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How did Rainbo Gardens evolve into Kinetic Playground?

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2016-03-13 00:59:08
2016-03-13 00:59:08

Rainbo Gardens and Kinetic Playground Here are a few remembrances and notes:

  • In early 1968 I lived in the neighborhood now known as "Wrigleyville" and learned, through an article in the local underground newspaper, "The Seed", that a group of promoters and artists from the "Electric Circus" in New York were opening a rock concert venue in the old Uptown Theater at Clark & Lawrence. Led by business partners Aaron Russo and Steve Schulman (*SEE CORRECTION AT BOTTOM*) and technical director Peter DeBlanc, they converted the theater portion of the building into the "Electric Theater". The Rainbo Gardens ice rink was actually next door and the Gardens management originally operated the concessions at the Electric Theater, which opened on April 5, 1968, the day after the assassination of Martin Luther King. Because of the civil unrest in the wake of the death of Rev. King the city was under a curfew but attendance was still strong on opening night. I was fortunate to be there as I had been hired to work at the concession stand. �The Theater�, as most regulars called it, featured an incredible 360o sound and light show and though conceived as a multi-media arts venue, it quickly became the place in Chicago for the major rock & roll touring acts to play. After a month I worked up the nerve to approach the art director, Richard Shelton, for a job in the light show. Probably because I agreed to work for free I was hired, and continued to work there until the middle of 1969 (with pay of course). During this period I was witness to all of the shows from the vantage point known as �The Eye� which was the round projection booth that hung from the ceiling. I also worked �The Cortex� running the light and sound boards as well as playing DJ from time to time. David Skibinski (above) is right on the money. The cover was only five bucks and there were usually three acts on the bill and each played two sets. In addition to the bands cited by David I remember Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention, Fleetwood Mac, The Small Faces (with Rod Stewart), Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother & the Holding Co. (with Janis Joplin) and of course four appearances by Grateful Dead. The loudest band was definitely The Who and one of the best shows was a bill of Led Zepplin, Jethro Tull and Vanilla Fudge, each playing the customary two sets. Did we mention that the admission was only FIVE BUCKS! One of the other fine local acts that performed there regularly was Rotary Connection, featuring Minnie Ripperton. Minnie met and married her husband Dick Rudolph at the Theater while he was working there as general manager. Now for a little bit on the name. The owners of the �Electric Circus� in New York sued Russo over the �Electric Theater� name and in an out of court settlement the name was changed to the �Kinetic Playground� some time in the summer of 68. The interior of the venue was actually featured in a movie called �Medium Cool� starring Robert Forster and directed by Oscar winning cinematographer Haskel Wexler. The movie was filmed on location during the 1968 Democratic Convention and many members of the Theater/Playground crew were hired as extras. I personally recall one day of filming, during convention week, in the bowels of a large downtown hotel. On a lunch break several of us tried to enter a coffee shop across the street only to find the door held shut from the inside to prevent the hippie trouble-makers from coming in. I left the Theater/Playground about two months before it closed to work for Tomorrow, Inc. which was a custom audio company founded by the technicians from the Theater/Playground. The company did well and eventually relocated to the West Coast. In the end the Electric Theater/Kinetic Playground closed after suffering a fire that caused significant damage. The bottom line though is that it was an awesome place for music, in a very special time in the history of Chicago and anyone who was there will remember it with great fondness.
