From John Lennon to Jerry Lawler – The Mid-South Coliseum

If you have lived in Memphis for a while you have some special memories of things that happened inside the Mid-South Coliseum.  I always thought the building looked more like a spacecraft than a multi-purpose arena – and it still does look it could launch at any moment.

Mid-South Coliseum

The building opened in 1963.  The first concert I remember seeing there was the Animals. They were the opening act.  I didn’t really care much about the headliner, Herman’s Hermits.  The last time I was in the building was for my son George’s graduation from Overton High School in 2005.  And many legendary things happened (not necessarily with me in attendance)  in between:  The Beatles, Elvis, the Who, Alice Cooper,  Dylan, Lynyrd Skynyrd…. and on and on.  I remember some great performances and have forgotten others.  I also remember some great and scary times times back stage.

Through this portal on the southeast side  passed the biggest names of the rock era,

Mid-South Coliseum (2)

the mainstream Vegas-type entertainers of the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, and the superstars of theheyday of  professional wrestling.  Weekly Monday Night Wrestling consistently sold out the 11,000+ seat Coliseum for years, until  insurance discomfort over blood (real) and other body fluids put an end to the venue for real wrestling  and the cartoon world of national promotion WWF took over the wrestling audience.  Oh yeah, I am not a sports guy, but the UM Tigers and Memphis TAMS B-ball teams played there, and there was the River Kings Hockey team, rodeos, and I think they even had monster truck shows in there too.

I could go on about the great shows I saw, being ringside when Jerry Lawler threw fire, busting my butt many times on the ice skating rink,  but I will stop.

If you have a great memory of the Coliesum, please share it in the comments.

I started this post after a drive around the Memphis Fairgrounds yesterday.  The LibertyLand section is being dismantled;  the livestock barns and other buildings will probably be leveled in the next phase.  I just read that the management company will not extend Memphis Roller Derby’s lease.  So what’s the plan for the Coliseum?

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Joe Spake is a Memphis-based Real Estate Broker and Consultant. He blogs at Joe Spake's Weblog and Memphis Real Estate Buzz. Joe's Social Network.

  • I have so many. My first concert was The Osmond Family when I was 5. We sat in the nosebleeds. I went to see The Who's “The Kids Are Alright” and nearly got taken to jail at 10 years of age for jumping the rail. I saw Yes, The Police, Genesis, Rush, and every single night of Prince's Purple Rain tour, on one night of which I was lucky enough to be pulled on stage for the finale (along with a bunch of others) to dance around the proscenium for “Baby, I'm A Star”.

    I saw Memphis Rogues games at the Coliseum. I saw Ice Capades and so, so many more wonderful shows.

    And while I can't remember which show it was (maybe The Who?), I remember seeing Dan Akroyd and John Belushi just hanging out on the side of the stage, shaking their hands and talking to them and walking away not even caring about what concert I was attending.

    I have lots of great memories of the Mid-South Coliseum. I wish they would figure out what to do with this vitally important part of Memphis history and culture. I fear they'll just tear it down and move on like they do with everything else.

  • Russell Wild

    My first job was at the Coliseum. I was 14 and sold cokes and popcorn. Made decent money and saw lots of free concerts.

  • Loudersoft and Russell- Thanks for your comments. So many memories: Roller Derby; during my radio days, backstage with the original Skynyrd band and Alice Cooper; The Who, 3rd row seats for Dylan and The Band. I have really vivid memories of Monday night wrestling, which, without doubt was Memphis' most interesting and exciting sociological experience of all time.

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  • My husband says he saw James Brown in the 60's, one of Hank, Jr.'s first performances – opening act for he believes Paul Revere and the Raiders, all of the Tiger games over 20 years and, Dylan with The Band. Together we saw Elton John promoting his Yellow Brick Road album and the Eagles. Yes, fond memories.

  • galenasmithsr

    Joe, I loved your blog about “The Mid-South Coliseum”..please become a “Fan of the Mid-South Coliseum” on Facebook.
    Thanks-Galen A. Smith Sr., Bowling Green, Ky.

  • Dana Baker

    A friend of mine was telling me about all the concerts he saw here in the late seventies through the eighties and we were wondering…..do you think anyone in charge would allow us to go in there and spend a few minutes or so just to see what it looks like backstage and everything. Since there is no tenant that i'm aware of, do you think they would say o.k.?
    We are in Jackson, TN

  • memphismusic

    The idea of The Mid-South Coliseum being demolished brings tears to my eyes. How much more of Memphis history are we willing to see razed for the bleak hope of a few more property tax dollars? As John Beifuss wrote, the period in which The Colisuem lived it's heyday (1964 – 1977) was a goldmine of American pop culture. The Beatles played there. Elvis sold the place out many times. And one of the most influential Independent Promoters in The United States, Bob Kelley of Mid-South Concerts, booked many of the largest rock concerts in Memphis history there for years. Its sad that The FedEx Forum has a non compete clause so strongly crafted that it excludes many entertainment dates from Memphis – and potentially The Coliseum. As a lifelong Memphian I cherish my memories of going to various events and concerts at the Coliseum and would love to see it's revitalization as the centerpiece of a larger Fairgrounds project. 2/16/2010.

  • lapalmer13

    Do you have a date and year for the Osmonid family at the Mid South Soliseum? I know it might be a strange question but I am doing a scrapbook of all my concert ticket stubs and I am missing that one. I remember Little Jimmy coming out and he was so little. Any help would be appreciated.

    Thanks.

  • Sounds like it might be a tough one. Maybe someone who reads the blog might be able to help. Good luck. You may want to also try posting your request on facebook http://facebook.com/mymemphis

  • lapalmer13

    So what year was it? Didn't you say you were 5? I could have replyed to the wrong one. If I did, so sorry.

    Have a good weekend.

  • lapalmer13

    So what year was it? Didn't you say you were 5? I could have replyed to the wrong one. If I did, so sorry.

    Have a good weekend.

  • I think that was another commenter. I was a teen when the Coliseum opened. If you are on Facebook, there is a Midsouth Coliseum group or page you may want to look for.

  • I think that was another commenter. I was a teen when the Coliseum opened. If you are on Facebook, there is a Midsouth Coliseum group or page you may want to look for.

  • lapalmer13

    Will do! THANKS!

  • lapalmer13

    So what year was it? Didn't you say you were 5? I could have replyed to the wrong one. If I did, so sorry.

    Have a good weekend.

  • I think that was another commenter. I was a teen when the Coliseum opened. If you are on Facebook, there is a Midsouth Coliseum group or page you may want to look for.

  • lapalmer13

    Will do! THANKS!

  • Epblvd

    Man, what memories. Besides Tiger basketball; Elvis, The Eagles, Queen, The Who, Alice Cooper, Neil Diamond, Yes, KISS, all the country acts like Kenny Rogers, George Strait, Vince Gill, Faith Hill (oh baby), and many others. Tractor pulls, Monday night wrestling…

    I worked there for about four years and got to see it all. But I went to events there from 73-97 I guess.

  • Incredible.. Lynyrd Skynyrd and ZZ Top were quite memorable too… And there was no better pro wrestling in the world than the Mid-South Coliseum (except maybe at the old Ellis auditorium with Jackie Fargo and Billy Wicks).