: Keep the fans from the stage to prevent any excessive crowding.
“Again, they thought this was necessary to protect the fans,” Graham said. “They were afraid someone might get hurt rushing the stage, and they also wanted room for an ambulance in case of emergency.
“But there was no way we were going to put artists on stage and have them face an empty field. There was, in effect, a 40-foot moat between the stage and the first fans. We went back and forth . . . suggesting they put the security people behind the barrier in front of the stage, but that wasn’t acceptable. They insisted on having some space between the barrier and the guards.”
So, Graham, known throughout the concert business as a tough negotiator, finally agreed to leave space between the guards and the barrier, but only one meter (slightly more than a yard). Apparently fearing the cancellation of the concert, the Soviet officials agreed.
The next big U.S. pop-rock performer scheduled to appear in the Soviet Union is Billy Joel, who’ll be seen by an estimated 150,000 people in six indoor shows in Moscow and Leningrad begining July 26. One of the concerts will be broadcast live on Soviet television, which is believed to be the first for any Western concert there.
After two decades of staging benefits featuring rock’s greatest names, Graham said that he feels strange about being the “draw” himself at Thursday night’s City of Hope dinner at the Century Plaza. More than 800 guests are expected to attend the benefit event.
The Music Industry chapter has raised more than $6 million through these dinners over the last 15 years. Contributions for this year’s tribute dinner total more than $550,000, a record for the chapter. Comedian Robin Williams will be dinner emcee, with musical entertainment by Ry Cooder and Al Jarreau.
Attorney Don Passman, president of the chapter, said that Graham was selected as this year’s honoree because the promoter “has excelled in showing that he cares about others.
“I think that the reputation of the rock business as being self-centered, glitz and no substance is richly undeserved. This business has a very big heart when it comes to supporting charities and worthwhile causes, and Graham has been one the industry has called on for its most important occasions.”