  • Having worked there, Michael Dzielinski is correct on his memories of Kinetic Playground.I'd like to add a few things. The doors opened at 7:30 PM and the Playground closed at 3:00AM. As Michael stated , each band played two sets , but because there was only one stage , my memory is that there was a 30 to 45 minute wait between each band while one bands equipment was struck , and the next bands equipment was set up. .There was essentially two complete shows a night. By the time the second show started , it was very late , so the second show was much less crowded as the "straights (!) had left. The bills were VERY eclectic. One night I saw Joe Cocker and the Grease Band open ,Buddy Rich Orchestra second on the bill, and the Who headline a show. The exorbitant (!) 5 dollar entrance fee was reduced to 3 dollars on Sundays, because the headlining band was usually gone by Sunday. Eventually there was a Tuesday night local talent and jam night added , at a 3 dollar admission charge. I still have seven or eight of the handbills, because I was on the mailing list.I would also be interested if anyone had a complete history of the bands that played there and when.Fortunately, I was/am enough of a geek that I wrote down who I saw and when , and I have the handbills to fill in a few other clues. Does anyone out there have any more show info?
  • I was in the area a couple of years ago & stopped in to pay my respects & found the rink open & the small door leading to the shrine open and was disappointed at the condition - bad enough to make renovation improbable if not impossible.I talked to the rink operator right before they tore it down a few months ago & he gave me some info such as stage orientation enabling me to fill in some blanks. I went in for the last time with camera & camcorder & managed to get a couple chunks of decorative plaster. I also did a little exploring, going upstairs & into the office complex which wound around & led downstairs to the larger rink space in the back. Cool building. Could have made a great location for the Chicago chapter of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The rink area was still in decent enough shape & size to hold a couple of farewell concerts. Took pictures of that too. Even though I only went to 2 shows as a 16 year old Catholic high schooler, the impact of seeing Jethro Tull followed by Zeppelin & then headliner Vanilla Fudge for $5 literally blew my mind even as a teetotaler. The first & probably most blistering appearance in Chicago by unheard of Zep & the Fudge stayed right with 'em & burned up the rest of the low stage. My second & last concert was 3-4 months later to see ELO & Santana open for Zep. First 2 big time concerts for a naive 16 year old probably made these events seem bigger than they were. But you know? I wouldn't doubt that every body there took the same massive hit to the gut. I know this doesn't really answer your question but I'd also like to gather as much info - bands, dates, pictures... - & do an article about the Chicago branch of the ballroom rock era. Can anybody help or know someone who can? This was our Fillmore featuring the same variety of legendary performers.
  • I think the Rainbo -> Kinetic question has been more than adequately answered. To answer the question "did anyone take photos," you can see some final views of both the jai lai arena (later boxing, wrestling, ice skating and rollerskating) and the Rainbo Gardens ballroom (later restaurant, "casino," bowling alley and rock club) on this site when you subscribe. The left hand column lists "photos." Also, view Jazz Age Chicago for a more complete history on the Rainbo. Overall, from the turn of the century roadhouse through the final days of roller skating, Chicagoans were entertained here for 100 years. It is also famous for political rallies, including affairs thrown by Mayor Big Bill Thompson.
  • I went to the Kinetic Playground around July 1969 to see the Byrds (with Roger McGuinn, Clarence White, John York and Gene Parsons). It was a fantastic show. Cat Mother & the All Night Newsboys was also on the bill. If ANYONE has a bill, poster or ticket from that show in the summer of 1969 with The Byrds on it I would love to have a copy.
  • The Rainbo Ice rink was where we spent our Friday nights during the winter from 1969 thru 1972. Right next door to the Kinetic playground. I saw some hippies smoking a funny cigarette in the alley behind the Playground on several occasions. Course, I was just a we lad of 11, but that happened a lot.
  • As I remember the time in Chicago what happened was a buildout from Rainbow to make the venue. I had a friend that owned a head shop on Clark St. just south of Lawrence on the east side. Also the person who had the concesion was the famous hot dog king from Albany Park Maury. The Hells Henchman handled the door. Went to many parties at the Playboy mansion. To my disapointment I never collected any of the posters. If anyone can direct me to someone who might want to sell some or can direct me to some of the posters of the times it would be appreciated.
