Three Rivers Stadium

Thirty Years of Stadium Rock
Three Rivers Stadium during its short 30 year existence from 1970 to 2000 hosted almost 50 major concerts and a dozen music festivals. The era of stadium rock began at Three Rivers in 1971 with a performance by Three Dog Night.  Over a million fans watched Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, U2, Bruce Springsteen, Led Zeppelin, the Grateful Dead, James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles and other superstars at Three Rivers.  The stadium also hosted the two World Series Champion seasons of the Pirates and Four Superbowl winning seasons of the Steelers.    
Grateful Dead Concert 1995                                        

Thirty Years of Music History

During its 30 year history Three Rivers Stadium played host to top rock, jazz, R&B, and country artists.  Fans flocked from several states to watch their favorite bands and to Party at tail gate parties in the stadium parking lots..

The first singer to grace Three Rivers Stadium with his voice was Pittsburgh's Billy Eckstine.  The baritone balladeer sang the national anthem at the Pirates 1st game at the stadium on July 16, 1970.

The first concert at Three Rivers Stadium was a headline appearance by trumpeter Al Hirt at the Three 
Rivers New Orleans Music Festival on August 24, 1970. The three hour concert, that also featured the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, drew 6,348 on a Saturday night.  The stage was set up on home plate. A cloud burst began at intermission that continued through the concert's 11:30 PM ending.  The program concluded when two New Orleans funeral bands marched out of the two dugouts across the field to join with the band on stage. Sound for the show was amplified through a 150,000 watt set of 50 speakers provided by Hanley Sound of Boston, the firm that did the Woodstock Festival. A team of four engineers and two technicians were able to adjust the sound system to overcome the stadium's severe echo.  Concert reviewer Lenny Litman wrote: "It was probably the best jazz show ever staged outside of Newport.  AllHirt was superb as was every other group....Al Hirt presented a show those who attend will never forget, but he must remember to give second billing to the sound system."

The first rock concert held at Three Rivers was a performance by Three Dog Night on November 13, 1971. Promoted by Pat DiCesar the show drew 20,000.  The stage was set on second base. credits that 3 city concert tour as the beginning of the era of stadium rock.  Three Dog returned to the stadium on July 30, 1972 drawing 20,000 in concert with opener Leon Russell.  The second rock concert was a performance by Black Sabbath on March 27, 1972.

The third concert at the stadium drew 40.000 to see headliner Alice Cooper along with Two Steves and Humble Pie on July 11, 1972.  Promoted by Pat DiCesar and KQV the show set the record as the then largest rock concert in Pittsburgh history.  At the end of Humble Pie's set thousands of fans swarmed onto the field.  It took an hour to clear the field delaying Alice Cooper's start to 11:10 PM.

The Pittsburgh Jazz Festival was held at Three Rivers Stadium in July of 1973. The festival, which had been founded in 1964, had been successful drawing as many as 13,000 to the Civic Arena for the annual two day event.  Producer George Wein, who also produced the Newport Jazz Festival, believed he could draw a bigger audience to Three Rivers Stadium with the hit recording artists Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, and Ray Charles.  The Friday night July 13, 1970 show starring Ray Charles, Steve Wonder, Charles Mingus, and B.B. King drew just 5,000 fans.  But 11,000 turned out on Saturday evening July 14, 1973 to hear 
Aretha Franklin, Roland Kirk, David Newman, the Staple Singers, Herbie Mann and Walt Harper.  With total attendance of 16,000 it was the largest drawing Pittsburgh jazz fest as of that date.

Led Zeppelin played a 15 song set on July 24, 1973 drawing 40,000 fans. Enthusiastic teens flocked to Pittsburgh from several states desperately wanting to see their favorite band.  Gatecrashers broke through chain link fences at Gates A and B to force their way into the show.  Others were turned away sprayed by high pressure fire hoses.  Guards and fans got into shoving matches.  A dozen teens were treated for minor injuries. To prevent fans from jumping from the stands onto the field 55 gallon barrels filled with water were placed along the first and third base walls.  Several people were injured jumping from their seats onto the barrels. Those that made it past the barrels rushed the stage joining the 6,000 people with seats on the field.  Post Gazette music critic Mike Kalina panned the concert saying that the band couldn't reproduce its studio sound live and the Robert Plant's singing wasn't "particularly stirring".  But he said the fans thoroughly enjoyed themselves. Many Led Zeppelin fans said it was the best concert they ever saw.  The show grossed $300,000 and earned the band $120.000. 

