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Elvis Presley In Wisconsin

August 16, 2009

Each year at this time Caffeinated Politics honors Elvis Presley who died on August 16, 1977.  In years past this blog has featured pictures of Graceland from the air, and what pomade Elvis used for his hair.  This year we feature Elvis in Wisconsin, in a variety of ways.  I think my readers will enjoy this as I have audio from a radio interview from 1956, a bootleg concert recording, and a most remarkable concert review from 1977.  I admit this one took me a while to research and prepare.  From Hancock, to La Crosse, Green Bay, Madison, and Milwaukee one thing is clear.  The Badger State loves Elvis!

Much like when those alive in 1963 can recall what they were doing when they heard of the death of President Kennedy, so too can people recall where they were when the news was reported about the death of Elvis.  People are able to make that moment stand out from 1977  because Elvis impacted the world, and set a new rythm for both the pace of music and society. 

Back in Hancock, Wisconsin in 1977 I was 15 years old and eating supper (dinner) with my mom and dad when the phone rang.  I recall that mom got up from the table and answered it.  Aunt Evie from across the road had called after hearing the news  of Elvis Presley’s death on the national evening TV broadcast.  At once our set was on, and tuned to CBS.   The broadcast was well underway, and we were sure we had missed the story.  But then Roger Mudd, who was sitting in for the vacationing Walter Cronkite reported the shocking news from Memphis.  (Mudd would later try and defend his editorial judgement for not placing the story at the top of the broadcast.  Mudd felt that entertainment type news stories were not hard-top-of-the fold type stories, and as such he made news himself in the handling of  Elvis’ death.  In spite of that day I always felt Mudd to be one of the finest reporters in the country.  I have every reason to think that my Aunt had been watching the NBC News program with David Brinkley and John Chancellor, thereby hearing the story at the top of the news.)

Elvis had made an impression on Wisconsin starting in the 1950’s, much like every other part of the nation.  Wherever he performed there were mobs of teenagers, excited radio personalities hoping to get an interview, and uptight parents not sure what to make of this musical volcano.  Lindy Shannon, who was a long-time DJ scored an interview in La Crosee, Wisconsin in 1956.  You can see photos here of a 1956 Elvis concert in La Crosse.  I tried to cut a photo for this blog but the site made it impossible.  You should check it out as they are classic Elvis.

The concert years in the 1970’s are legendary, and they created memories on stage and off.  In Madison, Wisconsin on the way to a concert Elvis stopped a fight on the street, and it is recalled these many years later in the same way one might remember a visit by the President.

On April 28, 1977  Elvis performed in Green Bay, Wisconsin at the Brown County Arena. I pleaded with my parents to attend this show.  In 1974 after seeing the “Elvis On Tour” film on NBC I was hooked.  I had been hearing Elvis music all through my early years, but to see the film footage of the power he demonstrated on stage was very energizing.  And to think, as I told the parents over and over,  to know that  Elvis was performing so close was incredibly exciting.  (Actually his Madison performance would have been closer to our home.) I recall the only problem with going was the distance required to drive back home in the dark.   When I said we could stay overnight it was as if I had started speaking in tongues.  Years later my mom would laugh and say it was too bad we did not go, as it really was not that far.  What changed with the lay of the land will always be a mystery to me.

From a fan that did go comes these memories.


Elvis wore the Sundial jumpsuit that was often seen on him during the concerts of 1977.  The photo below is from the Green Bay concert.


The songs performed that night were very much like the concerts from that period. 

Also Sprach Zarathustra
See See Rider
I Got A Woman/Amen
Love Me
If You Love Me
You Gave Me A Mountain
Jailhouse Rock
O Sole Mio/It’s Now Or Never
Little Sister
Teddy Bear/Don’t Be Cruel
My Way
Polk Salad Annie
[band introductions]
Early Morning Rain
Delta Lady
Hail Hail Rock ‘n’ Roll
Hawaiian Wedding Song

Can’t Help Falling In Love

The day after the concert the Green Bay Press Gazette wrote a review.  To rub salt in the wound of my not being able to attend, the headline for the article written by Warren Gerds was, And How Was Elvis? “Fantastic”

It was as if the President were visiting – only worse. Tight security. Secrecy about arrival time. Rumours. $100 tickets. Crowd control. No interviews. No tape recorders. No motion picture cameras. All this for Elvis Presley. He was accorded admiration suitable to his nickname – The King.

Hundreds awaited the arrival of his jet Thursday evening at Austin Straubel Field. Thousands more – 6532 ticketholders – cheered him at Brown County Veteran’s Memorial Arena. On the bottom line, Elvis Presley is merely an entertainer. But he has built up an mystique around himself – partly due to his inaccesibility. That mystique generates itself into adventure and excitement for his followers.

His 70-minute performance was not remarkable in itself. But the whole atmosphere was. Earlier in the day, John Dederich, arena manager said laughingly of the impending show: “If it does anything, it’ll show that the middle age is just as foolish as the kids when it comes to their own thing.” Said one man enjoying a fling like the kids do at rock concerts: “This is the first time 40 doesn’t seem so old.” But the crowd was not entirely middle age. There were little kids and gray hairs. The average was probably early 30s.

