The 1980s were the heydey of hair metal and hard rock, and as the genre found its audience, the Monsters of Rock concert tour was formed, bringing together the best international lineup of metal acts the world has ever seen. And for one day in June of 1988, five bands would put on a show for the ages in Western New York.
Originating in England in 1980, the first Monsters of Rock lineup and one-day festival was promoted by Paul Loasby and Maurice Jones, and included British and international bands for 35,000 fans at Donington Park race track in Leicestershire in the Midlands region of England. Originally conceived as a one-off event, the idea evolved into a touring festival in 1981 for 15 years in a row, only taking a break in 1989 and 1993. Loasby recalled the formation of that first year in England to The Guardian:
We hoped we would get 50,000 [people]. We wanted to break even at 30,000. However, because it was done the way it was we were not in control of some of the aspects – such as the cost of the police. But also, the “fuck factor” as you’d call it, is the miscellaneous. It rained and it rained and it rained [beforehand], so suddenly your trackway [temporary road] costs and your straw costs rise. We ended up with just under 36,000. A quick piece of maths showed that we’d lost money, but it wasn’t horrible.Paul Loasby on the first Monsters of Rock show
Arriving at Rich Stadium in Orchard Park on June 19, the 1988 Monsters of Rock Tour featured Van Halen, Scorpions, Dokken, Metallica and Kingdom Come, marking the only time the epic international metal concert tour made its way through the Empire State.
Headlining the show was Van Halen, who were hot on the heels of promoting their album OU812, and used the Monsters of Rock Tour to form the first section of their OU812 tour. Thus, the name of the festival this year was Van Halen’s Monsters of Rock.
The 23-city tour criss-crossed America over May, June and July of 1988, gaining the moniker “the most extravagent rock show ever” with the five bands performing over nine hours of music to more than 2 million fans who were expected across the North American tour.
“It’s like the NBA playoffs everynight, except we dont use balls, we use guitars,” said bassist Michael Anthony in talking to The Today Show. Sammy Hagar added “NBA playoffs, title fight, every night. there’s so much music its probably really tough on the people the next day,” mimicking the headache they might have the next day, then adding in “a week later, that was the greatest thing I ever did.”
Being a large scale event with multiple acts, there was a long gap between many dates while the band’s gear was transported and set up. A total of 50 tractor trailers carrying 75 tons of sound equiptment traveled between each venue, adding to tour dates that were spaced out as seen below.
|May 27-29||East Troy, WI||Alpine Valley Music Theatre|
|June 4||Miami||Orange Bowl|
|June 5||Tampa||Tampa Stadium|
|June 10||Washington D.C.||RFK Stadium|
|June 11||Philadelphia||JFK Stadium|
|June 12||Boston||Sullivan Stadium|
|June 15||Pittsburgh||Three Rivers Stadium|
|June 17-18||Detroit||Pontaic Silverdome|
|June 19||Buffalo||Rich Stadium|
|June 22-23||Akron||Rubber Bowl|
|June 25||Portland||Oxford Plains Speedway|
|June 26-27||East Rutherford||Giants Stadium|
|July 2||Houston||Rice Stadium|
|July 3||Dallas||Cotton Bowl|
|July 6||Indianapolis||Hoosier Dome|
|July 9||Memphis||Memorial Stadium|
|July 10||Kansas City||Arrowhead Stadium|
|July 16||San Francisco||Candlestick Park|
|July 20||Spokane||Joe Albi Stadium|
|July 23-24||Los Angeles||Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum|
|July 30||Denver||Mile High Stadium|
Monsters of Rock 1988 was the third time then up-and-coming heavy metal band Metallica would tour on the lineup, and the second year in a row. The 1988 shows gave early hype for their eventual classic album …And Justice For All, leading to “Harvester of Sorrow” making appearances in the setlist throughout the tour. This also marked the first tour since bass player Cliff Burton passed away in September 1986. Listen to Audio of their Buffalo set here.
Dokken was another notable band to join the show, although an attendee notes there were tensions between lead singer Don Dokken and guitarist George Lynch, leading to a short and uninspired set. Veteran German rock band Scorpions were a major European rock artist at the time, and their fans felt the love throughout the show.
Over time, the Monsters of Rock tour would decline, due in part to two fans dying during a Guns N’ Roses set later in 1988, with crowds that pushed 100,000 and muddy/wet conditions being contributing factors. This led to the festival being cancelled for 1989, with a two day festival, Moscow Music Peace Festival held in Russia, featuring Bon Jovi, Ozzy Osbourne, Mötley Crüe and Scorpions. When Monsters of Rock returns in 1990, the crowd size was limited to 75.000.
Kingdom Come setlist: Get It On, What Love Can Be
Metallica setlist: The Ecstasy of Gold, Creeping Death, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Welcome Home (Sanitarium), Harvester of Sorrow, Whiplash, Fade to Black, Seek & Destroy, Master of Puppets, Last Caress, Am I Evil?, Battery
Dokken setlist: Without Warning, Tooth and Nail, Just Got Lucky, Burning Like a Flame, Into the Fire, Heaven Sent, It’s Not Love, Guitar Solo, Mr. Scary, Dream Warriors, Alone Again, Turn on the Action
Scorpions setlist: Blackout, Big City Nights, Rhythm of Love, Bad Boys Running Wild, Make It Real, Coast to Coast, Still Loving You, Don’t Stop at the Top, Can’t Live Without You, Coming Home, The Zoo, No One Like You, Rock You Like a Hurricane, Dynamite
Van Halen setlist: A.F.U. (Naturally Wired), Summer Nights, There’s Only One Way to Rock, Panama, Bass Solo, Runnin’ With the Devil, Why Can’t This Be Love, Mine All Mine, Drum Solo, You Really Got Me, Sucker in a 3 Piece, When It’s Love, Eagles Fly, I Can’t Drive 55, Best of Both Worlds, Guitar Solo, Black and Blue, Ain’t Talkin’ ’bout Love, Superstition, Rock and Roll