Surfin’ the Falls – When the Beach Boys Played….Sal…..Canada Day.

Disclaimer-this article is not about the pulp and paper industry, or logging, nor does it go very far back into history. But there is a damn good reference to it at the end of the Danger Tree, where the author David MacFarlane is strolling semi-disgusted around the Memorial Grounds (it was Memorial Sunday after all). So let us get aboard the old time machine go back 30 years. Lets stroll down that old dirt road down behind GFA Elementary, down to Centennial Field, and in my case to up to St. Catherine Street. 

I will state it here in black and white. The Beach Boys played Grand Falls on Sunday July 1, 1990. It was Canada Day, not the Salmon Festival. The Beach Boys played Canada Day and not the Salmon Festival. And it was one of the biggest concerts ever to take place in Newfoundland and Labrador.

I used to have a tendency, that after the final act of the Salmon Festival played their final song and the rumors about who might play next year started, that I would tell everybody around me in the beer tent that-the Beach Boys are coming next year for the XX Anniversary of their show in 1990. (Which is misleading in more ways than one, as I have stated, The Beach Boys did not play Salmon Festival.)

The Beach Boys concert would go down in history as one of the biggest ever hosted in the entire province, it was legendary. The fact that I wasn’t there makes it more legendary. Well, I wasn’t at the field, but I was at my house, which was somewhere in the vicinity o 500 meters from the stage, and I was seven, so my recollections probably lack validity. But boy do I remember the crowds.

I don’t know if the exact or even approximate numbers ever came out, but I would wager to say that it was on par or exceeded the attendance for the Eagles at the Salmon Festival in 2013.  The number I have heard thrown around in the folklore for years has been 30,000. PLUS take the number of people watching from outside the fence and as far up as the college hill, there was probably another several thousand taking in the concert for free. And if I really want to exaggerate, there were 50,000 people there. Then again there may have been 50,000 people in town that day!

Now fully factually, Brian Wilson was with the Beach Boys that day, and so was John Stamos. Stamos was at the height of his fame as Uncle Jesse on Full House, I hope nobody “touched the hair” because he hasn’t been back to Central Newfoundland since. Mike Love was not with the Beach Boys for this concert, because Brian Wilson was with the group in one of his first appearances with them in years, and the bys’ don’t like each other. But folklore has it that Paula Abdul was there, since she and Stamos were in a relationship at the time-some have sworn that they saw her, but I have it from a very good source that she was not there.  Imagine Uncle Jesse on the congas for Kokomo, in Grand Falls. Brian Wilson got out of bed to come to Grand Falls!

Beach-boys-full-house
The Beach Boys showing up at Danny Tanner’s house to pick up Uncle Jesse  I mean John Stamos, so they can fly to Newfoundland.

According to Mike Pinsent, long time Town Manager, there were actually 24,000 tickets sold for the event. He also noted that children under 12 got in for free. Add the number of kids, throw in the freebies, then there had to be some gate crashers. There had to have been in the vicinity of 30,000 people on the field. Former economic development officer with the Town of Grand Falls, Ida Scott, noted that 30,000 tickets were sold, with an estimated 3,000 people watching from the highway. In comparison, the Beach Boys had played a concert in Montreal a day before for a measly 7000 people. Ticket price was $19.90.

Beach Boys camps site goodyear field, Wilfred House.jpg
Goodyear Avenue Ballfield was used as a campsite by the town during the Beach Boys Concert.  There has to be a similar picture of the field the day of the concert somewhere (Courtesy of Wilfred Howse)

Initial planning for the concert started at the beginning of 1990. The Town was looking at new ways to generate revenue. For a number of years they had been hosting the increasingly successful Exploits Valley Salmon Festival, with an ever escalating roster of talent. I might Joke that Tommy Hunter played the Salmon Festival in 1988, but in 1988 Tommy Hunter was a big deal all across Canada. The Beach Boys had recently been surfing  up on a wave of resurgent popularity with their hit song Kokomo. Kokomo had rocketed through  to the charts because of its inclusion on the Cocktail Soundtrack and was the band’s biggest hit in twenty-two years. Unlike the hits from the 60’s, it was also accompanied by a music video. It gave them appeal to a huge age range, from the Baby-Boomers who grew up listening to them, to their kids who heard them in a Tom Cruise movie, or seen them on Full House.

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Not an actual picture, but this happened in Grand Falls in 1990.