Pink Floyd performed 4 times at the stadium in 1974, 1975, 1988, and 1994.  The June 20th, 1975 concert set a new concert attendance recording drawing 47,921 fans.  A giant floating 
pyramid broke lose and floated out of the stadium.  The Pittsburgh Press music critic Pete Bishop wrote of the 1975 concert: "From virtually every angle, incredible was the word for the Pink Floyd's Three Rivers Stadium concert...incredible was the  only word for the multimedia show which illustrated "Dark Side of the Moon", the second half of their act."

Besides hosting the baseball World Series Three Rivers Stadium also hosted the World Series of Rock on July 19, 1975 that starred the Bachman Turner Overdrive, Styx, Kansas, Dave Mason, Johnny Winter, and Foghat.  The concert drew 47,709 fans. 

The ZZ Top / Aerosmith concert of June 20, 1976 was a day of craziness. P
aid attendance was about 54,000, but Pittsburgh police reported that 70,000 showed up for tail gating before the concert.  Two hundred and fifty fans were Injured, many were cut by broken glass when bottle-throwing erupted.  A pregnant woman was burned on her leg when she was hit by a cherry bomb.  Fans climbed onto the dugouts to get on the field, hit one security guard with a bottle and trampling another.  Hundreds of people swam in the rivers before and after the concert.  Two deaths were attributed to the concert.  The body of a nude an unemployed female school teacher was found in the Ohio River the next morning. Another woman found with a concert ticket stub in her pocket was struck by a hit-and-run driver in Hazelwood. After the show the mayor and city council considered banning rock concerts at Three Rivers.  But the concert revenue was needed to make debt payments on the stadium.

Two more concerts were held at Three Rivers Stadium in 1976.  The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, and Boz Scaggs appeared on July 24, 1976 drawing 37,000 peaceful fans.  Two hundred Pinkerton guards were hired to keep fans from bringing alcohol into the stadium and to protect the stage.  The Beach Boys, Peter Frampton, and Gary Wright performed on August 14, 1976 drawing 48,852 fans.  The Beach Boys returned for the Tri-State Jam concert on August 28, 1978 appearing with Steve Miller, Jan and Dean, and Pittsburgh's Sweet Breeze.  The five and 1/2 hour show promoted by Concerts Unlimited drew only 16,000 fans. A Fleetwood Mac concert was held in nearby Cleveland the same day.  There was then a four year gap from 1979 to 1982 where no concerts were staged at Three Rivers Stadium.

Simon and Garfunkle united for the first time after 13 years apart to perform at Three Rivers on August 1, 1983.  It was the first Three Rivers Stadium concert since the 1978 Tri-State Jam.  A crowd of 31,606 turned out to see Simon & Garfunkle's 2 hour show performed on a stage decorated as a drive in movie theater.  Ending the show with "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and "The Boxer" the crowd rose to its feet and urged the duo to perform three encores.  Reviewer Terry Hazlett of the Observer-Report loved the show writing: "It's difficult to recall a better concert in Pittsburgh's's doubtful that there has been a more thoroughly enjoyable evening of music....Not all once-in-a lifetime concerts become once-in-a-lifetime memories.  But this one did."

In 1984 a planned two days of concerts on October 13 and 14 by the Michael Jackson Victory Tour was called off.  Jackson demanded local vendors stay home so that his own vendors could have the exclusive right to sell merchandise at the concerts.  The members of Teamsters Local 250 voted 46-5 against giving up their rights to sell merchandise at the stadium in return for a paltry offer of $1,000, or 6 percent of the Jackson vendors' gross, to stay home.  Union members said accepting the buyout would set a bad precedent. John Montani told the media  "If we had accepted the buyout, everything we have stood and fought for would have gone down the drain. Every time a concert came to town, we would have had guns to our heads to give up our jobs." 

One of the strangest events at Three Rivers was a joint demolition derby and rock concert held on May 27, 1985.  The event titled "Explosion of Sound" began with a demolition derby, motor cycle jumping, and T-bone movie stunt car cashes.  Driver Brian Carson, stunt driver for the Smokey and the Bandit movies gave a crash course in car wrecks.  The automotive portion of the show was following with a concert by the Marshall Tucker Band and the Outlaws.

Bruce Springsteen drew 65,500, the largest crowd in Three Rivers Stadium history, on August 11, 1985.  Tickets for the show sold out in four hours.  Bruce kicked off the three and 1/2 hour concert with "Born in the USA" and the crowd roared. 

Music reviewer Peter B. King wrote, “Springsteen fronts the best band in rock ‘n’ roll. And I do mean rock ‘n’ roll, as opposed to rock, fusion or heavy metal. We’re talking three-chord music that’s unrefined and unpolluted – direct and immediate as a punch in the gut.”  

In 1987 Three Rivers Stadium was one of only five us stadiums to host the Genesis Tour with Mike Rutherford, Tony Banks and Phil Collins along with opening act Paul Young.  The concert held on May 24, 1987 drew 65,000 making it the second highest attended event in Three Rivers Stadium history.  Genesis returned to Three Rivers on May 26, 1992 drawing 40,000 fans.  Reviewer Lynne Margolis of the Washington Observer-Reporter called the Trio's crystal clear sound "incredible".

The Rolling Stones Steel Wheels Tour played Three Rivers on September 6, 1989 drawing 62,000.  It was the third largest drawing show in Three Rivers Stadium history.  Washington Observer-Reporter music critic Dave Molton exclaimed: "The Stones are still the World's best rock n roll band."  The Stones returned on September 29, 1994 drawing 50,000.

On Sunday September 30, 1986 the Pirates scheduled a post game concert with Chuck Berry and the Four Tops.  Berry was paid $10,000 in advance to perform. His contract stipulated that he had to be on the stage by 5 P.M.  The baseball game went into extra innings ending at 5:05.  It took forty minutes to set up the stage.  At 5:45 Berry refused to go on and left the Stadium.  The Four-Tops went on an played extra to make up for Chuck Berry's absence.

The Monsters of Rock Tour played Three Rivers on June 15, 1988 with head banging line up of Van Halen, Dokken, Metallica, Scorpions, and Kingdom Come with Pittsburgh guitarist Danny Stag.  About 28,000 people braved 90 degree heat to watch the 8 and 1/2 hour concert.

U2 made the first of its three Three Rivers appearances during its Joshua Tree tour on October 13, 1987 that was attended by 40.000.

U2 returned on August 25, 1992 drawing 40,000 fans with its Zoo TV Tour. 

Thirty thousand fans turned out for U2's PopMart tour on May 22, 1997.  The massive stage for the PopMart tour featured a 100-foot-high ``Golden Arch'' in the center, a 35-foot-high lemon on the side and a 12-foot-wide stuffed olive sitting atop a 100-foot ``toothpick.''  The backdrop was $7 million video screen that was 150 feet long and 50 feet high. 

Grateful Dead 1995

The Grateful Dead, king of the jam bands, made two appearances at Three Rivers in the 1990s causing major traffic jams.  The July 8, 1990 concert drew 46,000 dead heads to the seven hour show that also featured Crosby, Stills, and Nash.  Reviewer Peter B. King of the Pittsburgh Press was impressed: "what really makes the Dead come alive is the band's unusual instrumental capabilities. Garcia picks fluid, modal, instantly identifiable leads. Phil Lesh ...plays highly melodic lines on his six-string bass. .All six members of the Dead function exceedingly well as an ensemble. ,,,,And, of course, there's the Dead 's telepathic use of dynamics; they take listeners on long journeys that rise and fall like ocean waves."

The June 30, 1995 Grateful Dead concert had traffic on the Parkway East backed up to Monroeville, the Parkway West jammed at Interstate 79 and downtown was in gridlock.  Fifty thousand tickets were sold for the concert, but thousands more came to party in the Stadium parking lots. The concert goers circled the North Side trying for find spaces in the stadium lots that were clogged with downtown commuters.  It was one of the worst traffic jams in Pittsburgh's history causing two to three hour delays.  Meanwhile at the stadium Pittsburgh's Rusted Root, who were touring with the Dead, opened the show.  A cloud burst soaked the crowd at the end of Rusted Roots set.  The 1995 Three Rivers show was one of the Grateful Dead's last concerts.  Gerry Garcia died suddenly of a heart attack two months later of August 9, 1995. 

The George Strait Chevy Truck County Music Festival on June 9, 1999 was the only country show to play the stadium.  But it brought a truckload of country music superstars to Pittsburgh including the Dixie Chicks, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Kenny Chesney, Jo Dee Messina, Mark Willis, and Asleep At The Wheel.  Forty nine thousand fans in dressed cowboy hats turned out on a sweltering 98 degree, 80 percent humidity for a day of country music revelry.

The N' Sync concert held on July 16, 2000 was the fastest selling concert in stadium history. On the stadium's 30th birthday 47,000 fans turned out for the last Three Rivers Stadium concert.

Three Rivers Stadium Festivals

In addition to concerts within Three Rivers Stadium several festivals and post game concerts were held outside on the stadium grounds near Gate C.  The Pirates staged a Spring Festival from May 17 to Memorial Day in 1985 that included several concerts. The Pittsburgh Music Allstars concert on May 23, 1985 featured Norman Nardini and the Tigers, B.E Taylor, Haywire, G-Force (aka the Granati Brothers), Joey G (aka Joe Grushecky) and the Brick Alley Band.  The Spring Festival Oldies Flashback on May 24 starred Pure Gold.  Donnie Iris and the Pittsburgh Allstars performed at the Hometown Heroes concert on August 2, 1996.

DJ Porky Chedwick was honored with the two day PorkStock Festival on August 15 and 16 1989. On the first day Little Richard, the El Capris and Johnny Angel and the Halos performed. The second day featured Bo Diddley, Richie Merrit, Pure Gold, The Holidays and The Vogues.

The Three Rivers Rib and Music Festival was held annually from 1993 to 2000 outside of the stadium.  The four day event ran from Thursday to Sunday with a concert every evening.  The classic rock bands Kansas, Blue Oyster Cult, Fog Hat, Three Dog Night, Electric Light Orchestra, Donny Iris, .38 Special, Loverboy, REO Speedwagon, Bad Company, Molly Hatchet and more appeared.  DicCeaser-Engler / Live Nation booked and produced the concerts.

The Summer Spectular Festival held on August 1, 1997 was headlined by the Clarks and also featured Brownie Mary, Daharma Sons, and Seventh House.  In 1998 the Pirates hosted Pittsburgh acts for 11 weeks outside of the Headwaters Pub at Gate C.  Billy Deasy, the Gathering Field Rob James of the Clarks and others performed.  In 2000 the series was titled "Party on the Patio" and featured The Dick Clarks, Cherylann Hawk, Joe Grushecky, Grapevine, The Distractions, Soh'Nuff and more.
The Rise and Fall of Three Rivers Stadium

The Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team had played in Forbes Field for sixty years. 
Forbes Field, build in 1909 was the oldest ball park in the National League. It was a picturesque park with ivy covered brick walls located on the University of Pittsburgh campus on the edge of Schenley Park. But sight lines in the stands were blocked by huge pillars.  The outfield seats were wooden bleachers.  There were few modern concession stands and no fancy private boxes.  Parking was non-existent in Oakland.  With a seating capacity of 35,000 the Pirates wanted a larger venue. The Pittsburgh Steelers football team did not have a permanent home.  The Steelers played some games at the 56.500 seat Pitt Stadium and others at Forbes Field. Pitt Stadium was an old bowl built in 1924 that lacked modern seating, had only a few antiquated rest rooms, and was prone to flooding during heavy rain storms.  Both sport teams wanted new facilities.

The first proposal to replace Forbes Field was made in 1948 but progress was very slow.  The formal plan for a new stadium was submitted by the civic affairs committee to Mayor David Lawrence in 1958.  It recommended building a multipurpose sports facility on the North Side along the banks of the Allegheny River across from Point State Park.  The Stadium Authority was  formed in 1964 to build, operate and maintain the Stadium.  The Pittsburgh architecture firm Deeter Ritchy Sipple was selected to design the stadium in 1958.  

Three Rivers was designed as a multi-purpose stadium to host the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team and the Pittsburgh Steelers football team.  The original design for Three Rivers had an open outfield wall that displayed the Pittsburgh Skyline.  Construction bids were submitted in July of 1966 for $38 million that were about $12 million over estimates. To shave construction costs that design was rejected in favor of the final closed in circular bowl.  New bids submitted in March of 1968 were approved by the stadium authority. Construction began in April of 1968 lasting for 29 months.  Total cost to build was $36 million.

Three Rivers Stadium was a five level enclosed bowl built with thick steel reinforced concert.  Seating capacity for f
ootball was 59,000 and 47,952 for baseball.  The seats on all five levels were colored red and yellow.  Two 4,000 seat sections on the first and third base lines were placed on rails that allowed them to be moved to become 8,000 50 yard line football seats. For the affluent classes the stadium offered 115 private enclosed luxury boxes and the 450 seat private glass enclosed Allegheny Club restaurant.  The common folk brought their beer, nacho's and hot dogs at 50 concession stands equipped with overhead TV monitors that relayed the games.  The original giant scoreboard was located behind the end zone below the second level of seats.  The original tartan turf playing surface was replaced with Astroturf in 1982.  Blue seats with cup holders were installed in the lower deck in the 1990s.

Pirates Win the World Series Twice at Three Rivers

Three Rivers grand opening was a Pirate game was on July 16, 1970 with 
48,846 fans in attendance.  Baseball Hall of Fame member Pie Traynor threw out the first pitch.  Organist Vince Lascheid rallied the fans.  The Cincinnati Reds beat the Bucs in the opener 3-2 with the help of Tony Perez's hit of the first Three Rivers Stadium home run.  The Pirate found their first playoff success since the 1960 World Series at Three Rivers Stadium and became a baseball dynasty.  The Pirates made the Major League playoffs in five of their first six seasons at Three Rivers.  In 1971 the Pirates hosted the first World Series night game and won the series against the Baltimore Orioles.  Roberto Clemente made his historic 3000th and final hit during the last home game of the 1972 season. The Pirates won the 1979 World Series playing at Three Rivers with Captain Willie Stargell and "The Family".  Three Rivers Stadium hosted the Major League Baseball All-Star Games in 1974 and 1994.  The Pirates led by the hit less phenom Mr. "Flop -Tober" Barry Bonds lost in the National League playoffs at Three Rivers in 1990, 1991, and 1992.  Mr. Bonds paled in comparison to Pittsburgh's true baseball heroes Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell who both delivered World Series wins.  The Pirates had their last winning season at Three Rivers in 1993. 

Steel Curtain Dynasty wins Four Superbowls.

The Steelers first game at Three Rivers Stadium was a preseason game on August 29, 1970 against the New York Giants. The Steelers lost their first regular season game was against the Houston Oiler on September 29, 1970.  Comedian Phyliss Diller's husband Warde Donovan sang the national anthem backed by the Butler High School Marching Band.  The Steelers earned their place in NFL history at Three Rivers Stadium.  Beginning in 1972 the Steelers qualified for the playoffs eight straight years and won four Super Bowl in six years.  During the 1970s the Steelers' home record was 69-13 - an .841 winning percentage.  Art Rooney, owner of the Steelers, said in 1980 that the Steelers success was made possible by their move to Three River Stadium "Without the new stadium, we'd never have been winners.  We were a second-class club before we moved into the new stadium. That made us a first-rate club." 

