On this day in 1981, Van Halen capped off their Fair Warning tour with the second of two sold out stadium shows opening for The Rolling Stones at the Tangerine Bowl in Orlando. We have exclusive photos from photographer, Timmy Mccrum, as well as his very unique account attending the first show. Enjoy!
In the fall of 1981, The Rolling Stones were touring behind their new single “Start Me Up” from their #1 album, Tattoo You, released that August. It would be the largest Stones tour to date, breaking ticket sale records and raking in millions.
Van Halen was simultaneously on the road, winding down their Fair Warning tour, supporting their fourth album, and were asked by the Stones to open for them at their Oct 24th date at the Tangerine Bowl (also known as the Citrus Bowl or the Orlando Stadium) in Orlando, Florida. A huge stadium show would be a fitting way to cap off their sold out North American tour, which began in May, so they jumped at the chance. This show was to be the final show of their 1981 tour, and would also mark the second and last time these bands would ever share the same stage. (The first was when Van Halen opened for the Stones at the New Orleans Superdome in 1978).
The Stones then added a third act, the Henry Paul Band, and moved the start time to 11am instead of noon. The tickets were $15.60, and all 60,500 of them sold out in less than 10 hours. A second show was then added (Oct 25th), which also sold out in less than 10 hours. Billboard reported the two concerts grossing $1,887,600.
The show was dubbed “Rock Super Bowl XII.”
The Ocala Star-Banner referred to the support act as “L.A. heavy metallists Van Halen” (of course, this was before the pop hits “Pretty Woman,” Dancing in the Streets,” “Jump,” etc).
”The front rows in Orlando were filled with these 12- or 13-year-old girls, some of whom were making the most unseemly suggestions,” Mick Jagger later told the New York Times.
Valerie Bertinelli stood on the edge of the stage during both shows.
David Lee stretches before the Oct 24th Van Halen performance.
Alex Van Halen talks to his bodyguard backstage in Orlando.
The iconic black and white photograph of Van Halen in front of the ocean of people at the Tangerine Bowl was used on the back of their next LP, Diver Down. You can purchase a photographic print of that Oct 25th, 1981 shot HERE.
SET LIST (songs are links):
Note that the setlist for these shows that’s listed everywhere else on the internet is incorrect. They had just over an hour to play. They had to drop five songs from the standard 1981 setlist (“Sunday Afternoon in the Park,” “Romeo Delight,” “Mean Street,” “Feel Your Love Tonight,” and “Unchained”), but they added “Summertime Blues.”
Unfortunately, there are no known recordings of Van Halen’s sets from these shows. Sure, there’s countless Rolling Stones soundboards from the 1981 tour, but absolutely no Van Halen soundboards from the tour.
We know that the Orlando Sentinel newspaper featured two big write-ups about the event, but we’re unable to find them. If any of our readers have one of those articles, please let us know, and we’ll add them to this page. Our email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Stones opening with “Under My Thumb” at Saturday’s show.
We have two personal accounts from these shows. The first is from The Rock File contributing editor Mac Cancribbe, who gave his first-hand account of the October 25th show:
A Seminal Rock Event to say the least.
It was my first real rock concert. I was 15. Most of my family had gone to New Jersey to attend my uncle’s wedding. My brother John and I stayed in Orlando to go to the concert. We bought 20 tickets, 10 each, the maximum you could get. They cost $16.35 a piece and we sold them to friends for $20.
Not much of a scalp.
The Henry Paul band opened for Van Halen, who were supporting the Stones. Only later did I learn that Van Halen opened the two Orlando shows. That was it.
Halen and the Stones, two nights only!
A few songs into Van Halen’s set, David Lee Roth, speaking to the press box down front, shouted, “Do you know what the first thing the newspaper critic with the Elvis Costello haircut is going to write about this show in tomorrow’s paper? How fucked up Van Halen was!”
The crowd cheers.
“And you know what the second thing they are going to write is? How fucked up the audience was!”
The crowd goes nuts.
“Well, this one’s for the press!” Roth moons the press box, and the band kicked into “So This Is Love?”
The stadium played “London Calling” by The Clash a few minutes before the Stones came out, switching to Duke Ellington’s “Take the ‘A’ Train” as the band finally took the stage:
Mick Jagger in orange football pants, an orange tank top, an orange button-down shirt (completely unbuttoned) and pointy white shoes; Keith Richards in a short leopard coat; Bill Wyman in a yellow suit, standing still the whole time.
I had wriggled my way down to the 30-yard line just before the Stones went on. They opened with “Under My Thumb.” I could only catch glimpses of Mick because everyone else was taller than me. When the song was over, I ran back to my end zone bleacher seats to enjoy the rest of the show.
It would be another eight years before The Rolling Stones returned to tour America. Van Halen was three years away from releasing the best-selling album of their career, 1984.
Their paths would never cross again, but for two nights in Orlando in the fall of ‘81, The Rolling Stones and Van Halen rocked the Tangerine Bowl, and it was good.
The second account is our exclusive from photographer Timmy Mccrum. He was just 21 years old, and took the majority of the photos we’re proudly featuring here.
