Van Halen performed Bill Graham’s Day on the Green in Oakland, California on July 23rd, 1978. Here’s the story of that day along with a plethora of photos!
Over 57,000 rock fans (57,512 to be exact) witnessed this legendary show. General admission tickets were $11, and the lineup was AC/DC, Van Halen, Pat Travers, Foreigner, and Aerosmith. Eddie Van Halen also gave his first interview for a guitar magazine on this day. This was the one and only Day on the Green concert that Van Halen ever performed. Rock journalist Jas Obrecht and photographer Neil Zlozower recall Van Halen’s appearance that day…
When an advance copy of the first Van Halen album arrived at Guitar Player magazine, editor Don Menn called me into his office. Tom Darter, editor of Keyboard, was standing alongside him, and they both looked utterly mystified. Don lowered the phonograph needle midway into a track called “Eruption” and asked, “Is that a keyboard or a guitar?” It was Eddie doing finger-taps, but at that moment the technique was so revolutionary that even seasoned music journalists were mystified. Adding to the mystery was the fact that although Eddie was depicted holding a Stratocaster on the album cover, the guitar on the record sounded unlike any Fender we’d ever heard.
In short, with the release of 1978’s self-titled Van Halen album, Eddie Van Halen expanded the boundaries of rock guitar. His sheer speed, unusual note choices, inspired finger-tapping and whammy work, and fiery tone inspired guitarists around the world. His impact was especially felt among crotch-rock guitarists in big-name bands, who saw their dreams of becoming “the next Jimi Hendrix” blown away in the 1:42 it took to listen to “Eruption.” Within months, it was virtually impossible to go into a music store or listen to a garage band without hearing some element of the most exciting new voice in rock guitar since Jimi Hendrix.
Guitar-intensive music was a huge concert draw that summer, and I got lucky on my first gig. On July 23, 1978, I attended a Bill Graham Day on the Green concert in Oakland, California, where AC/DC and Van Halen were opening for Pat Travers, Foreigner, and Aerosmith. My assignment was to interview Travers. I dutifully showed up, my little tape recorder and carefully prepared questions in hand, and knocked on his trailer. Surrounded by scantily clad hangers-on, Travers looked up just long enough to sniff, “Not today, man,” and dismiss me with a petulant wave. I did not want to come back to the magazine empty-handed.
To steady my anger, I started shooting hoop at a little court Bill Graham had set up backstage for performers and journalists. A lean, wiry young guy a couple of years younger than me came over and said,
“Hey, man, can I shoot with you?” I said sure, and we played some spirited one-on-one. He was fast, had a decent hook shot, and easily won the match. Afterward, we sat at the side of the court to cool off.
“What band are you in?” he asked.
“I’m not in a band.”
“What are ya doing here?”
“I’m an editor for Guitar Player magazine. I came here to interview Pat Travers, but he blew me off.”
“Pat Travers blew you off? I can’t fuckin’ believe it. Why don’t you interview me? Nobody’s ever interviewed me.”
“Who are you?” I asked.
“Edward Van Halen.”
Praise God Almighty! I switched on the tape recorder and copped Eddie’s first-ever interview for a national magazine. The story ran in the November 1978 issue and today is pirated all over the Internet. Eddie liked it so much he offered me his first cover story interview, an assignment I joyfully accepted. With its classic Neil Zlozower cover shot, the April 1980 issue rapidly became the fastest-selling issue in the magazine’s history. Over the years I’ve done other interviews with Eddie, but my favorites have always been the ones described here. We were young, fired up, and raring to go!
“It was 1978 and the Van Halen boys were to play at an outdoor gig up in Oakland, California, at Bill Graham’s Day on the Green Festival. They were opening for some bigger bands and were to play early in the day. This was to be my first offstage session with the band and I was pretty STOKED, so I set my alarm clock for Sunday morning (at least I thought so), but next thing you know I’m waking up . . . one hour later than I planned! SHIT, the alarm didn’t go off! So I grab my equipment (no shower) and jammed in my ’Stang down La Brea to the airport at about 80 miles an hour. I get there about ten minutes before the flight is supposed to leave and find out that the plane is about one hour delayed! Lucky me!
“I make the flight, get off at Oakland, get to the gig about fifteen minutes before the band goes on, and I say, “OK GUYS, LET’S SHOOT!” I posed them against a yellow, orange, and green background that was backstage, and I did my usual Zloz yelling-and-screaming routine to try to get some “rock and roll” attitude out of them, and I think they were a little taken—overwhelmed—by the way I was working with them. I really don’t think they ever had a photographer work with them like that before!
“We shot about 36 frames and the band took the stage and DEVASTATED every other band that played on the bill that day.”
“THEY WERE BRUTAL!”
— Neil Zlozower
Van Halen took the stage after AC/DC and delivered a slightly abbreviated set, since Pat Travers, Foreigner, and Aerosmith would follow them. Even then, the young and hungry band had the balls to play two songs that still hadn’t come out yet—”D.O.A.” and “Bottoms Up!”—those would come out on Van Halen II, the year after. Angus Young from AC/DC on Eddie Van Halen: “AC/DC played on a bill with Van Halen back in 1978 for a Bill Graham Day on the Green show. I didn’t know much about Van Halen then except that I remember seeing film clips of them, especially the one of Eddie playing the solo piece, ‘Eruption,’ and I was very impressed. (See all of what Angus said about Eddie HERE).
Eddie Van Halen recalled: “AC/DC was probably one of the most powerful live bands I’ve ever seen in my life. The energy…they were unstoppable. I’ll never forget our first big tour. We had an offer to do a “Day on the Green” [a Bill Graham concert production held in Oakland, California]. I think Aerosmith and Foreigner were co-headlining. We had our own trailer, and next door to us were AC/DC, who were also playing that day. I was sitting in my trailer and heard this rubble-pounding noise from the stage. I went up there and saw 60,000 people bopping up and down at the same time. Angus did his incredible wind-me-up-and-let-me-go dance and Bon never moved, except for his hand swinging, and he sounded exactly like the record. I was standing on the side of the stage thinking, “We have to follow these motherfuckers?” They were so fuckin’ powerful, but I remember feeling that we held our own. I was really happy. It blew my mind. I didn’t think anybody could follow them.” (Quote from Jan. 1997 Guitar Player)
Eddie and Y&T’s Joey Alves backstage at the Day on the Green, July 23rd, 1978. Photo by Bill Frate
One fan wrote down every band’s setlist:
Van Halen Performing “On Fire” At “Day on the Green”
More “Day on the Green” Photos
Want to own some killer shots from this gig? Pick up the two hardcover Van Halen photo books by Neil Zlozower— Van Halen: A Visual History 1978-1984 and Eddie Van Halen. The only place that stocks both of these must-have books is VanHalenStore.com.
Now you can get an exact replica of the tee from Van Halen’s ‘Day On The Green’ show! Order HERE.