Summerfest at the Stadium: Eric Clapton and The Band perform Inaugural Concert at Rich Stadium – July 6, 1974

On Saturday July 6, 1974, Rich Stadium in Orchard Park, NY held the first ever concert in its history. Eric Clapton and his band would serve as headliners, with The Band serving as a warm up for Slowhand. Tickets for the show were $8.50 each ($46 in 2021 dollars) and caught one of rock’s biggest legends upon the release of his classic 461 Ocean Boulevard.

The show was held one year after opening as the new home of the Buffalo Bills, going 9-5 in their inaugural season. More affectionately known as ‘The Ralph’ in the late 90s, the Buffalo-based multi-national food company Rich Products gave the stadium its original name, signing a 25-year, $1.5 million dollar deal, one of the first sales of naming rights in American sports. 

Following a sellout show at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh the night before, the Buffalo show would not be Clapton’s finest hour by any means.  July 5 was Robbie Robertson’s 31st birthday, and with The Band guitarist on the road with the hard-partying Eric Clapton, its possible that Clapton indulged too much the night prior, affecting his performance the next day. Clapton reportedly said “It’s Robbie’s birthday today and … there’s gonna be some bovver tonight.” 

Not much is known about The Band’s set beyond their final song, which may have been the most pivotal part of the evening. Joining the opening band for a song is not unnatural for a headliner, but rarer still, as the impact of the main act’s arrival is lessened. When Clapton joined The Band on July 6 for an encore of “Chest Fever” in the support slot, the performance was disjointed and led to the drunken Clapton needing to be carried off stage. 

photo by Watt Casey, Jr.

The Band setlist via Setlist.FM

Hard Times the Slop (Noble “Thin Man” Watts cover), Just Another Whistle Stop, Stage Fright, The Weight, The Shape I’m In, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, Across the Great Divide, Endless Highway, Up on Cripple Creek, The Unfaithful Servant, Smoke Signal, The Genetic Method, Chest Fever (with Eric Clapton)

Clapton’s band included George Terry (guitar), Dicks Sims (keyboards), Carl Radle (bass), Jamie Oldaker (drums), and Yvonne Elliman (backing vocals). Also joining the lineup was Freddie King, who was flown in specially for these shows.

Geetarz shares insight on Clapton’s performance, which is widely reported as the worst show of the 1974 tour, and a low point for sure. Eric was reportedly massively, incoherently drunk, and unintelligible at times. As the show begins with Clapton giving an outro to emcee “Legs” Larry Smith, a member of the crowd would shout “Clean Up Yer Act!,” a sign of the times indeed. 

photo by Watt Casey, Jr.

Drunk and stoned, Clapton would start playing songs without getting the band on the same page, starting the show with a rambling “Last Train to Brownsville”, where he seemed to start engaging with the audience who had apparently been throwing fireworks at the Clapton, saying “To be serious … one more of them, I’ll tell you, and you’re out of here! One more of them silly fucking fireworks and you are out of here! Behavior!”

After “Let it Grow,” Clapton shouted “I am drunk and I am ready for fuckin’ trouble!,” and then brought up Freddie King, but Eric was far from ready and was outshone by King. Clapton even gave a drunken intro for King: “He’s strapping on his guitar, moving to the guest spot, and if you haven’t heard of him, you don’t fucking deserve him! His name is Freddy.” 

photo by Watt Casey, Jr.

You would think that bringing on stage a blues guitarist he looked up to would keep Clapton on his toes, but he was outshined in Buffalo and reportedly unable to keep up during this performance of “Have You Ever Loved a Woman?” Doubling down, when King sang the line ‘It’s a shame and a sin’, Clapton weighed in unnecessarily: “Don’t believe them! There’s no shame, there’s no sin…” a revealing moment for Clapton who was at the time secretly in love with Patti Boyd, then married to his friend George Harrison. 

Capping off the show with “Little Queenie,” Clapton was now more incoherent and ready to end the night. Rambling during the Chuck Berry song, and apparently triggered by the repeat mentions of the Queen, Clapton said “Meanwhile, in Birmingham …. England, that is, not here, in Alabama …. they’re making Persian carpets … at 19,000 quid apiece … there’s only 10 Pakistanis here! They can’t be bad – who am I?”

photo by Watt Casey, Jr.

The next night in Jersey City was reportedly a somewhat better show for Eric Clapton, and likely The Band as well, with a recording available below that offers an idea of what the July 6 show sounded like. Rich Stadium has seen many more shows over the years, with Clapton setting the bar low for all to exceed in the years that followed. 

Eric Clapton setlist via WheresEric.com

Going To Brownsville*,  Smile, Let It Grow, Hideaway**, Have You Ever Loved A Woman**, Tell The Truth, Willie And The Hand Jive, Get Ready, Steam Rollin’ Man, Little Wing, Blues Power, Presence of The Lord, Little Queenie, Crossroads
* with Legs Larry Smith
** with Freddie King

Photos below are by Watt Casey Jr., who was working for Showco, this being his first show.

buffalo billsEric Claptonrich stadiumThe Band