Out of the hundreds of concerts at Lagoon’s Patio Gardens, some might assume there are many recordings of those concerts available. But in reality, they are extremely rare. For a long time, I thought Stan Kenton’s 1962 concert was the only one. But I was pleasantly surprised recently when a visitor to the website left a comment about a live recording of Woody Herman from 1956.
This CD features the concerts from the 27th and 28th of July, 1956. It was the second of three visits Woody Herman made to Lagoon over the years. The recording apparently originated as a live broadcast by the old Utah radio station, KYBL. It begins with an announcer stating his location at “New Lagoon” – which is how the park was marketed for a few years after being rebuilt from the large fire of 1953.
Woody Herman had a few different bands that played with him during his long career. After his first band was nicknamed “Herman’s Herd”, the usage continued with the Second Herd and Third Herd. The latter group recorded music and toured together from 1950 to 1956.
A notable member of the Third Herd is piano player Vince Guaraldi who later became a well-known jazz artist on his own. Now his name is almost synonymous with Charlie Brown television specials.
Without today’s sophisticated soundboard technology, the piano wasn’t picked up very well on microphones, but Guaraldi’s distinct piano work can still be clearly recognized, like in “Opus de Funk”.
These concerts have been made available by Storyville Records – a Danish record label that started out by reissuing US jazz albums for fans in northern Europe and has since accumulated and released a staggering amount of jazz performances that are often hard to find in America.
Fifty years ago this spring, Lagoon was the setting of a key moment in the history of The Monkees.
Although the band was created by Hollywood producers for a TV show beginning in 1966 and media critics nicknamed them the Pre-Fab Four, Davy Jones, Michael Nesmith, Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork quickly rose to fame as The Monkees. They sold millions of records while constantly struggling to prove they had become more than just actors, but a real, working band.
When their TV show was cancelled after two seasons in early 1968, The Monkees began filming scenes for a motion picture that followed the formula of pop art style films like The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night while still having enough of their own elements to make it unique. As the director, Bob Rafelson put it:
It’s different from the Beatles’ movies. It’s intense and severe, and it exposes much of what all rock groups went through but nobody had the guts to tell. In the movie we saw The Monkees as victims. The energy had run its course with their old audience. We tried to reconfigure them for the more mature audience who had previously rejected them.
The film pioneered some new special effect techniques like polarization and included appearances by Annette Funicello, Toni Basil, Frank Zappa¹ and other stars.
The final scene in the film was a live performance of a new song entitled Circle Sky – a rock song written by guitarist Michael Nesmith. Plans were made to film the performance at their upcoming concert at Lagoon’s Patio Gardens (now the Game Time Arcade). The band arrived in Salt Lake City along with co-producers Bob Rafelson and then-unknown Jack Nicholson. Later that day, the group were guests at local radio station KCPX.
The next day, 17 May 1968, as technical preparations for the concert were underway, The Monkees rode various rides at Lagoon accompanied by an entourage of Salt Lake City policeman and hoards of fans.
Fans were already lining up at the Patio Gardens when it was decided that the venue wouldn’t allow for optimal lighting for the film shoot and the concert was moved about ten miles south to the three-year-old Valley Music Hall (the large dome building visible from I-15 in Bountiful). The venue had a circular, revolving stage making for a memorable scene.
The events of those two days were documented in 8mm film footage and photos by popular rock and roll photographer, Henry Diltz. Some of that footage can be seen in the video below, which is presented with audio of directions being given to the audience who would be a part of the scene. More footage of Lagoon is available on the Jimi Hendrix: The Guitar Hero DVD.
Because of the confusion from changing venues, The Monkees returned to Lagoon after filming at Valley Music Hall to perform a free, half-hour set to show their appreciation to the fans. It was estimated that about 5,000 people attended at each location.
No one anticipated that night that the performances in Bountiful and at Lagoon would be the last American performances with all four original band members before Peter, and later Michael, left the group over the next couple of years.
