On this day in 1978, (Sept 23rd), Van Halen stole the show at the huge outdoor concert of 56,000 at California’s Anaheim Stadium by hiring look-a-likes to parachute from an airplane into the stadium. It was also the day that Eddie met future Van Halen singer Sammy Hagar.
It was a brilliant stunt that—along with their over-the-top performance—enabled Van Halen to steal the stage right out from under headliners Boston and Black Sabbath. It’s yet another show Van Halen may not have headlined, but one where the Pasadena lads became the lead story anyway.
VHND is pleased to offer a closer look at what remains one of Van Halen’s most triumphant shows, and one of the most important days in VH lore.
The event, named “Summerfest,” kicked off with unadvertised Richie Lecea, fresh from opening the California Jam 2 at Ontario Motor Speedway, opening the 9-hour extravaganza. Hagar’s band took the stage next, relying heavily on his then newly released live album, All Night Long. Hagar’s performance was somewhat well received, but did little to set the crowd on fire.
According to her review of the entire concert, written by famed L.A. Times music critic Robert Hillburn, Hagar took the stage at 5:35 pm:
“Hagar is a hard-working but conventional rocker whose music benefits from solid pop rock hooks but suffers from commonplace themes and arrangements. Relying mostly on material from his new, live Capital album, Hagar drew a good response from those bands near the stage, but did little to stir those in the stands.”
Hagar may have parachuted onto the cover of his 1984 album, VOA, but the idea for that superimposed image might very well have been planted that September Saturday six years earlier when Van Halen supposedly floated in and took Anaheim Stadium by storm. (The skydiving stunt was David Lee Roth’s idea).
For the third act, an announcer frantically declared, “From out of the sky, Van Halen is coming into the stadium!” Looking as though they would land right on the stage, the four parachutists maneuvered to an area just outside the stadium gates at the last minute. During the mass confusion of the moment, the wig-wearing daredevils ducked into the van that the real Van Halen were hiding in, dressed in parachute suits. Moments later, Van Halen rushed onstage to a thunderous ovation. They tossed off their parachute gear and launched into “On Fire.” Though he didn’t dive from a plane, Alex still managed to twist his ankle during the episode, tripping over a massive cable. To this day, a huge portion of the crowd thanks it was Van Halen themselves who parachuted into the stadium.
From the L.A. Times review:
Was it a bird or a plane or…? Actually, Saturday afternoon at Anaheim Stadium, it was the rock group Van Halen that parachuted out of an airplane. Or, at least, it was four people posing as the Pasadena-based Quartet.
Marshall Berle, the band’s manager, insisted the group had practiced for months for the spectacular entrance Saturday, but others backstage winked when they ‘confirmed’ that the band had a really jumped from the plane. “I knew it wasn’t really them when I saw how calm the people from Warner Bros. Records were,” said one member of Saturday’s production staff.
“Could you imagine how nervous they’d be if they thought one of the label’s million-dollar properties was going to parachute out of the plane? They’d be running around here with nets trying to catch them.”
“FROM OUT OF THE SKY,” the audience was told before the next act arrived, “VAN HALEN IS COMING INTO THE STADIUM!”
As thousands of heads turned upwards, four parachutists leaped from a plane high above the stadium. As they drifted down, it looked like they would land virtually on the stage. But they maneuvered at the last minute to an area outside the stadium gates.
Whoever it was that landed, it was Van Halen that raced arm-in-arm onto the stage in parachute outfits and drew the days biggest applause.
Van Halen’s hard to resist for anyone with a tolerance for hard-driving assaulting rock. They could well be the heir apparent to Aerosmith’s hard rock American crown.
When Eddie Met Sammy:
It was backstage before the show that a young Edward Van Halen first met his band’s future lead singer. Thankfully, we found an eyewitness to this noteworthy event. Tom Broderick, a former friend and VH crew member during the band’s club days, coincidentally stumbled upon the chance meeting in the backstage area at The Big A (The nickname for Anaheim Stadium).
Tom spoke to VHND during our interview with him in 1997 for The Inside magazine: “As a matter of fact, I was there when Ed first met Sammy. I don’t even think Ed remembers this because I read an interview where he said they met somewhere different. But when Van Halen opened for Boston at Anaheim Stadium, I snuck in. That was after I stopped working for them so I had to sneak in. I didn’t have a pass for a change. Sabbath and Sammy Hagar were there too.
“Anyway, right as they [VH] get to the trailer, Sammy was coming out of this door and Ed walked up from the other direction. I had to wait to talk to Eddie because he was going to talk to Sammy. I could tell they were just bullshitting, telling each other they liked each other’s work. Ed immediately said, “Why did you quit Montrose, man? I thought that was a good band.” And Sammy said, “Oh, he wouldn’t let me play guitar.” That was practically the first thing they said.
