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Pine Knob's greatest hits: 10 classic shows in 50 years of concerts


Pine Knob has hosted too many great shows to list over its 50 years as the area's top amphitheater, but here are 10 that stand out.

Happy birthday to Pine Knob, which turns 50 this year (the old hill doesn't look a day over 30!), and begins to blow the candles out on its cake on Friday with a season-opening concert from pop-rock trio AJR.

It's the kickoff to a packed summer season that sees the venue playing host to plenty of veterans (Chicago will play its venue-leading 82nd show on July 26, the Doobie Brothers will ring in July 4th with the group's 60th Pine Knob show) as well as a handful of newbies (Halsey plays their first show there on May 29, and it's also AJR's first time at the Clarkston amphitheater). 

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Of the thousands of concerts staged at the venue over the years, many stand out, and all have stories to tell. Some are personal — everyone remembers their first show at the Knob — and others are shared, but all involve that sacred Michigan summertime ritual of concerts in the open air. (As long as they end before 11 p.m., because after that, the fines start to accrue to the tune of $1,000 per minute.) 

We can't tell all of Pine Knob's stories or talk about all its concerts, but here are 10 shows that stand out among the crowd. And if you have some of your own stories to share about the venue, drop it in an email to the address listed at the bottom of this article, and maybe we'll use it in a future story.   

David Cassidy, June 25, 1972

Pine Knob's opening concert was a 3 p.m. Sunday engagement with teen idol David Cassidy, age 22 at the time, who played for a crowd of 6,000 excited worshippers; tickets were $7 and $5 for pavilion and $2.50 for lawn. Crews were still putting the finishing touches on the venue right up until showtime, after working triple shifts in the week leading up to the show. Cassidy hit the stage an hour late, due to a delayed flight out of Newark, but that didn't bother the throngs of fans, who "came stampeding down the aisles, trampling fellow fanatics and security guards, to get a better look and ultimately touch" the "Partridge Family" star, The News wrote at the time. Fans are fans, then and now; swap out the instamatic cameras of yesterday for Instagram today, and not much has changed.  

Dolly Parton, Aug. 28, 1978

When Dolly headlined Pine Knob in 1978 she was 32 years old and already 20 albums into her career. She kicked off the Monday night show, which featured opener Eddie Rabbit, with "(Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher and Higher," her hit cover of Jackie Wilson's original which was released a year prior, and blazed through a steady set that included hits such as "Coat of Many Colors" and "It's All Wrong, But It's All Right." If some audience members were there just to ogle Parton — a Detroit News review notes male audience members who watched the show through binoculars — Parton already knew how to quiet them; when one attendee yelled out, "Dolly, I love you!" she shot back, "Papa? I thought I told you to wait in the trailer." Then as in now, Dolly gets the last laugh. 

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Diana Ross, July 25, 1980

The Motown legend kicked off her four-night run at the venue — lawn tickets were just $10 — with a showstopper "awash in Busby Berkley extravagance and glitzy Las Vegas spectacle," The News noted at the time. Ms. Ross, 36 years old and 10 years removed from the breakup of the Supremes, was touring behind her recent "Diana," produced by Chic's Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, and she soared throughout the hourlong performance. In order to beat the notorious traffic snarls coming out of the venue, some fans fled for the exits during closer "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" — it was also her opener, bringing the show full circle — and she finished off the show with a verse of "All for One and One for All" for those who stayed behind. "If you can't like this show," The News' Jim McFarlin wrote in his review, "it's time to have the will prepared." Ross returned to Pine Knob in 1989 and again for a two-nighter in 1991. 

Steve Miller Band, Sept. 25, 1982

The "Abracadabra" rocker brought some magic to the closeout of Pine Knob's 10th anniversary season, a show that was beamed live to 50 TV stations nationwide, including WKBD (Channel 50) here at home. The reality of the broadcast made it somewhat strange for the live audience, with large TV cameras blocking some concertgoers' views, the houselights staying up for the majority of the show and Miller taking breaks on stage and chatting with the audience during the broadcast's commercial breaks. If the two-and-a-half hour show itself came off as somewhat artificial, Miller returned with a blazing encore once the cameras were off, playing the tambourine with his teeth during "Jungle Love" and leading the crowd in a singalong of "Happy Birthday" to guitarist Kenny Lee Lewis to close out the night, and Pine Knob's season. The show would be released a year later as a live album, "Steve Miller Band Live!"