  • Some more throughts about the Playground. In those days I was the "band boy" for the Siegal-Schwall Blues Band and would, in exchange for hanging out backstage, put up flyers for Corky and Jim, and help move the Fender Amps, Drums, etc., into places like the Aragon, Quiet Night, Playground, Amazing Garce, etc etc etc. The backstage area inb the Playground was not really a backstage as you would imagine it, but it was just a large room with designated places for each band to set their stuff down and wait for their set, since there was but one stage. So people would sit on their equipment, and there were a few beat-up couches in there as well. I remember hanging with Edgar and Johnny Winter, and Muddy Waters, PG&E, Buddy Miles, The Dead and all kinds of people back there, a regular rolling circus and a hellava way for a 14 year old to esxperince the music scene. The Playground was just total freedom, no booze, a great early light show, and the greatest rock bands of all time - especially the night with Led Zep, Jethro Tull, Savoy Brown and The Litter - and Robert Plant lecturing the crowd that HE was the real deal as a blues singer, and to watch out for his imposter - then singing with the Faces - Rod Stewart - who followed Zep in the following week. They probably pulled that number all over thge country taht summer, but it felt hollow to Chicago music fans in '68 who were used to being around the likes of Muddy, James Cotton, Junior Wells, Buddy Guy, Otis Spann, Nick Graventives, Paul Butterfield, Mike Bloomfield, Corky and Jim, Steve Miller, Billy Boy Arnold, Johnny Shines, Johnny Young, Big Walter Horton, Howlin' Wolf, JB Hutto and others every day in our great city.
  • As said a number of time earlier, the shows were incredible! The Kinetic was the site of my first big time rock concert, as I remember(but things are a bit foggy for some reason) it was, Led Zepplin (JP playing his guitar with a bow)- Jethro Tull both on their first tours of the U.S. It seems to me that either Savoy Brown, Ten Years After or both were there that night also. $5.00 A HEAD!!! After being to many concerts and venues I would maintain that the Kinetic, to this day has had no peer. The light show was simply outrageous, it was said that Russo spent close to $3mil on it, that's 1967-8 dollars, although it could have been just rumor. Movies and various light show magic projected on large screens arranged in a circle around the staging area, which also had the house sound behind them. That place was absolutely insane, the party atmosphere was irresistible. Entering the front door after giving up your ticket or cash, you entered a curved wall maze of mirrors. Into the showroom, large carpeted geometric shapes rise from the floor around the perimeter of the varnished wood-planked main floor, always crowded but the rarely unfriendly audience awaiting the start of the show. Once the show had begun it could be extremely difficult to safely navigate through the people seated on the floor, because of the light show and nearly impossible if you were up and walking when they turned on the brightest strobe lights known to man, running around the bottom of the circular control/projection booth suspended from the center of the showroom's ceiling. A trip to the washroom could be long and interesting journey. No, I am not going to discuss it! After the fire there were a few concerts held but without the light show (I think that the fire started in the control room) it was not the same. I do have a recording of Savoy Brown performing there in '68. That place was incomparably WILD! Added notes on Arron Russo. After owning the Kinetic (68-69) moved to Los Angeles and went on to manage bands (68-79), Emmy winning television producer (75-79), Broadway producer (75-79), film producer (most notably Wise Guys, Trading Places, and The Rose among others) (78-90), A Libertarian candidate for President 2004 and looks to have a chance to become the next governor of Nevada.
  • I used to go to the Electric Theater, later Kinetic Playground, quite often in 1968-69. In addition to the acts mentioned above, I remember Velvet Underground and Niko, Iron Butterfly, Charlie Musselwhite, Taj Mahal, Butterfield Blues Band, Ike and Tina Turner with the "Ikettes", It's A Beautiful Day, and of course, Muddy Waters, who was there frequently. There were many others as well, but for some reason my memories of those nights was a little "Hazy". I also remember the "far out" light shows and how at the end of the night they would always turn the strobes around the projection booth on in sequence and get the whole room spinning then play "Rainy Day Women". Everyone would "Freak out" and start moving around, dancing and throwing things (which I believe were provided for the purpose) up in the air. I remember the rubber chicken.
  • One thing I'd like to correct in the first posting - The Uptown Theater is on Broadway north of Lawrence and had nothing to do with the Kinetic Playground. It was a movie theater until 1981 with occasional rock concerts through the 70s and still exists tho in quite a deteriorated state.

