It Was Twenty Years (and a fortnight) Ago Today…

John Mellencamp played two free concerts at Ohio University-Chillicothe. (December 16, 1987, 7 & 10pm)

(Forgive me if this post is a little long and a little disjointed. I was up half the night killing a trojan-virus in the family computer.)

Back in the mid to late 1980’s I worked as a college administrator at Ohio University-Chillicothe, as a computer technician at the Chillicothe VA Medical Center, and as the weekend maintenance janitor at the Waverly McDonald’s; all while striving to earn my BS Computer Science degree. Needless to say, this period of my life has a lot of blurred memories. I missed so much. I can’t see how I could have done much differently, but I regret that I was not able to spend more time with my boys when they were babies and toddlers.

Back in those days music kept me rolling. The car radio was always on whenever I was on the road and I piped music through the stereo system at McDonald’s during the hours I worked alone mopping floors and fixing things. During the evening hours at the VA, I’d listen to 94.3FM and even participated in the programming as “Mr. Haney” who would announce upcoming songs for Chip Arledge’s evening radio show. (Mr. Arledge, Have I got a Song fer You!!) I ran on just a few hours of sleep a day and would do anything to stay awake.

John Mellencamp was one of my favorite artists, and cassettes of his albums were one of the extravagances that Doris and I allowed ourselves. One evening after playing “Small Town”, Chip announced that Mellencamp was going to do a benefit concert in Chillicothe–Chillicothe, Missouri. He went on to muse that perhaps Mellencamp could be convinced to play a concert in Chillicothe, Ohio. I thought it was a silly idea until a few day’s later the son of one of the Computer Science professors at OU-C asked me to sign his “Get Mellencamp to Chillicothe” petition. I signed it. After all I had been a Mellencamp fan since I first heard “I Need A Lover” (I am posting this today because late last night, Doris and I heard its wonderful two minute opening.)

Months went by, and Chip Arledge kept providing updates about the attempt to get Mellencamp to perform at Chillicothe. It took over a year, but it happened. And because I signed one of the first petitions, I was eligible for two free tickets. It ended up that I didn’t need it. Since the event was to take place in the wintertime, and because Arledge wanted to get as many people to the show as possible, and because Shoemaker Center at OU-C was the biggest indoor open space in Chillicothe, and because I was a college administrator who was willing to work at the concert for free; I was inside the venue from before Mellencamp arrived and only left after he boarded his bus. Doris used my ticket to take a friend. There were two shows. 7pm and 10pm.

During the set up, Mellencamp’s roadies did a power check and tripped the main circuit breaker for the building. Unfazed, Mr. Lipscomb, OU-C’s facilities maintenance supervisor, called the power company and had a hot line dropped directly from the power pole into the backstage area. As soon as the power issue was resolved, Mellencamp started on his sound check. The bounce-back from the far wall was horrendous. They tried and tried to control the problem with electronics. It didn’t work.

Mr. Lipscomb was consulted again. Since I had witnessed this entire attempt, I wandered over to center court and listened in on what Mellencamp, his sound guys and Mr. Lipscomb were discussing. Mellencamp described how the sound was bouncing. The back wall consisted of an upper “floor” catwalk, the wall under the catwalk, and a wall of retracted bleacher seats from there down to the floor. The problem was the three different distances with the wall under the catwalk being the most problematic. When the discussion fell into silence, I asked if the bleachers could be pulled out and bounce the sound to the ceiling. Mellencamp’s sound man looked at me, and back at the bleachers… at me… at the sound and lights mixing station… at Mr. Lipscomb… at me… at Mellencamp… and said “we should have pulled the bleachers out to begin with and we don’t have time to tear down and set up the mixer again, but, yeah, we can pull them out a few yards and we could drape something off the catwalk to get rid of that dead space.” It wasn’t my suggestion, but I did get them to think of other alternatives. Mr. John Mellencamp looked at me, smiled, and wandered off to shoot some basketball with Steve Wanchic and other band members. The bleachers were pulled out about six feet and gym mats were drapped from the catwalk down to the top of the bleachers. It took about ten minutes for John to be as happy as he could expect to be with the sound. He was playing inside a big box after all.

My job at the show was to take tickets at the door. No one had been told that the tickets all had been overprinted with florescent invisible ink. It wasn’t needed. There were zero attempts at counterfeiting tickets. I know. I used a black light to look at every single one of them that came through my door.

I was able to step inside the auditorium for the first part of the first show. I was behind and off to stage left where Lisa Germano was wailing on her violin. I couldn’t stay for the entire show because I had to coordinate with the hired security staff on how to get the current audience out of the building while trying to get the next audience in as fast as possible. It was freezing cold outside, and people were standing in line already.

After we got everybody in for the second show, and finished up putting away our equipment and everything, I was able to take in the last half of the second show. This time I wandered around the back edge of the crowd to see if I could get a view of the entire stage. This is where I found a small boy and his mother straining to see the stage. It was literally standing room only, no seating of any kind. She tried to pick him up so that he could at least say he actually saw Mellencamp but he was too big for her to lift very high. I asked her if it would be okay if I picked him up to see, and she agreed. I sat this kid on my shoulders and he stayed there for the rest of the concert. After the show the mother was crying and squeezed my arm and thanked me over and over and over. I only did what I would have wanted someone to do for me. As a kid I was very small for my age.

It seems odd that twenty years have gone by since then. I haven’t thought about that night for many, many years. It has been fun romping down memory lane, especially since John Mellencamp is still one of my favorite musicians. I hope he has fond memories of his visit to Chillicothe, Ohio. I wonder if we could get him to do a 25th anniversary concert?


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