“When Sammy joined Van Halen, I thought to myself, “Ed, you better let Sammy play guitar, or he’s gone. Don’t you remember that, Ed? The guy quit a band because he wasn’t allowed to play guitar.” I always think about that when I see Sammy up there not playing guitar, you know? It was cool to see a historic moment like that, though. I just happened to be walking up at that time. It was a real coincidence.
“I remember buying [the skydiving stunt] hook, line and sinker, like an idiot. I ran backstage and said, “Man, I can’t believe they did that!” and Rudy [Leiren, Eddie’s guitar tech] is looking at me rolling his eyes like, “Yeah. Me neither.”
“I want to tell everybody here tonight”, Roth said in one of his well rehearsed intros to “Aint Talkin’ ‘Bout Love,” “I want to tell you all about the other night. You know, me and Ed, we was in Milwaukee, and we got ourselves a couple of Milwaukee’s Finest – and I ain’t talkin’ ’bout no goddamned beer!”
Van Halen, the band and the guitarist, was knocking the music industry on it’s ear—due in no small part to Eddie’s amazing fretwork and Roth’s unfettered bravado. Quite naturally, this must have created some intense pressure—not to mention jealousy– among the other acts on any VH bill. How would you, for example, like to be the headlining lead guitarist who was getting his ass handed to him every night by the tap-happy Edward?
Speaking of which, Eddie had a specific run-in that day with Boston guitarist, Tom Scholz. He recalled the incident during an interview with Guitar Player magazine’s Jas Obrecht in 1979 while discussing people who were copying his solos live.
“We played right before them [Boston] and I do my solo. And then all of a sudden [during Boston’s set] he does my solo. And it was real weird, because I was standing onstage and the whole crowd was looking at me like, “What’s this guy doing?” I was drunk, and I got pissed. He never comes around; he doesn’t say “Hi.” He doesn’t do anything. He just kind of hides out, runs onstage and plays, and disappears afterwards. So I started talking to the other guitarist, and I told him, “Hey. Tell him I think he’s fucked!”
“When the announcer came out onstage to introduce Van Halen, he shouted, “Look up in the sky. It’s a bird…it’s a plane…it’s VAN HALEN!” They skydived out of a plane and fell to the ground and jumped up on stage and started playing. People went wild. Girls in the front row squashed to the front, pulling off their tops, throwing things up on stage and just going insane, totally insane, on a party rock and roll level. Did they get hurt when they jumped? Well, Alex sprained his ankle when he landed on the ground.”
Van Halen’s then manager, Marshall Berle:
“There were many memorable moments during that first 1978 tour that took VH first across the United States, then on to Europe and Japan, including the band using skydivers to stage a stunt in which the band seemed to jump out of a plane and into Anaheim Stadium in Southern California to play for a crowd of 55,000 people.”
David Lee Roth (from Crazy From The Heat):
In 1978 we opened for everybody. We opened at Anaheim Stadium for Boston … I think Journey was on the bill, we were third or fourth, you know, young upstarts. People ask me, even now at the local cafeteria, “Hey, was that really you who parachuted into the stadium?” Well, we hired these four guys named the Sky Gods out of Lancaster, California, acrobatic parachutists. Had a big meeting with them—there’s some 8 mm film somewhere of the meeting, a briefing: What kind of plane do you jump out of? What altitude was it? How fast was it going? Where did you learn to parachute? What’s the name of the parachute? What’s the temperature up there? What’s the rate of descent? What kind of shoes do you wear? How much do they cost?
So you have 60 thousand people packed in the stadium. Two hours before the gig, a small van is parked right behind the stage, nobody pays any attention. The four of us are under a blanket in the back, wearing full parachute gear. Time for Van Halen to go on. People are getting nervous backstage and going, “Where’s the band? Nobody can find the band, man, where’s the band? Look! Look up in the sky …” and these four characters come piling out of the plane like they have never jumped before, arms and legs kicking and everything. They come sweeping over the stadium, wigs under the helmets, goggles and everything. They land right out in back of the stage, thousands of people can see it. They’re whisked into this blue van, the van zooms up to the stage, we pop out, pulling off the identical goggles and jumpsuits, and run on stage. It was quite an entrance. People still ask, “Was that really you?”
I would run into guys like this reporter in Europe, in Germany, who had actually been in D-Day, Allied Invasion, a real parachutist. He came after me, guns-a-burnin’. “So what kind of parachute did you use?”
“Oh, Ram Air Square. I prefer the 6300 series. I get a little more drag.”
“And where did you deploy?”
