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There have been some intense rock shows at Cal Poly. This one might be the loudest ever

Toy Caldwell (left) and brother Tommy Caldwell, original members of the Marshall Tucker Band, play one of their hits “Can’t you See” on stage at Cal Poly SLO on May 14, 1977.
Toy Caldwell (left) and brother Tommy Caldwell, original members of the Marshall Tucker Band, play one of their hits “Can’t you See” on stage at Cal Poly SLO on May 14, 1977. Telegram-Tribune

My ears still ring.

The loudest concert I ever attended was Cheap Trick in Mott Gym in the early 1980s.

I’m pretty sure the lyric should have been: “Mommy’s alright, daddy’s alright, they’re just hard of hearing.”

It was loud, but was it the loudest ever at Cal Poly?

Some say the 1977 Marshall Tucker Band concert takes that crown. It might be the only major outdoor rock show to have been held at Cal Poly.

The festival’s opening act, Sea Level, was a pun on bandleader Chuck Leavell’s first initial and surname. The core was former members of the Allman Brothers band.

The other opening act, Sons of Champlin, featured a member of the band Chicago, vocalist/keyboardist/guitarist Bill Champlin.

Marhsall Tucker Band was a mainstay of the Southern Rock genre propelled by their anthem “Can’t You See.”

Marshall Tucker5
An estimated 5,000 to 7,000 people came to Mustang Stadium at Cal Poly see Marshall Tucker Band in 1977 with many more listening in San Luis Obispo. Thomas Kelsey Telegram-Tribune

Photographer Thomas Kelsey remembers renting a plane to fly over Mustang Stadium early in the show, then returning at ground level to catch the headliner perform.

“It was a great concert,”Kelsey recalls.

The aerial photo shows Mustang Stadium long before the Alex G. Spanos addition on the west side or the Memorial Plaza was added to the south. The stage was set up on the northern scoreboard side of the field, with the soundboard in the center of the crowd.

It wasn’t Woodstock, but then again it wasn’t Altamont either.

You can find Kelsey on Instagram @tkelseyphotography.

Since then, most major Cal Poly concerts have been scheduled indoors at Mott Gym, Chumash Auditorium, PAC or the Rec Center.

According to a Mustang Daily article from April 26, 1983, the concert committee was able to hold events at Mustang Stadium: “But the committee is only allowed to reserve the stadium once a year, and only during the month of May.”

The article goes on to say that most acts are gearing up for the summer season and not yet touring in May. This unbylined story ran in the then Telegram Tribune on May 16,1977.

Bright, loud day at Poly

“Noisy” seems to be the best one-word description for Saturday’s outdoor rock festival at Cal Poly.

In addition to about 5,000 concert goers who half filled Mustang Stadium, thousands more heard the concert without leaving their San Luis Obispo homes. Many of them lost no time complaining to the city police department which said it referred all calls to Cal Poly’s campus police.

“We got a lot of complaints on noise,” a campus spokesman admitted, “but, that was about the only problem.”

San Luis Obispo police agreed the concert posed few other problems.

“There were reports of kids sitting on or near the railroad tracks and cars parked on private property near the stadium, but there were no traffic problems,” a department spokesman said.

Telegram-Tribune 5-16-77
An estimated 5,000 to 7,000 people crowded the infield at Cal Poly’s Mustang Stadum during a rock concert that included headliner Marshall Tucker Band. Photo was taken from a plane flown by Sannon Barrett on May 14, 1977. Thomas Kelsey Telegram-Tribune

The festival, starring the Marshall Tucker Band, Sea Level and Sons of Champlin, was a first for the university. Music began at about 2 p.m.and lasted until 6:30 p.m.

Campus spokesman Douglas Jones called the festival a success,although attendance was slightly less than anticipated. Stadium capacity is10,000 persons and Jones said the turnout was expected to be close to 7,000.

Cal Poly will earn 7 1/2 per cent of concert proceeds, Jones said.He said the exact amount won’t be known until Tuesday, when money has been collected and counted from off campus ticket sales.

David Middlecamp is a photographer for The Tribune. 805-781-7942,, @DavidMiddlecamp.
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