Leading up to the event staff from the Town were mobilized, with frequent meetings and a flurry of activity. I am sure Recreation Manager Larry Hutchings must have been run off his feet, the enthusiastic Hutchings had been a driving force in a lot of town events back it the 80’s. Nothing of this scale had taken place in Grand Falls, the only comparable concerts in Newfoundland had been the 1985 Tina Turner and the 1989 Rod Stewart concerts in St. John’s.

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The stage for the Beach Boys show. (Courtesy of Pauline Taylor Butt)

The opening acts included Five Alive, Alibi, and Sideline. As I recall seeing or hearing somewhere; the headliners didn’t play that long, I think maybe 70 minutes, though this needs to be corroborated.

From what I can gather the event was a huge success. How huge? well according to Ida Scott:

Irving Oil ran out of fuel to provide to their service stations and it was reported in the newspaper that McDonald’s in Gander ran out of burgers.”

And that following the concert.

“Many businesses took out ads in the newspapers to thank the Town and organizers for what they had done to bring so much money into the Town.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a pile of pictures of the event. Remember, this was back in the days of real cameras and real film, so there aren’t ten million pictures floating around. This has become more of a fishing expedition, looking for more information, than some thing fully formed. Thanks to Pauline (Taylor) Butt, I have a couple of the crowd and the stage.  I don’t  have a picture of the Beach Boys performing, though I am sure it was a fantastic display of neon and Hawaiian prints. Although I was half expecting the weather data to come back and say the day was a scorcher, it only hit a maximum of 17 degrees. I do remember it was a nice day.

Beach Boys 1990
The Beach Boys Circa 1990.

As I write this I keep thinking, that on a normal year, we would either just be finished, or just gearing up for the Salmon Festival (which the Beach Boys did not play). The Beach Boys concert proved that a massive concert could be held in Grand Falls, and established the town as a concert location. At the time there wasn’t even a permanent stage on Centennial Field. Five years later there would be another huge non-Salmon Festival concert, with Bon Jovi in August of 1995. Much later, came the era of the  Mega-Concert, where a host of aging groups, in it for the money and mostly hating each other, drew crowds of over 20,000.

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Could this be a picture of the Beach Boys performing?  (Pauline Taylor Butt) 

A little over three weeks after playing Grand Falls, the Beach Boys released “Problem Child” to coincide with the release of the movie of the same names. Stamos was on drums for that one too. I saw that movie. The following year David MacFarlane published the Danger Tree, which not only documents the early history of the town, the saga of the Goodyear family, and the tragedy of Beaumont Hamel, but it also takes us back to Lincoln Road to hear the echos from the sound checks for that legendary concert.  I’ve read that book at least three times.

This year there won’t be a Salmon Festival, and I won’t be spreading completely false and unfounded rumors in the beer tent about the Beach Boys triumphant return to Centennial Field. I guess it is just as well, since the real members of the band are either pushing eighty, or dead, so the chances of it happening are pretty slim.  Maybe we can get Brian Wilson to do a solo performance with his piano set up in the beach volleyball court?


Special Thanks to:

Ms. Ida Scott-who provided me with enough information that I could probably write a booklet on this concert.

Mr. Mike Pinsent-who can always be counted on to come up with some solid information from his many years down at Town Hall.

Thanks to Pauline Butt, who sent me a couple of pictures after this article was origionally posted.

Maybe one day I’ll talk to Terry Burke, and my Uncle Larry (Hutchings) about the concert and end up with some sort of ridiculous book.

3 comments

  1. My brother ray ( butch) played drums for sideline and he says it was the biggest concert ever there. Great time he says. Good story. Thanks. Larry dwyer

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  2. I think the Beach Boys played for either 25 or 35 minutes. People were pissed. Pizza Delight Inc. was the driving force behind these concerts. I remember the estimated crowd size published a few days after the concert was 35K.

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  3. I hated that summer with a passion. I had a summer job at a convenience store and we had to listen to a collection of Beach Boys songs over and over, all day, every day for a week. We were run off our feet with all the extra business. I had to clean up the mess the campers-without-bathrooms made in the lot behind the store. And worst of all? The owner of the store spent the whole time at his cabin, only coming back now and then to have a look. When it was over he told us that he made ten times his usual profit. What did the staff get? Not a penny over our regular wage. I suspect there were a lot of people working that week who experienced the same thing.
    Great site, by the way. I just discovered it this morning.

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