By Bailey Louise Davis
Beloit was on the musician’s map way back when bands traveled by Volkswagen bus. Big acts performed at one of the many venues or clubs in Beloit before hitting up Chicago, Madison or Milwaukee. During the 1940s – 1970s there was a place to dance Friday and Saturday to live music. The scene was alive and flourishing. The kids ate it up like great-grandma’s fruit pie. There were three main venues that booked bands in Beloit: Pop House, Waverly Beach and Beloit College.
The Pop House was the place to be. Proprietor George Russell Stankewitz started the Pop House in the back of his family-run grocery store on the corner of Portland Avenue and Fifth Street by the railroad tracks. The Pop House consisted of a jukebox, a few tables and booths. The kitchen was open during live performances. Two hamburgers, fries and a soft drink cost only 45 cents.
It was only a buck to hear a good band and hit the dance floor. Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs, the Kingsmen, Tommy Roe and the Roemans and Del Shannon are a few bands that performed at the Pop House.
In 1964 Ronnie Dio and the Prophets from New York performed at Pop House. Ronnie Dio later became the famous Ronnie James Dio, the godfather of heavy metal. He performed with Rainbow, Black Sabbath and Heaven & Hell.
When Stankewitz in retired April 1973, there was a final dance before Pop House officially closed.
Waverly Beach, previously known as “Poe’s Park” opened April 19, 1916 as an amusement park on Rock River. To advertise upcoming shows at Waverly Beach, Wallace Munger drove a car around Beloit with advertisements on his spare wheel tire announcing that week’s show.
Well-known bands who played at Waverly Beach included: Harry James (a famous instrumentalist of the swing genre), Tiny Hill (leader of the Big Band era), Eddie Howard, Wayne King (sometimes referred as “the Waltz King”) Dick Jurgens (American swing performer) and Coon Sanders (a jazz performer). Cheap Trick also played at Waverly Beach Dance Hall eight times in 1976 and once in 1977. Waverly Beach eventually became run-down due to various changes in ownership.
Three significant bands that performed at Beloit College’s Field House were Jefferson Airplane, Cream and Frank Zappa.
According to the Beloit Student Government Social Board Records, a down payment of $875.25 was paid for Jefferson Airplane and a final payment of $1,750.00 was made with an additional cost for four policemen at the show.
Jonette Hanson, a resident of Mineral Point, Wis., reminisces about seeing Cream and Frank Zappa at Beloit College, saying, “It [Cream] was before Blind Faith developed. It was just the three guys, Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker. I was a senior in high school at the time. I grew up with musicians but I knew this was special. When they began to play the place exploded.”
Frank Zappa attracted a huge crowd, and also did not disappoint Hanson. “That [Frank Zappa] was crazy. You just sat wherever you pleased on the floor. Jugs of wine or something were being passed around. Everyone was into it, even Barbie doll looking girls. It was wild.”
Peter Harrer, a volunteer worker for the Beloit College Library, said, “It was only $3.00 to get in. They goofed around for about an hour, complaining about being in Beloit. Apparently the band made a scene at the Holiday Inn later. When it came down to music it became serious. They played three solid sets, each 45 minutes long. Very impressive,” he said.
Beloit is not on the musician’s map for bands that travel by planes. They bypass Beloit without a glance behind them. Bands are pressured by managers to sign on to big corporate tours in order to reach a larger amount of fans. This unfortunate reality has severely shifted the music scene in Beloit. In order to attend a show the overpriced tickets, coat check fees, and traveling expenses add up. Concertgoers are paying more for an experience that does not satisfy the expectations of solid sets. The scene is alive but suffocating. The kids have forgotten the gourmet taste of great-grandma’s fruit pie and are settling for something corporately generic, like Wal-Mart’s bakery.