The title of the movie was changed from Untitled to Head and the band’s name wasn’t really used in marketing campaigns. The film and the soundtrack album largely failed to change perceptions of the band. Instead, many found it confusing and The Monkees were basically rejected by the audience they were abandoning as well as the ones they were hoping to win over.
Almost two decades later, there was an unexpected resurgence in Monkee-mania when cable networks MTV and Nickelodeon began airing the TV series again. This renewed interest in the band helped make their albums top sellers again and a reunion tour was organized.²
As part of the tour, The Monkees returned to Lagoon, this time performing at Lagoon Stadium, on 29 August 1986 along with Gary Puckett, Herman’s Hermits and The GrassRoots. The band continued to record and release music and even the failed movie, Head, has earned a cult following.
Lagoon has hosted hundreds of performances by popular musicians and entertainers over the decades, peaking with the shows held at the Patio Gardens in the 1950s and ’60s. Those who experienced them in person usually have great memories from them and many of those who never got to the chance wish they could travel back in time. If only there were some recordings that could help us feel like we were there. Well, there is at least one concert recording from the Patio Gardens that has been floating around for some time now and is fairly easy to get a copy of.
On a couple of warm, late August nights in 1962, Stan Kenton and his 22-piece orchestra filled the open-air pavilion with smooth, polished jazz music. During at least one of the shows, somebody was smart enough to put the live sounds on tape.
A Night At The Old Nugget
Released by Status Records¹, which specializes in recordings of jazz concerts of the mid-20th century, this recording from Lagoon’s Patio Gardens is one of the many previously unreleased titles that the record label has made available on compact disc.
The instruments sound exceptionally clear and the chatting of musicians and Stan Kenton is audible between songs. The atmosphere conveys the intimate nature of the venue which many seem to recall. Fans of Stan Kenton and jazz music of that time period seem to agree that this particular mix of talented musicians were the best ever collected under Kenton’s leadership. But even if you’ve never listened to the genre, it’s worth giving this concert a listen to get an idea of what could be heard emanating from the northwest corner of Lagoon on summer nights about 50 years ago.
1. The story behind Status Records is a bit confusing and more than I care to dig into for the purpose of this article. But from what I’ve found online, there are two different companies that released music under the Status Records label. The first was based in Bergenfield, New Jersey. It was an imprint of the larger Prestige Records, which specialized in jazz music, and was basically formed to release budget-priced albums. The second Status Records, which is responsible for this Stan Kenton album, seems to have been a revitalization of the old Status Records, but this time based in the United Kingdom. They have reissued many of the older titles in the Prestige, New Jazz and earlier Status catalogs on CD as well as issuing previously unreleased recordings like this Lagoon concert.
Competitive racing has been present in some form at Lagoon since it opened in its current location in 1896. Even earlier than that, Lake Park (Lagoon’s predecessor) held boat races on the Great Salt Lake.
In the early days, Lagoon served as a starting point and finishing line for many races on foot and bicycle. Horse racing was a big draw in Utah when Lagoon opened a new race track in 1911. But after only two years, the races were outlawed. It wasn’t until 1925 when horse racing was allowed again using the pari-mutuel betting. But even that only lasted until 1927.
Auto races then became the new thrill in racing and a variety of races were held at Lagoon. After the initial Davis County Fair took place at Lagoon in 1906, it eventually became an annual event from 1929 to 1942. During World War II, Lagoon closed indefinitely and the county fair moved to Kaysville.
In the early 1960s, Lagoon was thinking seriously about expanding and bringing in a wider variety of entertainment. One part of their long-term plans including stock car races on the old track. Even though their proposal was approved by the Farmington City Council, the backlash from local residents was enough to cause Lagoon to withdraw.
The Davis County Fair returned to Lagoon in 1966. Lagoon constructed new buildings to accommodate the fair and other events including the Davis Pavilion and Davis Stadium (later known as Lagoon Stadium). The stadium would become home to weekly rodeos and demolition derbies until the early ’80s. It was after the 1984 county fair that it relocated once more, allowing Lagoon to expand onto the land utilized by the fair. The Midway was extended northward in 1986 with Flying Carpet placed at the far end (where Samurai stands today).