“Well, you know, ten thousand feet doesn’t give you quite enough time. The difference between ten and thirteen is big— as you know …” By the end of the night, we was drinking buddies for life.
The event set a new one-day gross record with receipts totaling $710,000.
About Anaheim Stadium: The 48-year-old stadium, built on 140 acres of farmland, is located near Hollywood. It went from being named Anaheim Stadium (1966 to 1996) to Edison International Field (1997 to 2003) to Angel Stadium.
Lastly, here’s some fan reviews of the event we found on Classic-Rock-Concerts.com:
“What a show Van Halen is announced as we see 4 parachutes landing just outside the stadium then the band runs in looking like they are removing their chutes .I actually believed this for years till i read on their site it was a gimick and they had hired stunt people to do it still cool though. Enjoyed all the bands But being a Black Sabbath fan Ozzy and the boys were my favorite.Iwas trashed I had smoked some stuff that was laced with some other stuff man was I trashed.”
“Montrose, Van Halen, Sabbath and Boston. It still elicits some head scratching as far as how the heck Boston was the headliner. This is the show where Sammy met Eddie (VH). VH on their first supporting tour opening for Ozzy’ last tour with Sab. VH KILLED it! Their homecoming to So Cal and first area stadium gig. They did whole parachute gag and came out and had the entire sold out stadium on their feet the whole time they played. I was 3 people from the stage directly in front of EVH. Sab was great but you could see Ozzy was a bit “out of it”. I have never seen such a mass exodus of people leaving BEFORE the headliner went on stage. I felt bad for Boston but then had to leave myself. More than a Feeling didn’t sound quite right after War Pigs and Children of the Grave.”
“This was one of my favorite stadium shows of the period, and I was convinced that VH parachuted down and road motorcycles to the stage. Burst my bubble that it was a gag. Awesome show. Boston was big back then, but Van Halen just blew them away. Hot, sunny day. Good times! Anaheim Stadium shows were great, but Balboa Stadium in San Diego was the best! Miss that place lots.”
“My and a friend went to this concert and Sammy Hagar, Van Halen and Black Sabbath all totally rocked!!! Boston was a huge disappointment. I was also surprised they were used as the headline band over Black Sabbath and Van Halen. We listened to the first couple songs by Boston then joined the mass exodus of departing guests. They were very disappointing and boring in concert.”
“I remember waiting in line to get into the stadium and it being 102 degrees. Huge crowd. Seemed like every jarhead from Camp Pendleton was at this show. People were throwing water on each other all day – I remember someone dumping water from a huge metal trashcan from the third deck, and the can slipped and went over the deck… not sure how it didn’t kill anybody. Boston headlined this show because in terms of record sales they far outpaced the others, and Don’t Look Back had just been released. Sabbath sold the most t-shirts that day. VH were fresh, at their peak, and everyone loved them. I loved Boston at the time, but even I left halfway through the show – it was getting late, and they were anticlimactic. (And I was 15 – mom was waiting in the parking lot. How were pickups like that coordinated in the days before cell phones?)”
“Anaheim Stadium (Angel Stadium back then) First and only time I saw Boston – Great laser show – way too hot that day (Over 100 plus) and food fights galore. Boston was off, and due to the weather and late start, alot of people didn’t stay for the whole set. Black Sabbath on the bill, plus Sammy Hagar and this band called Van Halen. Guess who killed it that day? The band that supposedly parachuted into the venue. (great gag) “
“I stayed out side in line all night because it was general addmission in the morning, It was a really hot day and the bands all rocked.It was first time I heard of Van Halen and Sammy Hagar, I went mainly for Black Sabbath. Sammy opened the show.Then Van Halen came on I’m a Sammy and Van Halen fan every since.”
“16 years old. Slept in the parking lot the night before with a frisbee for a pillow. I remember running into the stadium across the baseball field and out to the stage. Sammy Hagar got the crowd going. Van Halen was full of energy and was amazing, They made serious fans out of the people that saw them that day. Sabbath stole the show and was alone worth the time and money to be there. What a show. After they were done Boston was a let down. People were tired and they could not match the energy of Van Halen or Black Sabbath. All in all a great memory.”
The full page ad from the Calendar section of the Los Angeles Times
David, Alex, Michael, Edward, and tour manager Noel Monk being escorted by police into the stadium for the show which proved to be one of their prize performances.
Unfortunately, there are no known photographs of Van Halen’s set. But here’s a great live shot of Sammy’s set from this day that helps take you there.
Thank to Doug Fox for writing most of this article, which appeared as the article “Go Ahead And JUMP!” from issue #14 of The Inside magazine.
Own the shirt from Van Halen’s first world tour! Only at Van Halen Store.