From U2 and Beyoncé to the Stones and Aretha Franklin, now-defunct Mission Valley stadium hosted many greats
Miss you: We take a look back at some memorable musical moments at the now defunct San Diego/Jack Murphy/Qualcomm/SDCCU Stadium, and ask you to share yours
Quick! Name your favorite live concert album recorded at the now-defunct Mission Valley venue known over the years as San Diego Stadium, Jack Murphy Stadium, Qualcomm Stadium and, most recently, SDCCU Stadium.
It’s a trick question.
So far as we can recall, no official complete live album was ever recorded at the now largely demolished Mission Valley stadium that used to be fondly known as “The Q” and “The Murph.” But The Who did record three songs at The Murph for the English band’s 25th anniversary 1989 live double-album, “Join Together.” And part of Coldplay’s October 2017 SDCCU Stadium show was broadcast live at a Mexico City benefit concert on behalf of victims of that September’s Puebla earthquake.
The booming slap-back echo, an unmistakable trademark of the 67,544-seat stadium, did not lend itself well to live albums. Even so, the largest outdoor-events venue in San Diego County hosted dozens of memorable and not-so-memorable concerts over the decades. Its razing is expected to be completed by the end of summer, with San Diego State University’s new 35,000-seat Aztec Stadium set to open in September 2022.
“Probably in May 2023 we’ll start hosting concerts,” said SDSU Executive Associate Athletic Director of Mission Valley Development Derek Grice.
“I think we’ll look to maximize as many events as we can. We’ve had positive interactions with promoters, and there’s an excitement level about what we’re building. We’re creating an environment bands and audiences will want to experience.”
Until then, this is as good a time as any to look back at some of the concerts held at the Mission Valley stadium. While there does not seem to be a reliably complete record of every music event held there, it appears the first major band to perform in the stadium was the brassy Chicago. Their concert followed an early summer San Diego Padres baseball game in 1972.
That same summer saw the first stadium show here that allowed fans on the field — a multi-act bill with Jesse Colin Young, Dr. Hook and The Medicine Show, the J. Geils Band, Foghat and Boone’s Farm. It was sponsored by radio station KGB-FM, which in the early 1980s began staging its annual KGB Sky Show concerts at the stadium and, in 1983, hosted the first-ever stadium gig anywhere by the hard-rocking Def Leppard.
There isn’t enough space to recap every concert of note the stadium hosted between 1972 and that concluding 2017 Coldplay show, which is why we’re not including the now-defunct Vans Warped Tour or the 2005 and 2006 editions of San Diego Street Scene (which took place in the stadium’s parking lot).
But here is a look back at some of the memorable moments of musical history that took place inside the monolithic concrete edifice in Mission Valley. And we’d like to hear about your favorite concerts at the stadium. (See details at the conclusion of this article on how to share your memories with us.)
From 1975 to 1986, the annual Kool Jazz Festival drew large numbers of R&B fans — its name notwithstanding, jazz had little to do with this festival. The lineups during the event’s run boasted such giants as Aretha Franklin, Dizzy Gillespie, Marvin Gaye, B.B. King and, of course, Kool & The Gang.
Second longest run
The Beach Boys performed 10 times at the stadium between 1982 and 1994, usually following that day’s Padres game. For those seeking a trip down memory lane, the band’s all-oldies repertoire ensured some good vibrations.
Simon & Garfunkel’s 1983 “Summer Evening” reunion tour included a rapturously received stadium show here on Aug 28, 1983. It would be another 20 years before the famously fractious musical duo of Art Garfunkel and the now-retired Paul Simon and toured again. On Sept. 27, 2018, the husband-and-wife team of Jay-Z and Beyoncé brought their “On the Run II” stadium tour here. It came after both had released albums, her “Lemonade” and his “4:44.” that addressed his marital infidelity. While each soared on stage at times, some of their video interludes lasted longer than many of their songs — the better to accommodate the frequent costume changes by the night’s two superstars.
Famous audience members
U2 performed the second date on its 1997 “PopMart” tour at the stadium for an audience that included Mick Jagger, Tiger Woods, Courtney Love and Smashing Pumpkins’ mastermind Billy Corgan. The ambitious concert soared a number of times, but also suffered from erratic pacing. It included U2 guitarist The Edge singing, of all things, an off-the-cuff version of The Monkees’ 1967 hit, “Daydream Believer” (which was written by San Diego native and Kingston Trio alum John Stewart).