Among the audience was a man who has to be among the ultimate Elvis fans. He’s Donald Richard of Montreal. Richard and five of his buddies from Quebec have been following Presley’s 12-show tour by car. And they’ve seen every show. Up to now that’s been Detroit, Toledo, Ann Arbor, Saginaw, Kalamazoo, Milwaukee and Green Bay. Coming up: Duluth (where Presley flew right after the show), St.Paul, Chicago (twice) and Saginaw again. This is the fourth year Richard has been using his vacation time to do this. He’s seen 75 Presley shows.

How did this interest develop? Richard responded simply in his French-Canadian accent: “We like the show, and we like his style.” Richard said Presley changes songs in his show from city to city. Presley has used 28 on this tour. Presley has been “fantastic” on this tour, Richard said. And the crows reaction is the same in every city – crazy, wild.

How do Richard and his pals manage to get tickets? “From scalpers at the door.” And they don’t get nailed for high prices. “The most we pay is $20,” Richard said. About 15 scalpers were selling tickets outside the arena Thursday. One ticket went for $70, while 20 feet away a youngster was selling at $30.

One high school student started asking $75. At 7PM, he turned down a $35 offer. He sold it at 8.30, show time, for $20. Perhaps it was to the patient Mr. Richard or one of his friends.

Meanwhile inside, sitting in a front row seat she paid “around $100 for, Judy Cebert of Green Bay was eagerly awaiting the arrival of The King – her “first teen-age love.” The price of the seat was worth it, she said. “When you wait for 20 years and think he won’t come here again, I think it is.”

Sitting behind her was he husband, Craig. He said: “The only reason I’m here is to make sure she won’t get killed.” Judy said, “He has visions of me climbing on the stage.” A few people tried that, but Presley’s security men pushed them back. The total security force was 21 off-duty, plainclothes county policemen and 10 deputies (same as for the recent Kiss rock concert), plus Presley’s four-man guard.

Further back in the crowd, Karin Craft of Green Bay was sitting on the edge of her seat with a rose in her hand. “I’m going to ask him for a scarf and a kiss”, she said. She figured her chances for that were “about 100 to 1”. Plenty of people – about 30 – got scarves, worn for seconds by Presley. One girl got a kiss – but she was Presley’s 20-year old girlfriend, singing with the backup group. Karin is a devoted follower of Elvis. “I’ve got all of his records”, she said. That includes 52 albums. What’s the attraction? “I don’t know, I just love him.”

Mary Keyser of Green Bay had the prime seat of the night. Front row, right smack dab under Presley’s microphone. Things is, she didn’t know she had such a good set beforehand. “We (she and her husband) knew we were in a good section, but we didn’t know we were in the first row.” The Keysers paid the regular $15 for the ticket, no $100 scalper rate. She said, “I like him a lot, but I wouldn’t pay a whole lot of money for it. I can’t afford it.”

And then there was Judy Shoen of Green Bay. Judy, Judy, Judy – turned on Judy. She waited for 23 hours outside the arena March 19 and was in the group that got the first tickets – front row, of course. Thursday, she was adither with delight. “Fantastic! This is it! He is the ultimate!” she cried before the show. “I would have given my eye teeth to get in the arena, let alone the first row! Can you believe this? I just can’t stop shaking.” What was she nervous about? “Oh my God! Do you realize who’ll be standing there?”

After the show, Judy’s head was still spinning. “Fantastic!” was her word for the night. Did she get a scarf? Yep, she produced it from inside her brassiere. She got the second one. Lucky Judy. What was she going to do with the scarf? “Sleep with it tonight, tomorrow and the next night.” What of Elvis? “He looked a little old, but he looked great to me,” she said. “I couldn’t find a flaw in his body.”

Presley’s show grossed nearly $100000 – easily a one-event arena record. Arena manager Dederich said the whole aura of Presley’s visit was “definitely, definitely fun.” Many would agree with him. Dederich added, “I think it’s a feather in Green Bay’s hat if it wants something big.”

Finally here is a bootleg audio recording of the first part of an Elvis concert in Milwaukee on April 27, 1977.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. February 18, 2018 12:03 PM


    Have a look here and wow–it would have been great to have had a seat for the show!

  2. Zeek permalink
    February 18, 2018 1:45 AM

    Where can pics of the Madison concert be found?

  3. Donny permalink
    February 16, 2018 6:09 PM

    The EP show in 1977 in Madison was his last visit to our state and we will not see his kind again.

  4. February 16, 2018 1:47 PM

    Here is what Ruba mentioned……..

  5. Ruba Dubdub permalink
    February 16, 2018 12:54 PM

    A few years ago we did a roadtrip through Wisconsin and specifically went to see the “Elvis fight monument” in Madison. I’d post a photo if i knew how. Anyway, it is a small block of granite hidden in the weeds near the shell of a dead gas station beside a major street and it seemed like nobody had paid it any attention for years. It was great, but kind of sad too. An etching of Elvis in the granite doing a karate pose if i remember correctly. I loved it.

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