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Farmington • Lagoon's rides are big and getting bigger, but there was a time when the amusement park's music loomed even larger.
Witness just a partial list of the luminaries who played there: Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, the Beach Boys, Janis Joplin, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, the Rolling Stones, The Who.
Yes, the new Cannibal roller coaster may dwarf the building that once housed Lagoon's Patio Gardens, but the yet-to-open thrill ride may never match the energy pulsating from a stage that for 20 glorious years hosted some of music's hottest headliners.
The performers included black stars such as Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and Nat King Cole. These legendary entertainers helped the Freed family, who then managed and now owns Lagoon, end de facto segregation in Utah.
This was a place where The Who once served as the warm-up band for Herman's Hermits. The Stones' Mick Jagger pranced on the tiny stage where The Three Stooges also performed.
Patio Gardens even inspired the Beach Boys to include Lagoon in the band's song "Salt Lake City."
The Doors' Jim Morrison tried to light a fire under a listless crowd one spring night in 1968 in a venue that, on a good night, could seat maybe 4,000. Not that many were there for two concerts that night despite the $3.50 ticket price.
Jefferson Airplane, The Turtles and The Monkees played the Patio. The Beatles wanted to, but the late Robert Freed who, along with brothers Peter and David, rebuilt Lagoon from the ashes of a huge 1953 fire thought the band's $20,000 asking price was too steep.
Though the Patio's music died in 1973 (and yes, "American Pie" composer Don McLean played there, too), the building remains.
Dracula's Castle makes up the southern part of what used to be Patio Gardens. Inside the middle part of the building, there is an arcade. Lagoon's Adam Leishman shows a visitor part of the beautiful maple floor, where countless people danced to some of the best big bands after World War II under the ceiling's starlike lights. The distinctive round top of the old stage remains above a place where today's arcade visitors redeem prize coupons.
In this age of arena shows, where tickets routinely reach triple digits, it is hard to believe that this intimate forum played host to so many greats, with ticket prices rarely topping $4.
"Take my word for it, there was nothing more fun than going out to Lagoon for a concert," wrote Dennis Barker in a 2011 blog post calling Patio Gardens Utah's "musical nirvana." "It had it all. You could see the biggest rock acts in the world, eat, take a spin on the roller coaster and, if you were lucky, make out with your date in the spook house. If you ever attended a rock show at the Patio Gardens, you were forever spoiled for stadium rock 'n' roll. There were no nosebleeds at the Gardens."
Peter Freed the last living member of the Freed brothers who leased Lagoon after it shut down during World War II and built Patio Gardens in 1954 after a fire burned down the park's older dance hall said his favorite memories of the venue were seeing Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington.
Bringing in those famed performers was not easy. Few Salt Lake City area hotels in the 1950s and early '60s allowed black guests. Farmington and the family that then owned Lagoon had rules barring blacks from dancing or swimming at Lagoon.
Peter Freed remembers Ella Fitzgerald being allowed to stay at the Hotel Utah as long as she rode the freight elevator to her room.
The Freed brothers joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and worked to persuade the city and the then-owners to open Lagoon to all families.
The Utah NAACP eventually awarded Robert Freed its first honorary lifetime membership.
David Freed, Lagoon's president today, said his favorite Patio Gardens entertainers were the Everly Brothers, who performed there a record 11 times. He also remembers his Uncle Bob and wife JoAnn entertaining the Beach Boys at their home.
"It was an honestly intimate venue," David Freed said. "It was a big deal when we could get 4,000 in there."
Salt Lake City resident Joel Kirk remembers seeing Peter, Paul and Mary; Nat King Cole; and Les Brown at Patio Gardens.
"There were a lot of people," he recalled. "It had a big dance floor. There were little tables with chairs."
Peter Freed said that everyone, even those sitting in the outdoor patio, could hear that music on a pleasant summer evening.
Brian Record photographed some of the great concerts of the 1960s, snapping iconic photos of Jimi Hendrix offering a fan his guitar string and Janis Joplin riding the Flying Jets. His iconic shots can be seen in books and on his website, http://www.brianrecord.com.
Increasing concert costs, the opening of downtown Salt Lake City's Salt Palace and changing demographics conspired to silence Patio Gardens' music.
A book about The Doors recorded the details of a pair of May 25, 1968, concerts at Lagoon that were sparsely attended and left legendary frontman Jim Morrison hurling "vicious insults" at the crowd.
Some of the fans attending the later shows seemed an anathema to Lagoon's image as a family amusement park.
"When Jimi Hendrix was here in 1968, Uncle Bob was so upset at the clientele for a family park," recalled David Freed. "He told us about a woman going up and down the midway wearing nothing but a sheet."
Patio Gardens was gone for good as a concert venue when, in 1974, Dracula's Castle opened and its maple floor became home to a roller rink.
Lagoon still staged the occasional live concert. The Monkees played the old outdoor stadium. Dolly Parton once performed at Pioneer Village. The resort tried musical theater with an opera house, but that building is now shuttered.
Live music continues to this day, though, with live performers doing a Broadway Revue and covering the Beatles this summer.
But the days of Mick Jagger strutting across the stage, of Nat King Cole fans buying mixer for their "brown bags" of liquor from the little corner snack bar, and of Patio Gardens being the center of Utah's concert universe have long since passed.
Patio Gardens performers (partial)
Andy Williams, The Animals, Beach Boys, Bill Haley and His Comets, Big Brother and the Holding Company with Janis Joplin, Buck Owens, the Dave Clark Five, Dave Brubeck Quartet, The Doors, The Everly Brothers, The Four Freshmen, Frank Zappa, Frankie Avalon, Jan and Dean, Jefferson Airplane, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Johnny Cash, Johnny Mathis, Kingston Trio, Les Brown, The Lone Ranger, Louis Armstrong, the Mamas and the Papas, Marty Robbins, The Monkees, Mitch Ryder, Nat King Cole, Osmond Brothers, Pat Boone, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Ray Charles, the Rolling Stones, Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, Smothers Brothers, Stan Kenton, Spike Jones, The Three Stooges, The Turtles, Utah Symphony, The Who, and Peter, Paul and Mary