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.
There’s an old documentary about amusement parks called America Screams which aired on PBS in 1978. It was an hour long, but was later whittled down to a half hour when it was released on VHS. This edited version can be seen on YouTube. (The Lagoon sequence starts at the 7:30 mark and ends about 30 seconds later).
It’s a rare glimpse at amusement parks and roller coasters at a time when both were experiencing a major resurgence in popularity. On top of that, it’s narrated by the legendary Vincent Price!
The documentary came about when an author and a filmmaker decided to do something that had never been done before. Here’s what the filmmaker, Scott Campbell, told me about how it began and why Lagoon was chosen to be a part of it.
“My partner and good friend, Gary Kyriazi, had written a book, The Great American Amusement Parks, and he wanted to make it into a film. We were both at UCLA at the time and I was majoring in film, so we said, ‘Hey, sounds like fun. Let’s pool our resources and shoot it.’ So we did. He used the contacts he had made while writing the book and he picked the parks. He liked featuring the smaller ‘mom and pop’ parks because that’s how the industry started. He was also very interested in how the amusement park became the theme park – and Pioneer Village was a part of the beginnings of that kind of concept.”
The success of Disneyland and Walt Disney World helped move the industry towards more storyline-based experiences. Pioneer Village opened in 1976 as Lagoon’s first true themed area.
“Interestingly, we shot an entire sequence at Lagoon (and Pioneer Village) for the original hour version of AMERICA SCREAMS that aired around the world. But when it went to VHS, I had to cut it down to 30 minutes, so the nighttime sequence was removed, along with the Lagoon section. There was even a sequence shot in Lagoon’s Fun House (lugging lights from L.A. for that was not a lot of fun), but that sequence didn’t make it into the film – again due to time constraints.”
While we may never see that Fun House sequence, Campbell was kind enough to share the full Lagoon sequences from the original version with the Lagoon History Project. This first clip begins in the parking lot at the old Auto Gate when it was located near the west end of Roller Coaster. Also shown are views from the Sky Ride including a great shot of the old Wild Mouse. It ends with scenes of Pioneer Village which were cut for the VHS version.
It’s easy to see why Pioneer Village was once called a “living museum” when you see employees roaming the dirt paths and boardwalks in period clothing and kids playing with a working water pump.
The original broadcast version also includes another treat. This nighttime sequence is a blend of shots from Lagoon and Lakeside Park in Denver set to the ’60s hit song Palisades Park by Freddy Cannon. It alternates between the two quickly, so I’ve marked the shots that I can confirm are from Lagoon in the clip. The Roll-O-Plane, Loop-O-Plane and possibly the Skee-Ball game could be from Lagoon as well.
Campbell called Lagoon a “wonderful, friendly park” and shared this about making America Screams:
“Price was a joy to work with…and he loved the parks and ‘rolly’ coasters.”
“…that film was a blast to make – most of the parks paid for the travel – they considered it great promotion! You see roller coaster and amusement park documentaries all the time now, but AMERICA SCREAMS was absolutely the first…by a long shot. I remember people saying to me and my partner at the time, ‘What in the world are you making a film like that for – you’re nuts! It will never sell.’ It went on to do great, not only in the U.S., but all around the world, as other cultures peeked in at what the crazy Americans were up to.”
There have been many invaluable photos shared with the Lagoon History Project over the years. They are a great help in confirming dates and attraction information and they have led to very helpful and unexpected discoveries. But unfortunately, these contributions are few compared to how many historical photos of Lagoon actually exist in attics and basements. Film footage (especially from the days before video cameras were commonplace) is even more rare, so I’m extremely grateful for Scott Campbell letting me share these forgotten scenes here. It was great conversing with him about this pioneering achievement.
See more old footage of Lagoon and old Lagoon TV commercials on the Lagoon History Project’s YouTube channel and 14 more videos on Vimeo that aren’t on YouTube.
Lagoon’s Pioneer Village stars in Christmas Land, airing this December on Hallmark Channel.
After cleaning up from Frightmares, Pioneer Village was transformed into a winter wonderland to serve as the backdrop for this 2-hour TV special. The old Rosie’s Cantina sign (last used in Lagoon’s Guns & Garters Whoop-De-Doo Roundup in 2003) was moved to the south end of Main Street and used for the Christmas Land sign for the film. Lights, decorations and loads of fake snow turned the old pioneer buildings into something more like the North Pole. You’ll also notice the old wagon that has been hanging around since the Stagecoach ride closed in 2009. Other scenes were filmed around Salt Lake City.