It was a year ago when I wrote a column about Hammond's entertainment mainstay the Parthenon Theatre, which went from vaudeville venue and movie house of the 1920s to live entertainment concert space of the 1970s, before being razed in the 1980s to make way for a parking lot.
But Hammond still has its other audience and stage attraction: the Hammond Civic Center, 5825 Sohl Ave., the 4,500-seat arena that opened in 1938.
On Friday, the venue is officially being "relaunched" as a "major concert space" with hip-hop star Nelly on the bill for an 8 p.m. concert lineup that also includes Soulja Boy and others. Tickets range from $30 to $80 and are available at the Hammond Civic Center box office. The doors open at 6 p.m. and the concert is open to anyone age 18 and older.
In recent years, the Hammond Civic Center has remained open, but has primarily been home to the annual ticket events like the Shrine Circus, WWE pro wrestling matches and sportsman outdoor shows with inside booths and browsing guests.
But from the 1940s to the 1980s, it was cherished by the region as the place to see some of the biggest acts in show biz.
In the early 1950s, in addition to being a household name on the radio, Len Ellis of Valparaiso was also responsible for booking entertainment for the Hammond Civic Center.
"In 1953, I booked a newcomer named Jerry Reed who was trying to get exposure on the concert scene and all it cost me was the $27.50 to pay for his bus ticket from Atlanta to Hammond," said now 84-year-old Ellis.
As for his duties as a concert promoter, one of the first acts Ellis booked in 1954 was George Jones aka "The Possum" at the Hammond Civic Center. Big country name headliners like Johnny Cash and Red Foley also came to Hammond to perform, as did Roy Orbinson, Roger Miller, Skeeter Davis and Chuck Berry.
By the 1970s and 1980s, it was the popular rock bands of the day that drew the biggest crowds, including acts spanning The Animals, Peter Frampton, Blue Oyster Cult, ZZ Top, REO Speedwagon, Rare Earth and Nazareth to Styxx, Earth, Wind and Fire, Sly and the Family Stone, Ted Nugent, Judas Priest and Cheap Trick. Our Times Rock Music Columinst Tom Lounges has written about many of these names during his decades of chronicling the music scene in our region.
And fellow Hammond Times Reporter Bob Kasarda recalls when KISS (sans their trademark makeup) came to the Hammond Civic Center to do one concert on March 30, 1986. He just began his reporting career at The Times, and the rock band's booking date, which happened to be Easter Sunday, made the headlines of the day. Local churches and community leaders complained about the then-push-the-envelope band performing in Northwest Indiana on the religious holiday.
For more region concert memories, visit a great website with photos and audience contributed recollections at regionrockmemories.com.