My Van Halen story starts back in 1980, Van Halen’s Invasion tour was in full swing. They had a scheduled stop in Lakeland, FL and guess who had a ticket. I was determined to get my camera and lenses in to shoot this show, so I had to think of creative ways to get the “goods” past security. Thankfully back then they didn’t search ticket holders too careful. If they did, they would have stopped me in my tracks. I had my Olympus OM10 under my right armpit with tape circled up and down around my shoulder. I had tucked my 200mm telephoto lens in my tighty whities and kept that lens close to the family jewels. I was stoked to have duped the entrance gate guys, however, once I began shoot the show it was a different story. Van Halen’s security was trolling the audience, spotted me and confiscated all of my film. Talk about a bummer, but you live and you learn.
My next opportunity to photograph Van Halen came a year later. It was late October,1981, and The Rolling Stones and Van Halen were coming to Orlando, FL. They were expecting 65-70k people to saturate the Tangerine Bowl both Saturday and Sunday. Van Halen broke from their Fair Warning headlining tour and joined the Stones for two days only. These two days were, lucky for me, right in my backyard and I was determined to photograph Van Halen and nothing was going to get in my way this time! However, my work would be cut out for me, because I heard that the Stones were using hand held metal scanners at all of their concerts that summer. How could I possibly get my camera in? Once again, I would have to get creative.
I did a little research and found out that the World Soccer league used the Tangerine Bowl as a place to practice, and they’d be practicing there just two days before the big concert! Since it was an open practice, anyone could attend and there would no security. So I figured this was worth scoping it out.
So I went to the stadium with my camera that Thursday. It was remarkably easy to get into the bowels of the stadium. I found an entrance to a tunnel that led me under the stands down by the end zone of the stadium. This is where the concessions stands were stored, which would later be brought out for use. The place was desolate and I was free to poke around. I found an area where there was pea gravel off to the side and said to myself, “That’s my spot!”
I returned to my ’68 Firebird and got to work. I was prepared and brought tape and Ziploc bags. I put my Olympus, 200mm and 50mm lenses in separate bags, doubled the bags and then put all three into a garbage bag and taped the bag shut. A photographer’s worst enemy is moisture near or on their equipment. There was no such thing as water resistant anything. Back at “my spot” I dug a hole about 6” deep and a foot wide. I buried my camera right there. It would be two days before I would see my camera again, but I had faith that it would be safe and undiscovered.
Finally, it was Saturday, October 24. I arrived at the stadium early, at 8am, but I still didn’t have a ticket. I looked around for a scalped ticket, but they were only selling them two or more to ensure sales. Screw it….I ended up buying two with the hopes of selling one of them later. I got in line and was one of the first people to get in the stadium when they opened the doors at 9am.
Once inside, I went straight to the tunnel entrance, and was met with all the concession workers getting ready for a very busy day ahead. I walked passed everyone with a sense of determination and no one looked my way. But ionce I started digging up my camera, a middle aged worker spotted me. Shit! He walked up to me and asked, “What did you bury? Booze?” I said no and that I had buried my camera equipment a few days earlier and I was hoping to shoot the bands. Surprisingly, he seemed impressed and said “Cool!” and wished me luck and we parted. I did it!
I shoved my hidden treasure down my pants and sauntered out of the tunnel. I headed towards the massive crowds that were forming on the floor of the stadium. Once I felt hidden and blended in, I opened the bags and found my equipment untouched and ready to rock. The show was scheduled to begin at noon, so I waited for the show, reunited with my camera.
By the time Van Halen hit the stage, all 65,000 people were now in the stadium, and it felt like two-thirds of them were on the floor, trying to get as close to the stage as they could, just like me. (All tickets were general admission).
I remember the show like it was yesterday. Van Halen was putting on an amazing set, but I was paying the price for being close to the stage. The area up front was absolute chaos. Worse than any show I’ve been to. The crowd was constantly rocking back and forth. We were all jammed in there like sardines, and sometimes trying to even stand up straight was a challenge! And it was hot! 85 or 90°, not even counting how the 65,000 bodies packed in there were raising the temperature.
Just when I thought the crowd was settling down, you’d feel a really big push. If your feet were touching the ground at the time, you’d have to keep up with the crowd and keep moving with them, or you might get trampled. And if you fell down, you might never get a chance to get up. It was dangerous.
When the crowd surged,some times your feet would not even be touching the ground. You’d feel a big push and you would ride that wave and you would feel yourself move up to 10 feet at a time, in whatever direction the crowd was pushing. Luckily, I ended up being 6 to 8 rows from the stage at my closest point.
I remember the security hosing people down with water telling people to stop pressing so hard on the barricade. It never broke, but looked close at times.
The people who passed out or were injured would get passed up to the front and be carried over the barricade. I remember a couple people who got a little bloody. Maybe they accidentally caught an elbow to the face.
Van Halen’s set was amazing! But rather than try to describe it with words, I will let my pictures do the talking!
You can follow Timmy Mccrum on his Facebook. A big thanks to Tim for sharing his great story and all his fantastic photos!