Here we come!
Three of the four members of The Monkees reunited for a 1986 20th anniversary reunion tour that included an Aug. 23 stadium show here. Their post-game concert also featured the Grass Roots, the San Diego-bred Gary Puckett & The Union Gap, and a curiously Herman-less edition of Herman’s Hermits. The concert followed an announcement that a syndicated TV series, “New Monkees,” would be launched in 1987 and would be based on the original Monkees’ TV series of the mid-1960s. In a San Diego Union interview to preview the original Monkees’ San Diego stadium date, now-deceased singer Davy Jones offered some sage advice to the members of the New Monkees. “I recommend that anyone who does get selected (for the new show) gets a good lawyer and a contract that upgrades their pay in accordance with (the show’s) popularity...” Jones said. “My advice is to sign the contracts and audit regularly.”
The last time?
The Rolling Stones performed at the stadium in 1981, 1984 and 1998, when it was still known as Qualcomm. The legendary English band’s 2020 tour was set to open here last May. It was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic, then canceled altogether when the razing of the stadium was announced. It remains to be seen if the Stones return here. Until they do, I’ll most fondly recall the band’s wet, windy concert at the stadium on Feb. 3, 1998. Rather than beat a quick retreat from the rain and cold, the Stones doubled down and rocked with increasing vigor. The headline for my review aptly summed it up: “Stones take Squall-comm by storm — fans soak up memories.”
Crosby, Stills & Nash’s Sept. 1, 1984, concert was surprisingly solid, considering that David Crosby was at the height of his heroin and cocaine addiction during CSN’s final tour before beginning a prison sentence on drug charges. But the concert’s most striking and downright strange aspect was provided by a bevy of young cheerleaders from a local private school. They danced and gyrated on the field, directly in front of the stage, for the duration of the concert. Apparently, nothing underscores such classic CSN lyrics as “I feel like letting my freak flag fly” and “You got to speak out against the madness” nearly as well as pom-poms and splits.
For his first San Diego performance in 11 years, Elton John teamed up with Billy Joel for a double-header on March 22, 1995. Appearing before a sold-out crowd of 55,000, the two piano men began their tour-opening 37-song concert with touching, unaccompanied duo versions of John’s “Your Song” and Joel’s “Honesty.” It concluded nearly four hours later, after each had performed individual sets with their own bands, with unaccompanied duo versions of Joel’s “Piano Man” and John’s “Candle in the Wind.” It was apparently the first concert at the stadium to include two American Sign Language interpreters, who signed the entire concert for about 40 deaf fans seated to the right of the stage.
Back so soon?
The revamped Guns N’ Roses’ 2016 concert at Qualcomm Stadium came 23 years after its previous performance at the same venue, which was then known as San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium. The veteran band, which performed for an audience of 51,000, took the stage just 41 minutes later than scheduled — in contrast with GNR’s heyday back in the last century, when the group was often hours late in starting. For at least two of the 2016 concert’s attendees, the show was memorable for more than just musical reasons. During “Night Train,” Point Loma UPS courier Shawn McGinnis, then 39, dropped to his knees and proposed to his girlfriend, Aileen Ryan, then 33, at their 13th row floor seats near the stage. It was only the next day, after reading his then-fiancé’s Facebook post, did McInnis learn his proposal had been drowned out by the thundering roar of GNR’s music. “She hadn’t heard anything I said,” he told the Union-Tribune.
Hit the stage, literally
The English boy band One Direction drew a sold-out audience of 52,381 to the opening date of its 2015 “On The Road Again” tour. It was the first big concert at the stadium since the Justin Timberlake-led NSYNC played there in 2001. During “Through the Dark,” One Direction’s Harry Styles took a tumble after he unwisely grabbed a microphone stand that was bolted to the stage. His band mates laughed heartily. One Direction split up at the end of the tour.
Your turn: Pink Floyd or The Eagles? The KGB Sky Show of the first 91X X-Fest? Guns N’ Roses or The Village People? We’d like to know what your favorite Mission Valley stadium concerts are, and why. Email your responses to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your full name and where you live (not your complete address, just the city or San Diego neighborhood, i.e. Tierrasanta, Barrio Logan, Poway, etc., where you reside).
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