The Soundtrack Of Our Lives

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By Mike Bisceglia

Hampton Union, Friday, March 31, 2006

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

This historic postcard shows the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom.

In the summer of '67, I was a college sophomore. I took a few days off from work, and a few dollars out of the jar marked "Back To School" for a few days of R&R at Hampton Beach. I don't remember much about what happened so long ago, but two events stand out in my memory.

The first is a terrific squall, which came in from the Atlantic and wreaked minor-league havoc on the region. The second is that the Doors played that night in the Casino Ballroom. Anyone there will attest to the chaotic brilliance of Jim Morrison. I don't remember what I paid for admission, but starving college students don't have much over pocket change at best.

"Quite the show for not much dough." And that's just one act.

The Casino has been bookin' 'em in for more than 100 years! The best and the brightest have been wowing the crowds. At the turn of the 20th century, the Casino booked vaudeville acts. In the 1920s movie "talkies" became the rage and the demise of vaudeville.

In 1927, John J. Dineen bought the Casino, and that's when the joint began to jump. One of the first things he did was to add air conditioning, an almost unheard of item for the era. With a ballroom large enough to accommodate 5,000 people, the dances were spectacular.

The '30s was the Big Band Era, and all of the headliners of the day worked their magic in the Casino's Ballroom. Glenn Miller, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie and Duke Ellington are just a few. My mother told me several times of that delicious night when the Glenn Miller Orchestra played the ballroom.

I don't know any of the details, but her eyes would light up each time she recounted the memory. And, yes, there was a dress code then, and gentlemen could rent a tie there for a nickel. The big bands kept playing through the war years and into the '50s. The music began to change then, but the crowds just kept on coming. Woody Herman and Artie Shaw were two of the entertainers of the time.

William J. O'Brien, a frequent patron, told the Boston Globe in 1976, "The ballroom was the only place where mothers would let unescorted girls go because they knew how well policed it was. You got away with nothing, believe me."

The '60s was my era to remember. If you can remember 45s you will remember when the Supremes, the Beach Boys, The Who, and the Fifth Dimension rocked the nights. The world turned and the music changed again in the '70s. Roy Orbison, Wayne Newton, Huey Lewis and The News, Tom Jones, Tina Turner and the legendary Ray Charles and more dismantled the crowds with stellar performances.

The '80s saw acts such as the Village People, the Stray Cats, and Lyle Lovett grace the stage. Comedians, including Sam Kinison and Joan Rivers, left 'em laughing.

Jethro Tull, Sinead O'Connor, Sammy Hagar, and the Barenaked Ladies were among the stars who played the Casino in the '90s. The ties were long gone by this time, but bouncers were added to insure patron safety.

The best and the brightest still perform at the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom. Do yourself a favor and spend an evening there with the stars. It's well worth your time, and it's air conditioned!

Mike Bisceglia is a retired teacher living in Hampton. His column runs periodically in The Hampton Union.
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