Beastie Boys and Run-DMC, Aug. 29, 1987

It was a big deal when the two rap groups teamed up for their "Together Forever" tour, not just for fans, but for local police, who were out in full force to make sure everything went smoothly at Pine Knob's first rap concert. The Oakland County Sheriff's Department sent 17 uniformed officers, 15 plain clothes deputies and 20 members of their volunteer mounted division to the show, way up from the usual nine uniformed and two plain clothes cops who typically staffed Pine Knob shows. The issue was a Run DMC show in Long Beach the year prior, where gang violence erupted and left 40 people injured. Ever since, "everyone has been tripping out," Run-DMC's Darryl McDaniels told The News at the time. "We're no criminals... if you listen to our records, we don't promote violence in any way." Sure enough, the show went off without a hitch, and both acts would eventually return to Pine Knob: the Beasties on Lollapalooza in 1994, and Run-DMC several more times, including a 1995 headlining show.

Eddie Money, May 23, 1992

When the Money Man hit the stage in May 1992 — Dave Coulier and Bob Saget headlined the previous night, Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch and Kriss Kross would top radio station 96.3's People's Jam Too a few nights later — it wasn't particularly noteworthy; he had already played the Knob a few times going back to 1983, and was 15 years into a career that launched when "Two Tickets to Paradise" lead off his self-titled debut album in 1977. But that Saturday night concert — lawn tickets were $9.87, part of a radio station promo — kicked off a string of appearances where Money would christen Pine Knob every season, hitting the stage every May from then until 2019, when he died at the age of 70 four months after his final Pine Knob appearance. Money became the venue's unofficial mascot and in total logged 38 appearances at the venue over his career. "It's the biggest show I have every year," Money told The News in 2009. "Just to have me open it up every year, it's a real feather in my cap."

Lollapalooza, July 23, 1994

Back in the '90s, you didn't go to festivals, the festivals came to you. And as alternative culture hit its high point with the massive Lollapalooza festival in 1994, Pine Knob's four sold-out shows — July 23, 24, 25 and 29 — made it the tour's most popular stop in the nation. In addition to headliners Smashing Pumpkins and Beastie Boys, the lineup also included L7, the Boredoms, Guided by Voices, Nick Cave and more, and Gen-X fans thrilled themselves during the day in the festival's expansive "Mind Field," which featured new-at-the-time technologies such as a video dating booth and a program that took two people's pictures and melded them together to find out what their potential children might look like. Ah, the '90s. By the end of the decade, Pine Knob would play host to a smorgasbord of touring fests, including Ozzfest, the Lilith Fair, the Vans Warped Tour and the H.O.R.D.E. festival. 

Iggy and the Stooges, Aug. 25, 2003

The punk icons had been broken up for much of Pine Knob's existence, so there weren't many chances for the group to play the area's biggest outdoor amphitheater. (Iggy Pop himself blew through in 1997 on the short-lived R.O.A.R. tour, short for Revelation Of Alternative Rhythms, on a lineup that included Sponge, Reverend Horton Heat and Tonic.) The Stooges — Iggy along with brothers Ron and Scott Asheton, Steve MacKay and touring member Mike Watt — were finally set to make their long-awaited, long overdue Pine Knob debut on Aug. 14, 2003, but the blackout that wiped out power to much of the Northeast and Midwest had other plans. So the show, featuring openers Sonic Youth and the Von Bondies, was rescheduled 11 days later and found Iggy and his motley crew ripping through a 14-song set like they'd been shot out of a cannon. The crowd got in on the action, too, with dozens of fans at one point storming the stage, just to take part in the chaos. The show was eventually released on a live DVD, "Iggy and The Stooges Live In Detroit," and the whole ordeal was clearly worth the wait. 

Big Sean, Aug. 31, 2013

Hometown rapper Big Sean had just thrilled fans at the Palace of Auburn Hills six months earlier, bringing out an army of special guests — including Kanye West — to cap his biggest local concert to date. How would he top it? On a splendid 75 degree evening, Sean brought out special guests and hip-hop superstars Drake and Nicki Minaj, sending the audience into a frenzy, but it was the smaller moments that made this night memorable. At one point Sean brought out his mother, Myra Anderson, and the two embraced on stage for a full minute as he talked in her ear and they laughed together like they were the only two people in the venue. Sean teared up after the performance — just as he had on stage at the Palace show — but he laughed it off. "Y'all not gonna see me cry no more," he said.

Bob Seger, June 21, 2019

The street Pine Knob is on is named after him, did you think we were going to leave out Bob Seger? The Michigan icon performed his 33rd and final show at Pine Knob on June 21, 2019, the last night of a six-night stand that brought Seger full circle back to his first show at the venue on July 24, 1972. That debut concert was on a bill with the Jam Band and Guardian Angel on a night dubbed "Good Vibes Night," and those good vibes carried on to an eight night run in 1977, seven nights in 1978, three nights in 1980, five nights in 1986, two nights in 1996 and one night in 2017. Seger has since hung up his microphone and is done touring, but if those "Hollywood Nights" ever come calling again, he knows where to go: to Michigan's home of summertime music for the last 50 years — and counting. 

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama