On Thursday and Friday, August 10th & 11th, 1978, Van Halen performed at a small bar in Wisconsin that was a actually converted barn. Yes, a BARN!
The band arrived in a van and played on a small stage up in the hay loft! Tickets were six bucks, burgers were a dollar, and hay covered the floor. This show has to be one of smallest and most unique gigs of their entire career. This gig was at the Hooker Lake Inn in Salem, Wisconsin on August 10th, 1978. And there was possibly a second gig, on August 11th. Their opening band was the Pearl Handle Band, whom David Lee Roth sure didn’t get along with! (See below).
Below are some accounts from people who were lucky enough to attend that very gig at the Hooker Lake Inn bar/barn…
UPDATE: We now have a very detailed recollection of this very unique show! Read the new text in brown, below. An excellent read!
“Five months after Van Halen’s eponymous first album had just been released, the boys from Pasadena were on a long trek opening for Black Sabbath, and on one of their off days from Ozzy and company, they were booked into a small dive near Paddock Lake in southern Wisconsin that became the source of mythic legend: did they actually play a concert at a converted dairy barn while they were the number one band in America? The answer is yes.
“It was, quite literally, a three-story cattle stable that had been converted into a biker bar. The stage was a former second level hayloft with a huge weight-bearing timber column running vertically right down the center and bordered with rough-hewn pine slat railing to keep performers from falling fifteen feet to the main floor below. I had been at other gigs there in it’s first year of operation including shows by Eddie Money, Starcastle, and The Dictators (featuring Handsome Dick Manitoba), and I swear you could still smell remnants of manure and bovine piss when the place got heated up with wall-to-wall humanity.
“By this time, Van Halen’s star had risen to the point where they were responsible for selling nearly half the tickets at the Sabbath gigs, and their debut record had already gone multi-platinum. It seemed odd that they were playing this gig in such an obscure rural outpost, but the word had gotten out, and there were already cars from four states represented in the parking field by 5:00 PM for this rare headlining set.
“Due to my relationship with Warner Brothers as a Program Director at a local rock station, and my writing gig for area magazines, I was able to hang with the guys during their sound check and meal. Even as an opener for bigger bands, they were used to more space to work with than this cramped excuse for a stage. Despite the close quarters, Eddie still insisted on having his replica of the Little Boy Atomic Bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima next to his Marshall stacks. There was barely room for anyone to move more than five feet, and this was going to be especially challenging for front man Roth’s histrionics. You could see them looking at each other in bemused wonder as their crushing sound caused sawdust to filter down through the early evening sunbeams cutting through the planked walls.
“After getting their levels, it was difficult getting a read on Diamond Dave as we chatted in an area that was once a horse stall. I could never tell if he was stoned, or just incredibly laid back in that Valley Boy kinda way. His eyes were bloodshot and bleary, and he did guffaw with that stoner stammer, but then he could also sound quite erudite and clever at times in a tone that belied an altered state. He was one of those guys that never, ever gave a straight answer to any question. Eddie, on the other hand, was shy but genuine in his interactions. Alex Van Halen was distracted and seemed a bit peeved about the cramped condition of his drums (I think they had to reduce his kit in order to accommodate everything that was necessary on the “stage”). Michael Anthony was quite outgoing, and the most forthcoming and relaxed of the lot.
“Despite the less than ideal circumstances, the band gave a rousing performance to the thousand or so that were packed into quarters designed for perhaps half that. They played nearly every song from the debut album, plus at least four that would be featured on their soon-to-be-released Vol. II album. And then there were Eddie’s extended “Eruption” solo and spotlight moments for drums and bass, too. There was no doubting that this band had the goods, even under these less than ideal circumstances. And since I believe I was the only sober, non-buzzed observer or participant in attendance within that bizarre silo, I can attest that the concert did, indeed, take place.”
— from “Embracing the Gray”, a blog by author Mark A. Hollingsworth
“I saw the original VanHalen in the summer of 1978 at a bar that was a converted barn called Hooker Lake Inn in Salem, Wi. It cost $3.00 at the door and their show consisted of a lights-out drum solo with flaming drumsticks and it was one of the best concerts I have ever seen. Nobody had ever seen anything like Eddie’s playing (before all of the wannabees!) They blew the roof off of that place! Eddie’s original plexi half-stack was all the tone he ever needed.”
—posted by ampdan at vintageamps.com
Sometime around the late 1970’s (I was only 18 years old), my friends and I heard live bands perform at Hooker Lake Inn. The building had the appearance of a timber-framed barn (on the west side of street with a gravel parking lot). A second floor balcony held the band stage, tables and a small dance floor. The stage was positioned above the bar. Looking over the balcony, I could see below the main dance floor and two pool tables. Hooker Lake Inn was located about a mile south of Hwy 50. I can’t remember the name of the cross road or recognize this road today. However, I do know that it was someplace between Paddock Lake and Lake Geneva.
—posted by igotopieces at everythingsg.com
“I’ll tell you a little Van Halen Story. When I was a kid growing up in the mean streets of Chicago you had to be 19 to drink in Illinios and they inforced it, but you only had to be 18 in Wisconsin and they never carded anybody, so we could drink up there at 16 or 17 years old. We used to drive up there to the bars and clubs when there was nothing else to do, usually when Maywood or Sportsmans park race tracks were closed.
“Well, we drove by a dump called The Hooker Lake Inn. It was literally a barn with a bar inside. Hay on the floor and everything. They had a grill always going outside and you could buy a raw burger/bun for $1 but you had to cook it yourself. I was hungry so that was the place. There was about 20 people in there and here comes the free entertainment. I play guitar and was a big hendrix fan back then…The band comes out, of course I didn’t expect much, they looked like fags and I knew they were from Fagville (Los Angeles) cause they said that when they introduced them..then the guitar player goes into some heavy riffs…I’m like WTF is this!? It was Van Halen, they played in the loft of the barn…they were great! So I told people I knew and we all came back the next night and you couldn’t even get in the barn. Musta been 500 people there.”
—posted by Western playboy on cappersmall.com
“Van Halen [around the time] they released their first album at Hooker Lake Inn near Lake Geneva, WI. Van Halen and all the beer you could drink for $5. Very small bar that was a converted barn. UNBELIEVABLE show!”
—posted by Anonymous on bankersonline
“I saw Van Halen in a Barn in 1978(?) It was a barn in Wisconsin…it was called the Hooker Lake Inn, but it was a barn. Someone told me I had to see this guy so we went…I thought he was great. There was only about 40 people there.. Obviously it was before they hit it big..”
—posted by Mann Pro on zetaboards.com
This last account of the Van Halen show comes from a member of their opening act, the Pearl Handle Band:
“A friend of mine from work Dan Hurc (60), told me this story about when he was in the band Pearl Handle that had opened for VH on a hot summer day in August of ‘78 at the Hooker Lake Inn , WI.
VH arrived in their van and the first thing out of Dave’s mouth was “Don’t beat on the drums, and you can’t use our fans!” [as in, their electric fans].
It was a blistering morning and the heat was frying everyone’s mind and the drummer from Pearl Handle, Dean Alliotta, got super pissed at this announcement.
They were all at the bar when this was taking place, while the show was setting up. After a couple of hours had gone by in that afternoon heat, Dean had enough. He got in Dave’s face again about the fans, to a point where he lost it. They had to hold him back from kicking the shit outta Dave. Dave’s still bitchin’ about touching the drums and saying he didn’t want anything broken. Dean was sick of Dave talkin’ shit and thought the fan thing was so ridiculous. He cussed Dave out. And because Dave was being Dave, Pearl Handle gave Dave the choice (not necessarily the rest of the Van Halen guys)…either you let us use those fans or you get NO P.A.! That must have pissed off Dave?!
Meanwhile, while all this was taking place, Ed was still in his room… ?
So, now in between the soundcheck and hangin’ around the bar, and with Dave gone, it was time to put everything in relax mode. With Michael & Alex still hangin’ round, the boozer’s that they were, the band decided to invite them to partake in the relaxation with a little Blonde… Lebanese…
The whole afternoon Michael & Alex followed Dan & Dean around like little puppy dogs wanting another treat…he says. That turned out to be a good thing because they got to talkin’ and then asked what the fuck is Dave’s problem? To no surprise, their answer was “We know he’s an asshole, but he’s the best singer we got.”
They also talked about how Alex first played guitar and that Ed was on the drums, and how Dave was in a rival band.
This whole time up to the start of the show Ed’s still in his room. Dan said when he put his ear up to the wall all he heard was “Eruption” over & over again. He thought to himself, how’s he doing that with all those notes?
There was a brief moment during soundcheck where Dan asked and Ed showed him. But as Ed’s noodling, and when he came to right handed tapping, Ed turned his back to him and gave a few second sample and then said, “There you go.”
—posted by JimiJames on metroamp.com
Lastly, just to give some additional flavor of what that converted bard was like in the seventies, here’s some comments about the Hooker lake Inn from people who would play there and/or attend concerts there (from the facebook page Chicago Bar Bands 1975 through1982):
“No hookers, no lake, and no inn. Wasn’t the stage in a hay loft?” —John Hogan
“I used to love playing that place, even though the smoke from the grill was choking me out, whenever somebody grilled a burger.” – George Millspaugh?
“The only bar I can think of that hosed down the entire place to clean up at the end of the night. Before they became one of the regular clubs on the circuit, the club owner shot and killed a drunk through the front window after closing.” —Gary Weimer
“I loved that place, always a great time. No Inn, No Lake, and No Hookers.” —George Baumann
Special thanks to Ron Higgins for compiling most of these accounts.
The comments section below contain even more accounts from people who attended these unique gigs!
Now you can get an exact replica of the tee Van Halen sold at the Hooker Lake Inn! Order HERE.