rock on.

pine knob - the grateful dead

remembering 50 years of magical music memories at pine knob

one of the greatest outdoor amphitheaters ever, and still rocking.

i’m sure you can pick me out here,

on a typical night in the middle of the hill on the lawn

early 70s, where i saw my first live concert, Focus, performing their one hit, “Hocus-Pocus.” 

Pine Knob. A holy musical pilgrimage for metro Detroiters for 50 years. 

The award-winning theater was christened with a matinee concert by teenage heartthrob David Cassidy on June 25, 1972 (a few days later, old-school crooner Andy Williams and Quincy Jones hosted a five-night run at Pine Knob to mark the occasion). It was the largest venue of its type in the country at the time, currently able to accommodate 15,000 patrons.

A couple of weeks later, the first rock concert at Pine Knob forced the police to shut the place down — a sign that Clarkston’s new venue had a little something for everyone. 

When the James Gang rolled into Pine Knob that inaugural summer, an estimated 25,000 “young people” tried to storm the venue. That’s according to a report in the Detroit Free Press, which noted that the rest of the “hard rock” concerts scheduled for that summer would be canceled after the ruckus. That included an upcoming show by Detroit’s own Bob Seger, who would go on to play more than 25 sold-out shows at the venue over the years.

Maybe you were at that show, or the more than 3,000 other concerts that have taken place there. Thousands have made memories at Pine Knob over the years, whether blurry-eyed ones from the top of the hill or once-in-a-lifetime front row experiences from within the comfort of the pavilion (which, admittedly, could’ve been blurry-eyed, too).

When Pine Knob changed its name to DTE Energy Music Theatre in 2001, it was those memories that kept the original name alive. Even the bands that played there and recorded live albums there called it Pine Knob. “It’s always been Pine Knob to me. I always call it that from the stage,” Peter Frampton told Billboard earlier this year. “I am really happy Pine Knob’s true identity has finally been returned.” (Frampton recorded his 1999 album Live in Detroit at Pine Knob.) For its 50th anniversary, new sponsors made the wise move to tap into that well of nostalgia by bringing back the original name and some of the retro aesthetic to the signage and logo.

“you create a community with music, not just at concerts but by talking about it with your friends.”

-david byrne

71 responses »

    • me too, and most of us from those early days never called it anything else, and finally they understood the meaning of the place’s name. keep looking at that pic, I’m a tiny dot in there, I’m sure of it!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. And that was a 70s hit I recall, Beth! DJs had such a fine time announcing Hocus Pocus with Focus. Pine Knob looks like a great place to have grown up with concerts! I played Where’s Beth for a while but the red hair was as hard to find as Waldo’s red sweater.

    Liked by 1 person

    • it was their one hit and made it to number nine on the billboards here. it clearly took a while for my musical taste to develop, but it was a fun first concert and I’ll never forget it.


  2. Music was the best thing in those years, so many great groups, so many great songs that are still alive and as fresh as they were 50 years ago! Imagine that! 50 years ago we did not listen to music made 50 years earlier, but now everybody listens to the “classic” rock of the 60’s and 70’s. And The James Gang! I remember buying their album… Great post Beth!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I recall going to Pine Knob many times in the early 70s, but the place changed so much over the years unfortunately. I don’t believe I have ever been back since it became DTE Energy Theater. For a while, Freedom Hill was super cool, perhaps as good if not better than the early Pine Knob. Of course that is just my opinion, and I expect others would disagree. Thanks for the Pine Knob memory.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I hate corporate naming of public places. A really class outfit would buy the rights and then call the place whatever the locals preferred. Can you imagine renaming our Red Rocks Amphitheatre? I’m glad Pine Knob got its identity back.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This piece brought back a lot of memories. I’ve never been to this venue, but I went to several others like it. Of course, I was using my incredible astute teenage judgment at the time.😁

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I absolutely love going to shows, and the venues make the experience that much more enjoyable. I went with my oldest to a jazz show this past weekend, in the basement of a pool hall in downtown portland. Perfect.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. wow – that sounds like a great place to see a concert. I’m surprised that at 15,000 capacity, it was the largest of its type in the country.

    And how cool to got from opening with David Cassidy to next having Andy Williams and Quincy Jones…

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I just hate it when a corporation buys a place the community built, and uses it to make their brand look cool!
    pine knob is still pine knob, yay!
    Okay, I blew up the pic. Row 35, section C, seat/spot on the grass #48. Am I right?

    Liked by 1 person

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