On this day in 1969, the rock tradition of holding up lighters and matches during concerts supposedly began in Toronto.
It All Began At The Toronto Rock And Roll Revival Festival
The setting was a one-day music festival at Varsity Stadium in Toronto – the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival.
The 12-hour musical festival has been called one of the most important events in rock history. In fact, according to numerous sources, Rolling Stone magazine has said it’s second only to Woodstock.
The event featured two local bands and several well-known rock performers including Chicago, Chuck Berry, Alice Cooper, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Doors, and many others.
But the show almost didn’t happen …
Lennon Is Called To Save The Festival
Despite The Doors being the headlining act for Revival ticket sales were still quite low. The Eaton brothers even backed out as sponsors only a few days before the event.
Kim Fowley, who was hosting the show got on the phone with Apple Records and asked them to have John Lennon host the show.
Lennon got on board and ticket sales started to pick up. But Lennon didn’t want to be the emcee. He wanted to play … he just needed a band.
Together with Yoko Ono, Lennon pulled together Eric Clapton, Klaus Voorman, and Alan White to form the Plastic Ono Band. They put together a band so quickly that they had to rehearse on the plane.
Lennon and Yoko arrived in Toronto on the day of the festival and The Vagabonds motorcycle club escorted them to the show. 80 members rode 40 in front and 40 in back for John and Yoko’s limousine after having run wild trying to catch The Doors who were not expecting an escort.
Prior to heading on stage, Lennon was chain-smoking nervously backstage. While he had played for larger audiences, he was experiencing a bit of stage fright. After all, it was his first show playing without The Beatles.
To help put him at ease, Fowley came up with a clever idea.
Speaking to the crowd, he said “Everyone get out your matches and lighters please. In a minute I’m going to bring out John Lennon and Eric Clapton and when I do I want you to light them and give them a huge Toronto welcome.”
Soon, lit lighters became a staple at rock concerts, and a tradition was born.
This May Not Be A True Story …
Like many stories carried through the generations, there are different variations of how this particular tradition began.
Some say the tradition of lighters at concerts started at Woodstock in 1969.
Melanie Anne Safka-Schekeryk, known simply as Melanie, was performing in the rain when she saw the hillside lit up with small flames. Believing that they were candles, the event became the inspiration behind the song “Candles In The Wind.”
While there may have been some candles, some people believe that it’s more likely that the audience was holding matches and lighters. With no photographic evidence, some believe that the event may never have happened at all.
Another story attributes the tradition to a Leonard Cohen performance in 1970.
The singer was on stage telling a story about going to the circus with his father. During the story, he asked the audience to light matches so he could see where each of them was.
There are also tales of how Niel Diamon, Bob Dylan, The Doors, and many others helped make lighters at concerts mainstream.
Regardless of how the tradition began, it has become a well-known symbol of rock n roll.
And, at the very least, the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival is the first known time audience members used lighters and matches to welcome a band to the stage.
Other Notable Rock Events From September 13
1960 – The US government banned the exchange of cash and gifts for airplay.
1962 – Elvis’s “She’s Not You” became his 12th UK #1.
1964 – 24 rugby players were hired as a “human crash barrier” for a Rolling Stones gig at the Liverpool Empire. 5,000 fans quickly overtook the chain of players when the band hit the stage.
1965 – The Beatles released “Yesterday” as a single in the US. It wasn’t released as a single in the UK until 1976 because The Beatles felt it was too different from their other work.
1967 – The Beatles created Fiftyshapes Ltd, an electronics company, and hired John Alexis Mardas to run it. Mardas had several outrageous ideas that never materialized, including replacing acoustic baffles with an invisible sonic force field.
1970 – Elvis has to pause his show in Tampa, Florida while he tries to stop laughing after he stumbles over the words to “In The Ghetto.”
1974 – Stevie Wonder headed out on his first tour after being in a coma for 4 days the year before.
1976 – Bob Dylan’s live album, Hard Rain, is released.
1976 – Lynyrd Skynyrd released their first live album, One More From The Road.
1985 – Bruce Springsteen won MTV’s Best Male Video Music Award for “I’m On Fire.”
1991 – Nirvana was thrown out of their own launch party for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” after starting a food fight.
1991 – Alice Cooper sells copies of Hey Stoopis in Time Square for just $0.99.
1996 – Noel and Liam Gallagher of Oasis arrive home on separate flights after playing in the US. Rumours about the band splitting up began to circulate but the record company released a statement saying that they will continue to record.
2000 – Elton John left the Estoril Casino in Lisbon and flew home without playing the show. He was upset that a group of attendees was too slow leaving a preshow VIP dinner.
2000 – Almost Famous, with Kate Hudson, was released in the US. The film is loosely based on Cameron Crowe’s time interviewing rack artists for Rolling Stone magazine.
2005 – Jimi Hendrix’s childhood home, located across from the cemetery where he was buried, was saved from demolition in Seattle. It was later renovated into a community center.
2005 – Paul McCartney released Chaos And Creation In The Backyard.
2006 – Judge partially dismissed a lawsuit against Al Jardine, who formerly played with Beach Boys. He was being sued by the band’s singer, Mike Love, for using the band’s name while performing solo.
2008 – Come Dancing, a musical featuring music by The Kinks, opened.
2012 – A concert-goed accused Mickey Hart, who formerly played drums for Grateful Dead, of assault at a show the week before. Hart responded to the claim saying, “Any accusation or claim of assault against me is completely false and without any basis whatsoever.”
2013 – Previously recorded studio conversations of The Beatles were released by BBC.
2015 – Guitarist Gary Richrath of REO Speedwagon died at 65.
2022 – Mark David Chapman, John Lennon’s killer, was denied parole for the 12th time.
1941 – David Clayton-Thomas of Blood Sweat & Tears (Vocals)
1943 – Ray Elliot of Them (Keyboards, saxophone, flute)
Bonus Fact: Van Morrison was a member of Them until 1966 when he quit to pursue a solo career.
1944 – Peter Cetera of Chicago (Vocals)
1952 – Don Was who worked with The Rolling Stones B-52 and more (Producer)
1965 – Zak Starkey (Ringo Starr’s Son) of The Face (Drummer)
1967 – Tim “Ripper” Owens of Judas Priest (Vocals)
On This Day In History – September 13
September 30 has seen some big moments in rock history that we shouldn’t forget. From awesome albums that changed how music sounds to mind-blowing shows that rocked the world to lighters becoming commonplace at concerts, this date keeps showing us how cool rock music can be. Looking back at these events, it’s clear that rock still has the power to amaze us, and we’re excited for what’s coming next.