Like a previous post I too hung out at Rainbo ice rink on Friday nights with my pals. I remember the Kinetic Playgrond and hearing the loud music coming from it as well as seeing the weird looking characters hanging out on Clark street.

Doug V says; I grew up and lived 2 blocks west of the "Playground/Theater". I'd like to offer some corrections. Actually the "Theater" was not the Rainbow, it was directly to the south of the Rainbow in what was formely the Uptown Bowling alley. My dad was in a bowling league that bowled there and it's where he took me to learn to bowl. I found it quite amazing that eventually as a teenager I was sitting on the floor watching groups such as Zeplin, Who, Fudge, Litter, etc. where I used to roll bowling balls. My folks were pretty cool and I remember walking over with them the night the place opened. The first band I ever saw there was the Jefferson Airplane for $5. Everyone was just sitting on the floor and the place was packed, I didn't get feeling back in my legs till I walked the two blocks home. I introduced many a friend to this venue and as it was so close many of use would go there every weekend. I cannot remember how many time I saw the Who and Zeplin there but distinctly remember Pete performing the entire Tommy probably for one of the first times. I also remember one of the Zeplin shows when the place was packed with a bunch of straights on dates and they procedeed to play some raunchy stuff and were liberal with the profanity tha many of the straights left. Once the place cleared out somewhat Plant said OK now we can jam and jam they did (a show I'll neve forget even though I was no doubt dazed and confused at the time). I also remember one time someone coming to our front door with a petition to close down that "house of illrepute", needless to say my folks refused to sign it. I will always have a place in my heart and mind for the Playground/Theater, many a good time (never a bad trip) and a definite learning experience! I also find it very funny when my sons came home awhile ago and told me they were at the Kinetic Playground the previous night drinkin beer and checking the show out.

JGScott adds: I remember a lot of those shows as I worked security, mostly on the stage, and also unpaid which was true for a lot of the "help." My best memory was the WHO concert. I was working stage left, basically sitting next to the speakers so when patrons would try to climb up the speakers to see, I would gently toss them back into the crowd. The old stage had blocked views from the side. Anyway the concert was amazing, I have heard that Townsend said that was the first time they played songs from Tommie in public. After the concert I looked in the mirror and ear wax was running down the side of my face. No wonder Pete has damaged hearing. RIP Russo.

As far as the ice rink, I remember it as Rainbo arena, I played a lot of midnight hockey there as we could rent the ice for cheap and play all night. I thought it was owned by Cale Carvell at that time.

Ratfink says: to the "band boy" for Siegel-Schwall; Rod Stewart was singing for the Jeff Beck Group (and the bass player was Ron Wood) at the time of the show you spoke of-I was there as well and recall Plant's comment. Kim Simmonds of Savoy Brown told me a few years ago that he and Plant had a bit of a punch-up backstage, perhaps as a result of said comment. Mr. Plant was full of piss & vinegar then, quite so for a lad of 21 or 2-perhaps too much for his own good, but he had one hell of a band behind him! You got the band list correct. I saw Zep there 3 times all told, and just about everyone else who was popular at the time. It was always $5 admission, Fridays & Saturdays anyway-those were the only days I went as I was 16 at the time and in high school.

PLM remarks - My friends and I went there every weekend possible. I worked in a Chinese Restaurant on the NW side of Chicago all day Saturday to make $15. The money was split as such: $5 for the entrance fee to the Playground, $5 for transportation & food, $5 for miscellaneous extras. If I remember rightly, there was some sleazy place on the corner near the place where we used to go in and buy things from some very shady characters. Ah, the innocence of youth. It was just enough money for a fun filled and wild weekend. I was lucky to be there on the night when Zepplin, Fudge & Tull played. I got grounded for staying out so late. At this venue, I got turned on to the Litter, Mason Profit, The NICE (with Keith Emerson) when the Playground had maybe 10 people in it because no one know who that was. I met Minnie Ripperton in the bathroom with her baby daughter. I saw Jefferson Airplane, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Savoy Brown, the WHO and many more. It was the place and time that defined my awakening, defined who I was, and I was only 16 years old.

