The Rocking History of the Long Beach Arena

From Spike Jones to Snoop Dogg, Long Beach has a long, storied musical history, particularly when it comes to rock and pop. For nearly 60 years, the tie that binds that history has been the Long Beach Arena, which has hosted a jaw dropping lineup of A-list bands and performers: Elvis and Elton, Rolling Stones and Run DMC.

When the symphony, under the direction of Eckart Preu, and Craig A. Meyer, who portrayed Sir Elton, took the stage, it had been 49 years since the Rocket Man played to a sold out crowd in the Long Beach Arena in 1973, opening with “Bennie and the Jets” and closing with “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting.”

As the title of “Remember When Rock Was Young” suggests, rock was relatively young in 1973. Just 10 years before, the Beatles released their first album. Yet, by 1965, the Rolling Stones became the first band to perform in the arena. A few years later, the Stones played the Arena again. Opening for them that night? Stevie Wonder.

Go ahead, take a moment.

Yes, Stevie Wonder, already a huge star in his own right, opened for the Stones at the Long Beach Arena. And you could have seen it for, wait for it, $6.50. Even if you adjust for inflation, that works out to about $44 today, which probably doesn’t get you parking at most music venues.

Oh yeah, that same year, Elvis played, and left, the Arena. Twice.

“It has great arena seating,” said Preu, who performs in the venue multiple times each year as part of the Pops program. “So, despite it being a huge space you feel close, you feel connected to the audience.”

In 2003, Led Zeppelin put out “How the West Was Won” recorded at the Arena in 1972 at a time when Zeppelin was arguably the biggest band in the world and, according to guitarist Jimmy Page, performing at their absolute best

For all of its history, the fact is that Long Beach Arena was never intended to become a sought-after rock venue. When it opened in 1962, the very idea of rock ‘n roll arena shows was simply not a thing.

The first event in the Arena, in October of 1962, was the Ringling Brothers Circus, soon followed by what would become another arena staple, an ice show; The Ice Capades eventually giving way to annual, popular performances by Disney On Ice.

Still, whenever he and his orchestra take the Arena’s stage, Preu says he does so with some mindfulness about the musicians who have taken it before him.

CREDIT: Caught in the Moment Photography
“It's always a thrill to be on that stage,” he said. “Being in front of thousands of people is a special feeling. Being aware that other greats have performed there makes it even more special.”
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Steve Lowery