On July 30, 1971, I went to my first concert – the Jackson 5 at the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh, PA. My mother had died the previous July, and I think my father wanted to do something special for me. It was the most exciting thing that had happened in my 14-year-old life. When I got home, I wanted to capture it so I would always remember. I got out my notebook and wrote about the show. It never occurred to me to try to get it published; newspapers didn’t publish articles by teenage girls from coal-mining towns. I had no idea that people got paid for writing concert reviews. Even though Michael and the Civic Arena are no more, 43 years later, I’m publishing this piece. (I did do some minor edits. I thought the opening act was “The Pomadors” This was a few years before “Brick House” and no one outside of Tuskegee had ever heard of “The Commodores.” But besides spelling and punctuation errors and breaking text into paragraphs, there are no other changes.) Sure, it’s long, but don’t judge, I was 14 and these were my Teen Dream Guys!
On July 30, the Jackson Five came to the Civic Arena. The master of ceremonies was Matthew Ledbetter, better known as Brother Matt, from station WAMO. Al Brisbane and Hal Brown (H.B.), also from WAMO, were on hand also. It was a sellout crowd. The show, which was supposed to start at eight o’clock, started at about eight-fifteen. Clyde Jackson, from the United Black Front, told about the show, which was sponsored by the United Black Front. The audience was predominantly black. The show was started by the Commodores, a black group from Tuskegee, Alabama. The Commodores all wore red jumpsuits. Their selections included, “Liar,” “Love the One You’re With,” “Gonna Take You Higher” and “You’ve Got a Friend.” Then a young woman, in a black jumpsuit, came out. Her songs included, “River Deep, Mountain High,” “Don’t Knock My Love,” “Proud Mary” and “Take Another Little Piece of My Heart.”
Then there was a fifteen-minute intermission. After the intermission, the people wouldn’t go back to their seats. Brother Matt told them that they had better sit down or the show wouldn’t continue. He told everyone not to try to get to the stage. The people just wouldn’t sit down and the show was held up about fifteen minutes. Then a man came up with an award that was for the Jackson 5. The Jackson Five’s father, Joe Jackson, came to receive the award. Mr. Jackson, a very handsome man, wore a medium blue bell-bottom suit. Then after about ten more minutes, Johnny Jackson, the Jackson Five drummer, and Ronnie Rancifier, the Jackson Five organist, came out. A roar went up from the crowd of more than 13,000. Johnny and Ronnie then warmed up their instruments. In a few minutes the Jackson 5 came out. Their first number was “Stand,” to which Marlon, Jackie and Michael danced up a storm. They were lined up, reading like a book: Tito wearing a brown and white printed shirt, brown and white knickers, a yellowish vest, and brown boots; Marlon, wearing a flowered shirt, reddish pants with a pleat on each side in orange and an orange print bolero vest; Jackie, wearing a print shirt, a multi-colored bolero vest and green bell-bottoms with a long turquoise sash; Michael, wearing a multi-colored bolero vest suit with a red and black stripe on each side of the pants and red and black trimming the vest and a yellow shirt; and Jermaine, wearing a red ruffled shirt, red and blue bells and a yellow shirt. Jermaine welcomed everyone to the show.
The Jackson 5 sang about fifteen songs. Almost every song had something that was extremely interesting about it. Michael told a story, with his brothers listening intently, about meeting a girl in school at the sand pile. Marlon made a remark to Michael annoyingly. Michael ran over to him and shouted, “Well, I gave her my cookies!” Everyone in the audience laughed. Michael told Marlon not to bother him while he was talking to “his people.” Michael then started to sing “Who’s Loving You.” When Michael got to the high part of the song, the crowd started shouting enthusiastically. Jackie and Marlon each got a tambourine and started hitting them enthusiastically. Jermaine sang, “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” and “I Found That Girl.” Jackie then stepped up front, grabbed a microphone and went over to Jermaine. “You say you found that girl, Jermaine?” asked Jackie. Jackie asked Jermaine if he had looked over the girls in Pittsburgh yet. He told Jermaine to “take his pick.” Jermaine and Jackie walked around the stage with Jackie pointing out girls to Jermaine. One girl in the second row threw up her hands and a few in the first row jumped up. Jermaine then started singing “Please take me with you.” He then sang, “She’s Good.”
