A funny thing happened on the way to Blossom Music Center.

The rock band Vanilla Fudge kept its fans hanging on 50 years ago when it flew to the wrong Ohio town for a concert.

The Blossom crowd waited patiently as the psychedelic group backtracked nearly 200 miles to reach a gig that has become part of rock ’n’ roll legend.

The 1969 concert was scheduled for 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 8. Pavilion seats cost $2.50 and lawn tickets were $2 for adults or $1 for kids. Gates opened at 6 p.m. at the amphitheater in its second season in Northampton Township, now part of Cuyahoga Falls.

“There were learning curves during those early days,” recalled Ron Syroid, 73, of Akron, Blossom’s original director of ushering. “For one, touring performers had to learn where exactly this new venue was located. Northampton Township in suburban Akron wasn’t easy to find on the map.”

Vanilla Fudge, which hailed from Long Island, New York, was best known for its Supremes cover “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” a Top 10 hit. Its other singles, perhaps ironically, included “Take Me for a Little While” and “Where Is My Mind.”

The band had performed in Montreal and chartered a private plane for the Ohio concert. Unfortunately, Vanilla Fudge landed in North Hampton, a Clark County village near Springfield and Dayton.

Meanwhile, more than 5,000 fans had filtered into Blossom after navigating two-lane Steels Corners Road and parking in grass lots at the sprawling complex. They found seats in the pavilion or set up blankets on the lawn.

“They’re bringing in their own beer, their own wine, their own food, their own pot — a number of them,” Syroid said. “Some people even started little bonfires as the evening drew on.”

A Cleveland disc jockey introduced an opening act that hadn't been advertised but it could have been Illusion, Underground Sunshine, Supa Heat or Rhinoceros, all of which played dates that summer with Vanilla Fudge.

“The warm-up band, I can’t remember who they were,” said musician Mick Pera, 69, of Fairlawn, who was in the crowd that night. “I think they were from New York. They had half of their equipment because the other half was with Vanilla Fudge, but they did get up there and play.”

Pera sat on the lawn with his teenage band, the Tantrums. The opening group seemed to be stretching its act.

“All they kept saying was ‘The Fudge will be here soon.’ So we just kind of waited it out,” Pera said.

Carol Zeh, 69, of New Franklin, was a Blossom usher that evening.

“I think we got paid three bucks a night, but you got to see everything,” she said.

She described the Vanilla Fudge show as “a mini Woodstock,” although it preceded the New York festival by a month.

“It was like a hippie fest,” she said. “They were just dancing all around.”

Hours passed. Every so often, an emcee would assure the crowd that Vanilla Fudge was on the way.

“Everybody would cheer and carry on and go back to what they were doing,” Zeh said.

Syroid likened it to “a Santa Watch for hippies.”

Fans entertained themselves with a paper airplane contest, tearing pages out of Blossom programs to fold into gliders. The audience roared as the winning entry flew 25 rows onto the stage.

Throughout the night, the crowd kept calm.

“That was in the era of peace, love and whatever,” Zeh said. “It was like one big happy family.”

Some fans did leave — maybe 1,000 or more — but most stayed.

“I don’t exactly remember what we were doing all that time because it was a long time to wait,” Pera said. “We were on the lawn. Eventually, so many people left that they just let us come into the pavilion.”

The updates continued. Vanilla Fudge had landed at Paton Airport in Kent. Vanilla Fudge had a police escort. Vanilla Fudge had arrived.

About 12:30 a.m., the band took the stage to loud applause. After apologizing for being four hours late, lead singer and organist Mark Stein, bassist Tim Bogert, lead guitarist Vince Martell and drummer Carmine Appice rocked the house.

“They were just great,” Pera said. “We loved them. We were very happy we stuck it out. They had to be extremely tired themselves after what they had gone through.”

The band played a 90-minute set, and, yes, it included “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.”

“Which is kind of appropriate, huh?” Pera said.

Stein later explained the mix-up to the Beacon Journal: “You understand, man, that the promoter kept telling our agent about Blossom Center in Northampton Township. Only we were up in Montreal and looking at a map to find the place and, sure enough, there’s this town, North Hampton, near Dayton somewhere.

“We figured, that’s a weird place for a concert, but if that’s where people’s heads are at in Ohio, fine — that’s where we’ll wail.”

With sound ordinances today, the show would have been canceled. Bands must leave Blossom's stage by 11 p.m. But in 1969, Vanilla Fudge played until 2 a.m.

“Yeah, it was quite a night,” Pera said. “It’s a good memory.”

Syroid and Zeh waited until traffic cleared before leaving at 3 a.m.

“It was something,” Zeh said.

“It was delightful,” Syroid said.

He didn’t get much sleep, though.

“I got home at 4:30, cleaned up, changed to a suit and tie and then I went to work as a design engineer at Ohio Edison,” he said.

After the show, Blossom officials issued an apology, noting: “This situation was unique and we do not anticipate any recurrence.”

Vanilla Fudge broke up in 1970 but reunited in the 1980s and continues to perform with original members Stein, Martell and Appice, and bassist Pete Bremy.

Pera, who sings in the rock duo Mick & Rick with Rick Maselli, has seen Vanilla Fudge a few times over the years, and the band was always on time, he said.

“They’re still touring,” he said. “In fact, I’m going to see them in September at the Kent Stage.”

We reached out to the band for memories of that 1969 show, but we didn’t hear back.

Four hours after deadline, we expect to get a call.

 

Mark J. Price can be reached at mprice@thebeaconjournal.com or 330-996-3850.