Quick Exit from the Pittsburgh Skyline

The success of Three River Stadium was short lived.  It survived only 30 years.  At the turn of the 21st century the multi-purpose stadiums like Three Rivers Stadium, Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium and Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium were no longer financially viable.  
As baseball and football salaries skyrocketed to multi-million dollar contracts, professional sports teams needed more revenue.  Football teams wanted bigger stadiums with many more luxury boxes and private clubs.  Baseball teams wanted smaller "ball parks"with more luxury boxes and old Forbes Field / Wrigley Field style architecture.  Both the Steelers and Pirates demanded new stadiums or else they were moving to another city.

Even though $23 million in debt was still owed on its original construction cost, Three Rivers Stadium was replaced  with two new venues. 

The Pirates celebrated their final three games at Three Rivers Stadium with music. The Vogues performed at a pregame show on Friday September 29, 2000. Donny Iris appeared before the final games on Saturday September 30, 2000. Sister Sledge, of "We are Family" fame, sang the last national anthem on October 1, 2000 to a record regular-season crowd of 55,351.

The final event at the stadium was a Steeler game on December 16, 2000. Fifty Steeler alumni appeared  for the closing ceremony that included a replay of Franco Harris's playoff gaming winning "Immaculate Reception".  After the game fire works were shot and the crowd sang Auld Lang Syne".   The fans filed out of the stadium remembering the Glory Days of the Steelers, the Pirates, and the many rock concerts. .

Three Rivers Stadium was imploded 
at 7:59 a.m on February 10, 2001. Twenty five thousand people turned out to watch the Stadium be turned to dust. They watched from parties on Mount Washington and lined the banks of the Allegheny at Point State Park.  The Tribune Review located in the Clark Building across the street from Three Rivers threw a big party and gave hard hats to the attendees.  At 7:59 am a series of explosions went off in a circle inside the  stadium.  Three Rivers Stadium disappeared in a giant cloud of dust that engulfed the sky.  The stadium was reduced to rubble in a 19 seconds using 4,800 pounds of dynamite to collapse 180,000 tons of concrete, 6,000 tons of structural steel and 4,000 tons of rebar,  When the dust cleared Three Rivers Stadium was gone baby gone.  

The Steelers moved to 65,000 seat Heinz Field and the Pirates moved to the smaller 38,000 seat PNC Park. Both parks now host large concerts.

The Immaculate Implosion

Epitaph for Three Rivers Stadium

By Rick Shrum Pittsburgh Post Gazette - Written to the 25th Anniversary July 16, 1995  

It stands on the North Shore, eight stories of concrete and thousands of stories to tell.

It is a sports coliseum, mostly, where the term "City of Champions" was forged. But it's also a concert site, a convention site, a Billy Graham Crusade site ... everything from monster trucks to Monsters of Rock.

Aesthetically and geographically, it has taken more hits than Jack Clark rattled off its walls. Difficult to get to; more difficult to leave. Seats too far away. No character.

But it has had plenty of characters. And great teams, players, bands ... and memories.

Three Rivers Stadium is 25 years old today, and although it may be unloved and unwanted by some, this theater in the round is unparalleled in the volume of entertainment it has brought to Pittsburgh.

During the past quarter-century, the stadium has been home to four Super Bowl and two World Series champions; a graceful Swann and a curtain of steel; a Prince and a King and a beloved home run king.

This is where The Family lived; where the Immaculate Reception incredibly played out; where Clemente played incredibly; where babushkas and pennants and batteries intended for Dave Parker flew.

It's where Cliff Stoudt and Mark Malone were vilified for not being Terry Bradshaw; where Bradshaw was vilified until Super Bowl IX; where Bert Blyleven and Barry Bonds and Dale Berra incurred the wrath of thousands daily.

It's where the Grateful Dead , the dead (Pirates, 1984-86) and the risen- from-the- dead (Pirates, 1990-92) made a living.

All of this and more, and the place has yet to throw in the towel -- Terrible or otherwise."