Boston Tea Party, Led Zeppelin & Me
— A very good Planet Earth Led Zeppelin story!
What a blast writing this one … listening to Led Zeppelin while writing brought me right back to the show, this with a gentile reminder of my fragile age of the time. You see, in January 1969, I was among the many who were nothing but fodder for The Vietnam War!
Arrival to Boston
But on this fateful top-choice night I was a newly-minted 19-year-old visiting Boston from Hampton Beach, New Hampshire, where I grew up. I went to see my neighborhood friend, Jackie Hebert (RIP), who was then living on the 11th floor of one of Boston University’s new high-rise Babcock Street dormitories.
The moment I arrived Jackie gave me a hit of acid, saying “Good timing, eat this — we’re hittin’ a concert!” “Where, and who we gonna see” I asked. He said, “The Tea Party — Led Zeppelin.” I said, “Who’s Led Zeppelin?” He said, “Don’t worry ‘bout it — they’re great!” We then talked about The Yardbirds. Instantly, I was clued. Having already seen the movie Blow-Up on acid, I was well-prepped for a Jimmie Page show. We pulled out the blimp-cover and listened to some of the first album. We got dialed in on what was to come.
I had no idea I was on my way to the show that would change my life forever and completely!
Inner City Trolley Ride
After a few tunes we made our way to the Green Line in front of T Anthony’s Restaurant on Commonwealth Ave. We just missed the train but ran hard and caught up to it at the next stop. The fast running caused the acid to kick in.
When we got on the train the passengers, each with a smile, willingly were highlighting their heads by bobbing back in forth with the train’s motion. I wondered, “If they weren’t smiling at us, who were they smiling at, and why?” Anyway, I stood and stared at everyone, even the burly-whiskered trolley driver who got stranger and stranger with each passing stop. But it was entering the Kenmore subway tunnel that ultimately defined my senses as the trolley sounds became extra sharp.
This was against a backdrop of voiceless people rocking and rolling to the motion sounds of a now-screaming trolley. As I stood standing, my arm clung to a pole, my concert had begun early as I could hear faint sounds of music, particularly drum beats, absorbed into my rolling reality. At once, I became: Out of body and inner train!
Ironically, Led Zeppelin would later that night bless me with Train Kept A Rollin,’ a song I was soon to hear!
Successful, we shuffled out Arlington Station and meandered down Berkeley Street. We marveled a bit at the Goodwill Store, which was then a very great place to buy books from the 1700 and 1800’s. We hiked over the Mass Pike bridge and had a brief bit of fun staring at fast-moving traffic. We eventually assumed our place in the Tea Party’s very psychedelic human standing line. Tingles of excitement built within as we sensationalized our fate.
The acid was very good and getting better all the time.
Memory always told me it was a blue flat. As acid-like experiences go? So it goes ….
Waiting In Line
We were among the first couple hundred arrivals. There were lots of very hip people waddling back and forth throughout the line. In those days we affectionately called ourselves freaks. This particular concert had gathered many! Some dutifully moved up and down the line barking out “hash, grass, acid, speed, mescaline?” You name it — everything imaginable was offered!
After all, a lot of hard work goes on behind the scenes to make happen a spectacular concert!
Times sure had changed. It had only been two or three years ago, during the winter off-season months, that we’d drive from Hampton Beach to Boston just to buy a nickel or dime bag of pot. But here we were in 1969 standing in line and able to buy as much of anything we’d want. It also seemed then, unlike today, that everybody had money.
The door would soon open and the performing bands tuning up. Meanwhile, everyone outside was checking their condition, making sure they too were especially in tune. It was almost like everybody else’s high had become our very own high.
With sighs of anticipation I tingled with excitement in the cool air, while clicking my boot heels to the pavement. As I did, I noticed how each person I saw got more and more interesting. This line was way better than the subway, especially since sweet smells of grass and hash filled the air.
We were about to enter The Boston Tea Party, formerly a church but now one whose congregation had markedly changed. It has become a church of a very different kind!
Tea Party Door Opens — The Concert
We got in and since the front main seats had been taken we opted for the center front row balcony, not a bad spot for any concert. From there we watched the opening act, Raven (the band who everybody forgot). Strategically, our choice of seating wasn’t a bad call!
But that instantly changed the moment Led Zeppelin came on. Right off the bat, I said “I’m getting closer!” I bolted downstairs and wormed my way to the front stage area. By the time I got there no seat in the house was good enough — everybody had rushed forward in a wild frenzy. Lucky for me, when nobody had seats anymore, I was already at the front if it all.
Mindful of the restless crowd while watching the band I got a glimpse of the ushers coming at everyone, forcing folks to take seats. Seeing ‘em headed my way, I wiggled into a second row aisle seat about 15 feet away from Page. The ushers struggled with everyone. The show was stopped. Everyone was forced to sit wherever they were.
I found myself sitting next to J.J. Jackson, the radio announcer from ‘WBCN (he’s the dude immediately left under Page’s guitar, in the photo below). The acid in me was now prime time and joints were passing back and forth everywhere, row to row. The show was paused again, this time to stop cigarette smoking — but this never stopped the passing of joints!
A moment that perhaps tells it all, that best describes the experience, is when you scroll to 22.52 in the below live recording of the 1969 Tea Party performance:
No doubt about it!
I saw The Greatest Show on Earth! My memory hold is so strong, so great and so magnificent it will go with me to my grave and dance within my head as I prance in the aftermath throughout the heavenly confines of Edge City!
When Led Zeppelin finally came to a halt and their instruments were down, members of the band left the stage and wandered into the audience. As they did, the strobe lights kept powerfully flashing and flickering. I stood in a Total Daze!
Page walked right by me. Plant was nearby and people had him surrounded. I easily could have begun a conversation. But what was I gonna say, “great job, Jimmy?” Besides. I couldn’t move, never mind speak. I was standing motionless flash frozen in the midst of strobe lights, with people dancing around me to no music. I simply let Page walk right on past … perhaps he or I winked — who knows?
When the room near emptied, my friends found me and pulled me out of the church back onto the street. It was hard for me to move out from the shock of it all. Beyond asking questions like, “where’d you end up?” each of the four of us were practically speechless on the way back home as we replayed the concert in our minds.
It turned out I made the best move. Two of my friends stayed in their balcony seats while another ended up shifted off to the side of the front area (might even be in the photo). Me? Were Stefano Toma’s photo above a wider angled shot, I’d have been in that picture. Instead I hide in time!
This concert changed my life forever! It forever gave me an affinity for musical performance. I eventually ended up managing glitter rock bands and became part of the Kenmore Square Rat Club scene in my mid-twenties. In my thirties I finally taught myself how to play guitar, eventually becoming a backbench folksinger until my sixties. Having missed my teenage calling, I put my first rock n’ roll band together at age 62. I’ve now got a band called Climate Change! Below is a YouTube Playlist of some of our original tunes:
The hold of music became so strong in me that after serving two terms in New Hampshire’s legislature (‘86-’90) I gave up being a state representative to become a Harvard Square street musician — a step up! I wanted to hang out with musicians, not politicians! While living in Cambridge throughout the ’90s I, weekly at my home, threw the greatest live music parties in all of history.
Until Covid hit, I had been organizing The Rat Beach Party, an annual Rat Club reunion charity fundraising event and monthly concert series that brought back elements of the ’70s to ’90s Rat Club bands.
None of this would have happened had I not gone to this Led Zeppelin concert!