I remember taking the Greyhound bus from Elgin, IL to downtown and Playing Hockey at the Rainbo. In those days, around 1964 or so we did not have alot of local Ice Rinks and Rainbo was available, although a long trip. I remember the unique building it was in and the odd location of the dressing rooms to the ice. I also remember the murals of trees that surrounded the rink and the limited area to sit on the bench up against the wall. On one occasion I remember they had repainted the murals and had not posted any wet paint signs. All of us, needless to say, had pine tree murals on our hockey jerseys. It is sad that all of these old shrines became housing areas. I am glad I had the opportunity to be part of the history of that area. I was 14 years old then and can still remember it so clearly.

Though I saw a majority of my big shows at the Aragon in Chicago in 1968-1970, I saw several memorable ones at the Kinetic including the famous Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin, Vanilla fudge show in 69', when I was 17. Jethro Tull was a complete unknown to us at the time and a great surprise - that early Tull is still my favorite incarnation of that band. Zeppelin we knew about because we had recently picked up their first album which of course, was unlike anything we had ever heard - we loved it right away! The very early Zeppelin is also my favorite version of the band. I remember sitting in the middle, pretty close to the stage, on the floor of course. I had actually been into Vanilla Fudge before Zeppelin but left the concert with a Vanilla who? attitude. And because of curfew, we were only able to stay for 1 Fudge song - don't think they came on until about 11PM, which was often the case with the headliner at these 3 band sets. Not sure about this show, but they sometimes did 2nd sets at these where they were playing to all hours.

I remember a 'bar' at the Kinetic where some type of drinks were served but it must not have been alcohol since they let us minors in - for $5.

I never drank anything there because I didn't want to leave my floor seat and have to navigate to the bathroom and then never be able to find my way back to my friends and where I was sitting.

I remember standing in the lines for the shows -- it was general admission -- and having people walk up and down, peddling their various wares, mostly different types of acid.

I used to belong to a 'boys club' called the Demolays that was not too far down the road (on Lawrence) from the Electric Theater (and the name changed later) and early on, we either skipped a meeting or went after the meeting to a weekday show (probably just some local band(s) - I got my first exposure to strobe lights. WOW! There were beach balls also, that people were tossing around in the strobes.

Other bands I saw there that I can remember - Canned Heat (pretty bad I think), It's A Beautiful Day, there were others. Really wish I could find a concert history for back then at the Kinetic but I cannot.

I would like to say the outlaws m.c. i guy named surfer ran the front door . not the hells henchman. he was a friend of my brothers Ron.....Gary (Jorma) Falkenberg I also new crazy don pres. of the henchman. also blue cheer was the loudest band at the time not the who also blue cheer was playing the weekend of the fire they say they so loud it shook the wires lose... I do remember two show the nite of Zepplin, Tull and Vanilla Fudge. but most nites one set each band. in the 60's Chicago had a weekend cerfew for 18 and under of 11-30. we closed it out most nites at about 12-30 cops came in and made everybody leave. next stop on the way home to nw. burbs was the airport. lots of tripin freaks walkin around. boy those were the daze seems like nobody talks about the acid that was there everynite. i did my first hit in 68.at 16yrs. old it was $5. so it cost 5 to get in 5 to get high and it cost$3 to fill up the VW 3 of us at $1 each sometimes we went fri. and sat...some weekend kinetic on fri. aragon on sat. it was easy to see 6 or 8 GOOD bands a week. the bands were so down to earth lots of them walked around after thay played. I talked to Bob Wier in the john talked to Joe Cocker, many others.

(*CORRECTION: I was at the Kinetic Playground in 1969. Aaron Russo's partner was Richard Schulman, not Steve Shulman. I was visiting the University of Chicago and I stayed with Ricky in his apartment and he took me to hear The Who play Tommy at the Playground. Sadly I have heard that Ricky died several years later. Sander Feinberg*)

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