Eddie Graham Sports Stadium

Eddie Graham Sports Stadium

Created: September 19, 2008

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 2x4 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..."

Check out the AUDIO memories and IMAGES below.

Eddie Graham Sports Stadium Orlando

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finsup's picture

The Orlando Sports Stadium was owned by Pete Ashlock, I went to Jr. High with his son Alan Ashlock.  I was always really envious of Alan because his dad also owned the Moto-Cross track across the street and he had a bunch of dirt bikes that he could ride on the track anytime he wanted to, that would have been a dream come true for me at that age.  I went to very my first concert at the stadium in 1975, my older brother took me, we saw Foghat and .38 Special, what a great show for such a small venue.  I couldn't hear for the rest of the night!  The stadium then later was named the Eddie Graham Sports Complex, probably sometime in the mid to late seventies.

joinin's picture

    OMG I can't believe you remember and can describe the Sports Stadium so well.  I started going in 1970.  The first group I remember there was Pacific, Gas, and Electric..but I can't remember if I was inside or just outside listening.  I was 16 then and taking LSD alot.  I think the first group I sorta remember seeing inside was Rare Earth.

    In July of 1970, was the 2nd Atlanta Pop Fest. It's easy enough to get a list of who were there.  My fondest memory was being within a few feet of Jimi Hendrix, as we coincidentally got a motel room, next to the room where all the bands checked in to see what time they were playing, etc.  After that when we went to the Sports Stadium, we tried to continue the atmosphere we experienced at Atlanta.  Dunno if you remember the announcer Maurie (sic),  I guess he was from the radio station which was the first "underground" station in the area (not wolf, which was all we had before that). Anyway I remember him waving a sparkler around and saying over the mic: "Let's party like we did at Atlanta" or something to that effect. 

   The next group that's coming to mind, still 1970, was Grand Funk Railroad.  They were my favs at the time and I had seen them at the Atlanta Pop Fest.  They even recorded part of their Live album at Atlanta. The album sounded so bad they may have used some cuts from Orlando, not sure now.  I remember Johnny Winter playing there in 1970, and probably in '71 as I'm sure he played there more than once.  There was Jefferson Starship, Cactus, (you mentioned).  Elephant's Memory had a "hit" called Mongoose and they were there.  My memory is blurred as to which of these was in '70 or '71. 

   We didn't have much money in those days because we spent what we had, after rent, on drugs.  Once, because we were broke, some friends and I "crashed the gate" and made it in successfully to see Bob Seger.  He played there more than once I'm pretty sure.  In '71 Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes played there (you mentioned).  Had actually seen him for free some time just before then, at Stetson University in Deland.  Once during the show he was dressed as a chicken or rooster and made fowl sounds on his guitar, and jumped off one of his huge amp stacks.  He also played at the Sports Stadium another time and had a guitar duel with one of the guitarists from: maybe Cactus, I can't really remember.  Gonzo Ted "won" the duel, of course. 

   Uriah Heap played at the stadium, in either '70 or '71, as well.  In the spring of '71 was an ill-fated concert with Black Sabbath, The Edgar Winter Group (incl. Ricky Derringer).  And another fairly popular group which I can't remember.  Maybe it was Tin House.  Anyway, both Black Sabbath and Edgar were complaining about the P.A. system and only played 3 songs each.  I remember someone in one of the groups saying: "We'd like to apologize for this really shitty PA system".  Of course, it was '71 when my favorite band of all played:  Led Zeppelin.  Only time I'd ever bought tickets in advance and the caption on them was: "An evening with Led Zeppelin".  I've been trying to remember how much the tickets cost, and my memory says $6 but that is so hard to believe, i'm struggling.  My friend says they played for 2 and 1/2 hours, imagine that!  They were the only group that played that night.

joinin's picture

    I don't use illegal drugs anymore and in no way intend to justify or glorify their use.  Anyone who was at the Led Zep concert at the sports stadium in 1971, could not escape the clouds of marijuana smoke, especially near the stage.  My friend and I arrived for the zep concert at least a couple hours early, and when the doors opened we were able to get within about 20 ft from the stage.  One may remember that the stage was just a few feet high.  We were close enough to toss a couple joints on the stage while zep were playing. Only John Bonham was seen puffing one during the concert.  

