Today it sounds like standard operating procedure, but in 1974, sending a rock band out to play extended sets at 31 stadiums, raceways and arenas that held up to 50,000 fans per venue had never been attempted before. That's exactly what promoter Bill Graham convinced Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young to do in July of that year when the band reunited for a marathon series of concerts. [Photo above of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young at the Oakland Coliseum on July 13, 1974 by Joel Bernstein]
Plenty of big bands had played single concerts at ball fields and outdoor arenas in the 1930s and '40s. And in the 1960s, the Beatles had performed at multiple stadiums on tour in 1966. But massive sound systems were in their infancy then and the Fab Four could barely be heard. They also didn't play multiple sets that lasted up to four hours.
As CSNY toured in the summer of 1974, the Watergate coverup was reaching a crescendo, creating a cause around which the country's youth culture could unite. Fed up with the Vietnam War, domestic dirty tricks and government duplicity, young people viewed the CSNY tour as a traveling Woodstock—a way to be part of a mass cultural event they had either missed in 1969 or wanted to do so again.
By August 1974, a month into CSNY's two-month tour, the Supreme Court decided to compel the Nixon White House to release the Watergate tapes, resulting in President Nixon's resignation. All of this political drama served as a backdrop to the CSNY tour and motivated audiences of tens of thousands. [Photo of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young rehearsing in Buffalo, N.Y., on Aug. 11, 1974 by Joel Bernstein]
At WSJ.com today (and in Friday's Arena section), you'll find my oral history of the tour, featuring my interviews with David Crosby, Graham Nash, tour photographer Joel Bernstein and tour recording engineer Elliot Mazer who share their recollections of the 1974 tour. To read my article for free, go here. [Photo above showing part of the crowd of 100,000 at Wembley Stadium near London in September 1974]
JazzWax tracks: A three-CD/one DVD set of previously unreleased recordings from the CSNY 1974 tour will be available in a box set on July 8. You'll find CSNY 1974 (Rhino) here. The sound is sensational, thanks largely to Graham Nash and Joel Bernstein's painstaking selections and mixing. Hands down, the set features the band at its peak.
JazzWax clip: Here's Tom Jones with CSNY in 1969 singing Long Time Gone...