A few concerts were held at the stadium in the late ’80s, but the venue was used less and less. The concrete grandstand still stood when Top Eliminator was installed on what used to be the race track’s home stretch. These controlled dragster rides were the first to let park guests compete against each other on such a large scale.
The grandstand was demolished around 1998 and Double Thunder Raceway, featuring two go-cart tracks, opened in its place in 2000. Top Eliminator closed for good in 2011 to make room for a record-breaking new roller coaster, Cannibal.
The tradition of racing at Lagoon still continues in 2015. The first foot race in decades, a half marathon/10k/5k was held on April 3rd with the final leg of the race winding around Lagoon’s rides.
Race Track – All about the race track and events held there
With a history going back over a hundred years, Lagoon has had plenty of attractions that have come and gone as well as a considerable amount of attractions that, for some reason or another, have never made it past the planning stages. This is one in a series of posts about attractions that were officially announced, but never became a reality.
In the mid-1980s, Lagoon seemed to have very definite plans to open Utah’s first IMAX theater¹. The following excerpt is from a May 1984 Deseret News article which was probably one of the first reports to the public on what sounded like a sure thing.
Ground is expected to be broken later this month for a $2 million dollar project which will be Lagoon’s major new attraction for the 1985 season – Utah’s only IMAX theater, featuring a unique 70mm projection system which has a screen nearly seven stories high and more than 90 feet wide, coupled with a six-channel sound system for remarkable realism. Designed by a Canadian firm, the IMAX system has been utilized primarily at world’s fairs and similar expositions and at several amusement parks and museums.
The groundbreaking obviously never occurred and by about the same time a year later, here’s what the Deseret News was reporting:
Another major project which had been planned for this season, but which is now tentatively scheduled for construction later this fall for the 1986 season, is the construction of a big IMAX movie theater.
Nothing was ever mentioned about where the theater would have been located, but there must have been a spot set aside if construction was planned to begin so soon.
My guess is that it would have been somewhere near the stadium (where Top Eliminator and Double Thunder Raceway are today) based on the following factors.
The maintenance buildings and warehouses were completed near that area in 1985 to eliminate the need for several smaller spaces scattered around the property.
In 1986, the Midway was expanded on the north side into the area that had been reserved for rodeos, demolition derbies and the Davis County Fair². The fair’s agreement with Lagoon ended around that time and the concrete grandstand was being used less and less. In this location, the IMAX theater could have been used year-round due to its proximity to the parking lot.
The Sun ‘N’ Fun Theater was built in this area in 1988, possibly because plans for the IMAX theater had been scrapped. The area would have been a perfect entry way from the park.
There could have been many reasons the theater was never built. One reason may have been that people generally don’t go to amusement parks to see movies. And only within the last ten years have first-run, feature-length movies been available in the giant format on a regular basis (like there are now at places like the Jordan Commons). I have to wonder what kind of films Lagoon would show. A popular trend in IMAX theaters in the ’80s was to feature specialized films about nearby tourist attractions. For example, the same newspaper articles quoted above speculated that a new Grand Canyon feature by Kieth Merrill (a native of Farmington, Utah) would have played there, but it was originally intended for a new theater built at the Grand Canyon. An IMAX theater built in West Yellowstone, Montana in the ’90s showed a special film about Yellowstone. Could it have been that Lagoon would have been involved in bringing about or at least showcasing some kind of movie about some local landmark? Or could it have had to do with the level of involvement between two different companies?
1. There was a growing emphasis on entertainment at Lagoon during the late ’80s and early ’90s. The slogan “A World of Entertainment” was used in advertising in 1985. In the ’90s, “The Entertainment Experience” was a slogan commonly used on souvenirs and publicity materials.
An IMAX screen about the same size Lagoon’s would have been was built in Spokane, Washington for Expo ’74, the same expo where Lagoon’s Jet Star 2 first opened. Watch the film that was shown and you may see why this would have made people sick after watching it on a 65-foot high screen.