The Jackson 5 also sang, “ABC,” “The Love You Save,” “I’ll Be There,” “I Want You Back,” “Maybe Tomorrow” and “Mama’s Pearl.” Michael asked, “How y’all doin’ out there?” The audience roared. Marlon pointed to different sections and asked the people in each section how they were doing. Jackie told the audience that the Jackson 5 would have their first special on September 19. He then went on to describe it. Marlon told the audience that the Jackson Five’s new cartoon show would be called “ABC.” Jackie said that Michael had said something backstage about the special and he wanted him to tell the audience. Michael didn’t want to. Jackie told Michael that all his fans wanted to hear it and Jackie got the audience to shout to Michael that they wanted to hear it. Michael walked up to the microphone and said, “Can’t dig it,” and walked back. Jackie finally persuaded Michael to tell it and Michael shouted, “Goin’ Back to Indiana!” When the song was over, Jermaine shouted, “One more time,” and they did their “Roosevelt High” cheer again.
Then they sang “How Funky is Your Chicken.” Marlon, Jackie, and Michael took off their vests, threw them behind them and started doing “The Funky Chicken”! The crowd started shouting. Then Jackie stepped up to the microphone. He said that a lot of people in the audience think that they can do the “Funky Chicken” real well and that they were going to have a showdown on stage. He then went over to Tito and asked him to dance. Tito didn’t want to. Jackie told Tito that Marlon would hold his guitar. Tito then started to take off his guitar and the crowd shouted. He handed his guitar to Marlon and went to the front of the stage. Tito started doing a real hip dance and kept putting his arms behind his head as if he were trying very hard to “fight the feeling.” (The feeling won!) Tito then put his guitar back on and Michael went to call on “Snake,” namely Ronnie Rancifer. Ronnie, who had on a pink suit, came to the front of the stage and started doing one of the wildest dances ever! The audience started shouting. Ronnie went back to his organ, but not without doing a jump first. Jermaine sang Sly and the Family Stone’s hit “Thank You.”
Michael then started to introduce everyone. First, he introduced his cousin Johnny Jackson, who was on drums, wearing a red suit with white fringe. Michael kept shouting to the audience, “Are you ready for Johnny?” Johnny then played a solo on his drums. Next Michael introduced his other cousin Ronnie Rancifier. “Are you ready for Ronnie?” Ronnie then played a solo on his organ. Then Michael started to introduce his brothers. “Are you ready for Jermaine?” Jermaine played a solo on his guitar. “Are you ready for Jackie?” Michael then shouted. Jackie went to the front of the stage and did a very soulful “Funky Chicken.” After the audience calmed down, Michael then shouted, “Are you ready for Tito?” Tito played a solo on his guitar. Then, “Are you ready for Marlon?” Marlon went to the front of the stage and kicked his legs left and right and shook his body. After a few minutes, Michael tried to tell Marlon to quit but Marlon kept dancing. Michael gave up on calling Marlon and said, “Jackie, get him!” Jackie walked up to Marlon and in a minute Marlon got the message and stopped. Jackie then wanted Michael to solo but Michael said that he would rather sing with the group. They sang, “Never Can Say Goodbye” and at the end of it they all harmonized together and sang “thank you” to the audience. Last, but not least, they all danced to “Walk On By.” Michael pushed Jackie and Jackie cracked up.
The Jackson 5 really poured on the soul July 30 and the Civic Arena will never get over the phenomenal Jackson 5 until they come back again. (Real soon, I hope!)
And then, and then…thanks for taking this trip down Memory Lane with me!