On this day in 1981, The Mighty Van Halen rolled through Portland, Maine, while on the Fair Warning tour. Here’s a little story from VHND reader Joe Royland who got to witness that tour from the front row at age 16!
I was 16 years old, and this was maybe the third concert I’d ever been to, and first by myself. It was at the former Cumberland County Civic Center here in Portland, ME, and I had arrived early enough that I was one of the first 10 or so people in line. When the doors opened, I made a beeline to the front of the stage. It was a general admission show, and I recall periodically turning around at the barrier and seeing the amount of people behind me grow and grow until they filled the auditorium.
I started talking to the guy next to me, who come to find out, was also named Joe, and he had driven up from Manchester, NH, to see the show. Right before the opening band took the stage (who were The Fools, from Boston), I had one of the security guys take that picture of us. That’s me on the right, proudly wearing my newly purchased Van Halen 1981 tour jersey. Joe’s wearing the 1980 Invasion shirt and a “DISCO SUCKS” button.
You see, I had smuggled in my Kodak Instamatic camera, hoping to get a few photos of the band for keepsakes. Remember, in 1981, Van Halen had only been around for about three years, so if you wanted to see pictures of them, a few albums and magazines were all you had. Since I was in the front row, security easily saw my camera, but fortunately they didn’t consider it much of an issue.
Throughout Van Halen’s set, I would keep seeing other people in the front row handing things to Eddie, and he’d trade them out a guitar pick for it. Hoping to get one myself, I reached into my pocket to see what I might have that I could trade him. I prayed for a quarter, or something, but all I had was a lighter I had nicked from my Mom’s pocketbook before the show. The next time Eddie was in front of me, I held it up for him, desperately trying to get his attention, and hoping he would trade me for a pick. It just so happened that the song they were playing when this was occurring was “So This Is Love?”. Eddie is finally standing right in front of me playing. He peers down at the lighter and then puts his hand over his eyes to get a better look. He flashes me a smile and gives me a big “thumbs up,” but alas, no pick.
Then Michael Anthony comes over to our side of the stage, too. Eddie nudges him on the arm, and points my way, as I’m still holding up the lighter, trying to get his attention. Mike then peers my way, looks at me, and gives me a big “thumbs up” and a smile, too. I’m wondering what’s going on, and only then do I take a look at the lighter, myself. It is white with red hearts, and the word “Lover” spelled out on it. It then dawns on me why they think this is cool in regards to what song they are playing. By this time, though, Ed has long left for the other side of the stage, and now Mike is looking ready to head that way, too. Just as my hopes were feeling dashed, Mike stops, turns back my way and shoots me one of his picks, with a nod like – “Hey, you’re all right.” You best believe I caught that sucker, too!
I’ll tell you though, the crush at the front was pretty intense, but I managed to weather it. Although by the end of the evening, I had managed to lose a shoe in the process, and never did recover it, even after spending 20 minutes after the show trying to locate it.
Still one of the greatest concerts I have ever seen in my life. I even got one of Michael Anthony’s bass picks that evening, too.
Thanks for sharing your memories and photos, Joe. If YOU have a Van Halen related story or photos you’d like VHND to feature, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.