Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Country-rockers a winning $13 bet at the track 31 years ago

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SOME fans of the Eagles have shelled out $239 -- the highest ticket price yet at the MTS Centre -- to experience the iconic California country-rockers live on Friday night.

Even the "cheap" seats for the sold-out concert went for $96 (including GST and service charges).

Now flash back to the first and only time the band has previously touched down in Winnipeg. It was July 27, 1978.

Don Henley, Glenn Frey and company were riding the massive popularity of the album Hotel California. They played the Assiniboia Downs racetrack, drawing more than 27,000 ticket buyers to what was billed as Winnipeg's biggest-ever rock event.

At least 1,000 more fans crashed the show by scaling fences, especially on the Perimeter Highway side of the Downs, or sat outside the barriers to listen.

Legendary local radio DJ Howard Mandshein was there. He remembers the giant images of the Hotel California album cover that flanked the 150-foot stage. But he's stunned to be reminded of the ticket price for the five-hour show: $13.

"That's absolutely incredible!" says the DJ, now in his mid-50s. "Thirteen dollars? And there were no gouging taxes, as they have now....

"It was a spectacular summer Manitoba night. It truly was special."

In the weeks before the concert, it was rumoured first that Linda Rondstadt, then Pablo Cruise, would precede the Steve Miller Band as opening act. It ended up being country-folky Jesse Winchester who started the show.

Reviews mentioned that four skydivers descended on the site -- apparently earlier than planned -- during Winchester's final song. Mandshein recalls that the singer had a "hissy fit" about being upstaged by parachutes.

Local rock star Burton Cummings joined Steve Miller on his final song, The Joker, before the Eagles thrilled the crowd by opening with a 10-minute Hotel California.

There were, of course, plenty of tokers as well as jokers and smokers in the crowd. But news reports said the security-heavy event had a peaceful, easy feeling, with no "serious trouble" and only about 20 arrests for drug and alcohol offences. There were numerous noise complaints from St. James residents, but some homeowners said they enjoyed hearing hits like Lyin' Eyes for free.

Mandshein is waiting to confirm whether he's got a seat for Friday's long-awaited return by the band, always admired for exquisite vocal harmonies, superior musicianship and fine songwriting.

All four current members have passed their 60th birthdays.

"Their vocalizing is absolutely spectacular -- mathematical -- precision vocals," says the DJ. "They're the soundtrack of my life in the '70s, and for anybody that's a baby boomer, their songs have truly stood the test of time -- phenomenal, phenomenal tuneage."

alison.mayes@freepress.mb.ca

 

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 12, 2009 D1

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