   Jimmy Page was my guitar hero, but I could barely take my eyes off of Robert Plant, he was so charismatic.  At one point, during the haze he said, "this place is incredible".  It was hot, smoky, and he probably meant: "You rednecks are crazy!" 

   As stated earlier, the acoustics were terrible, and the bands so loud that sometimes one "could not hear for the rest of the night, after a show.

   The Moody Blues played the sports stadium in 1971.  They were my friend's favorite group and he had bought a dozen tickets in advance for some of his friends.  When we arrived at the Moody Blues show, my friend O.D. had passed out all of the tickets to his friends and was left without a ticket.  Fortunately, I had some cash left over and was able to buy one from a scalper in front of the stadium.  My recollection is that I paid $12 for what was probably a $6 ticket, and gave it to O.D. 

   We'd all arrived early and got pretty close to the stage.  But O.D. was nowhere to be found. The Moody's were amiable enough about the rough conditions and were sounding pretty good, I thought.  The melotron's sound seemed to agree with the metal walls. 

   I can't remember at what point in the Moody's concert, but probably early on.  All of a sudden a naked man came from the back of the stage, carrying a harmonica.  About 3 or 4 big guys, pretty sure it was the Orlando JayCee's, grabbed the guy and carried him off the stage.  The naked guy was our friend O.D.  He played harp a little and he figured he would go jam with his favorite group. He turned up unharmed and okay at the end of the show. 

   Those JayCee's were fairly tolerant.  I can never remember, and am reasonably sure their were never any uniformed police in the sports stadium prior to 1974, when the incident at the John Sebastian concert occured.

Orkinous's picture

I have fond memories of the Sports Stadium. In my preteen to early teen years I kept a scrapbook, and still have it, and in it are a bunch of ticket stubs from some of the concerts I went to there. Examples: April 3, 1970: Iron Butterfly, Crow, Blues Image, $5.00,  July 24, 1971: Southern Comfort, Deep Purple and Rod Stewart, $4.00.  Aug.31 1971: Led Zeopelin, $6.00. Dec. 16, 1972: Humble Pie and J. Geils Band, $6.00.  Feb.1,1973, Neil Young, $6.00. But I didn't keep all the stubs.

My first concert there was in 1969 when I was 14. It was my first rock concert. I was in 9th grade. Opener was Blues Image, (RIde Captain Ride) Crow, and headliner Iron Butterfly. I went with my older brother. I remember it was the first time I smelled marijuana, sweet and pungent. I remember the vibe, the feeling of unity, strangers were putting their arms around each other. My introduction to the counterculture.

I was a big Grand Funk Railroad fan, and saw them there with my girlfriend in 1970. I remember it was so loud, one piercing guitar note seemed to rip right through my head. And we were in the side bleachers, not all that close. Opening band was Bloodrock. We also saw Steppenwolf in Nov. 1970, and this time we were right up against the stage. But not much of a show from those guys. They just played. The cost (from my ticket stub) was $4.00. I have a very vivid memory of Cactus. We were all waiting for the band to come out, and instead the guitarist (Jim McCarty) comes out by himself, stands on the front edge of the stage, and just starts RIPPING into a guitar solo, to open their set. It was amazing. Also at that show was Elephants Memory, a very politically outspoken and radical band. "All Power to the People!" was the mantra they had the crowd chanting that night. My old ticket stub shows that also on the bill was Bob Seger, price was $3.00, Dec.19, 1970. I saw the Steve Miller Band there, and the Bob Seger System...I remember Bob Seger's drummer had FOUR kick drums..two on the ground, and two up in the air on stands. I saw Johnny Winter, with opening act Tin House, on July 11, 1970. Tin House was a popular local band, who had one album with Columbia Records, and I was a big fan. I remember from that concert that Floyd Radford, the Tin House guitarist, at one point hit a note, and held it, for at least two minutes. I was a budding young guitarist at the time, and didn't know what feedback was yet. So I was stunned  and amazed at how he was holding this one note for so long, just walking around the stage with this one long sustained note.

Another of my ticket stubs shows Cactus, The Amboy Dukes, and Power. May 22, 1971, price was $3.50. I believe Ted Nugent was still with the Amboy Dukes at the time, but I didn't know who he was then. Power was a local band. Another show was April 3, 1971, with Tin House, Edgar Winter, and Black Sabbath. The cost is torn off of the stub. Tin House was a great band, but broke up when Floyd Radford was invited to join Edgar Winter's White Trash, which he did.

I remember getting late to a concert, and the doors were open, so I got in free. I walked in on the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and guitarist John McLaughlin had his head thrown back, his eyes closed, and was just WAILING on that guitar. A  mesmerizing event. I missed the John Sebastian concert, although I had thought about going, and I'm glad I missed it. Riots and tear gas were not for me.

The Sports Stadium was on a dirt road, out in the middle of nowhere, as mentioned.  I remember I was walking toward the front doors for some concert and an old beat up car pulls up in front of me, with four guys inside, and the redneck driver says, "You want to buy some chocolate mescaline?" I heard it was going around at the time, so I said yeah, and paid $2 for a capsule. They then asked if I wanted to go for a ride with them to get high, and I declined, because I wanted to get in to the show. Later on at home I decided to snort the mescaline, and it was cocoa powder mixed with salt. I was then thankful that I didn't ride with them, as they probably would have beat me up and robbed me.

And then there was the Led Zepplin show....I remember at the time that they were charging more for their tickets, $6, than most other bands. I got right up front, because, as a guitarist, I wanted to check out the gear. I saw their Orange amps for the first time. I remember Robert Plant came out and said "We're going to play everything you want to hear:. And they did. They played their hearts out. This was 1971, and Led Zepplin 4 was not released yet. But they played all those songs. Since the songs had never been heard yet, they weren't familiar. But I remember the last line of that one song...."and she's buying a stairway to heaven".  And it was very very hot in there. It was August. There was no air conditioning. And the place was packed. It was so hot, and they played for so long, at one point I had to leave the front to go out and get some fresh air. It was stiffling. Jimmy Page had his cello bow, playing the guitar. And Robert Plant kept pushing the band, verbally, while they rocked hard. He'd be saying "Push, push".

I remember reading an interview years later with Peter Frampton, who recalled playing there. (He was with Humble Pie). He called the Sports Stadium "a black hole".  And that's pretty accurate. Terrible acoustics. Basically a big metal barn with no air conditioning. But I guess that's all rock and roll deserved in those early days. But look at us now. One day I drove by where it used to be, and it's a development of homes now. And I had the thought to go to the back of the development, where the Sports Stadium stage would have been, and knocking on someone's door, and saying "Did you know that in 1971 Led Zeppelin played right here in your living room?"


gildeagirl's picture

You have a great collection of tickets from concerts at the Sports Stadium! My then boyfriend - now husband - and I attended many of the same concerts. You should scan your scrap book and post it here so we can all take a walk down memory lane!

Mark's picture

Was there for many of the shows from late 1969 till around '74. I recall the Jefferson Airplane show- there ws a huge tarp hanging from the ceiling- way up there and you could tell it was full of something, but we didn't know what. Then, during the show they cut it loose and out came a thousand balsa airplane gliders! The other thing I remember from that show was that Grace seemed to not want to come out- the drummer (or A drummer, no idea if it was Joey Covington or not cause was too far back to see clearly, plus the acid...).

Best shows for me were with the Bob Seger System. They started out as backups then were frontliners- and shrtly after playing the Stadium, Mongrel came out and we were STOKED when Orlando was mentioned in Song For Rufus. Also great were Allman Brothers.

One of the strangest shows was Zappa- he whipped the crowd into a frenzy. And Nugent zip-lining to the stage. Appice's drumming when Cactus played. So many good memories- thanks for the reminders, everyone!!

Mark's picture

Regarding "The other thing I remember from that show was that Grace seemed to not want to come out- the drummer..." I meant to add the drummer came out and did some rudimentary drumming for what seemed like an hour while we waited for the show to actually start.

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