In the 1970s and 1980s, Baton Rouge was a must on the touring schedule of many major bands. The location they chose was the LSU Assembly Center, and a new book written by former Assembly Center director William Bankhead describes that exciting time.
Aptly titled The Greatest Shows on Earth, the book chronicles the period between 1972 and 1982 when the who’s who of music kings of the 1970s performed at the venue (now the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, or PMAC). The roster of acts includes Led Zeppelin, The Band, Elvis Presley, The Eagles and dozens if not hundreds of others.
Bankhead became the center’s first director in 1971 after an already illustrious career at LSU, and his leadership proved to be one of his most enjoyable assignments in college.
“I am so proud and fortunate to have been involved in so many major events, but none of those experiences have been quite as unique as opening this beautiful convention center and holding it for my life as the concerts poured in,” he wrote in a media release.
“When the doors opened, it became the largest concert hall in the state, but even we were surprised at how many bands wanted to play here. LSU is known for its loud and appreciative crowds, and performers spoke of having great experiences there. The fans deserve a share of the credit for our notoriety and our success.”
Among the most notable shows was the Rolling Stones’ 1975 tour opener. A two-set affair backed by The Meters, The Stones obviously chose Baton Rouge as a safe place to find their musical feet. As a contemporary account by Rolling Stone writer Chet Flippo noted, that is exactly what happened.
“It wasn’t a bad show at all,” he wrote, “just a show where the band was still finding their way. And after the second Baton Rouge set was over, (guitarist Keith) Richards held his fenders over his heads in triumph, the Stones were practically whole again… within 24 hours in Baton Rouge they had been rehearsing for six hours, two played sets for over two hours and left the stage sounding better than when they first stepped on it.”
Bankhead was assisted in editing and designing the book by his son John, who worked at the center as a teenager. The 114-page book is filled with stories and memorabilia. It will debut on November 18 from 2-3pm with a book signing outside the gift shop at the LSU Alumni Association’s Lod Cook Hotel. Former LSU gymnastics coach DD Breaux will also be autographing books, while the first 50 people to purchase the book will receive an “I Was There” backstage commemorative pass.
While the book will be published by LSU Press in 2023, Bankhead managed to print some early copies this year to coincide with the center’s 50th anniversary. These will be available at the Cook Hotel gift shop on the LSU campus and online at www.assemblycenterbook.com.