In July of 1969, one day after my sixth birthday, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left their footprints on the dusty surface of the moon. In the recesses of my memory, there is a grainy image of something happening on our family’s television screen, something historical. We watched, like millions of others, but for the most part, the magnitude of the event was largely lost on me. What can I say? I was six years old.
Less than a month later, rock music had its moonwalking equivalent when a swarm of rock and roll enthusiasts packed Max Yasgur’s dairy farm to experience the greatest music festival of all time. Sadly, I couldn’t make it to Woodstock. As I said, I was six. But less than ten years later, The Texxas World Music Festival, informally referred to as the Texxas Jam (yes, that’s with two “x’s” for twice the jams), began an annual run of summer festivals that would last more than a decade. In Texas if you wanted to be one of the “cool kids,” attendance was mandatory.
Launched in Dallas’s famed Cotton Bowl in 1978, the Texxas Jam featured jaw-dropping lineups every year. I always marked my calendar with the hopes of convincing my parents to let me go, and all my begging and pleading finally paid off in June of 1980. The line-up: The Eagles, Cheap Trick, Foreigner, April Wine, Sammy Hagar, Point Blank, Le Roux, and, wait for it…Christopher Cross. A general admission ticket cost a whopping $16.50. To put that in perspective, a little math is in order. My job at the local movie theater paid $2.26 an hour, so the cost of a ticket would require the equivalent of a full eight-hour day of filling buckets with popcorn and splashing Delaware Punch into over-priced cups. In 2020 dollars, with inflation, that ticket today would run just over $50, an absolute bargain by any standard. As Jeff Spicoli would say (two years later, but who’s counting?), “Hey bud, let’s party!”
When I was finally able to hold the ticket in my hands, I cradled it like an injured butterfly. It was beautiful. The Dallas skyline rose against a rainbow-colored sunset, and below it, a packed Cotton Bowl, all set inside a cutout of the great State of Texas. The illustration was topped off by a beam of light shooting toward the heavens from the festival stage that read, “Texxas World Music Festival ’80.” This would be my Woodstock, my chance to see some of the coolest rock bands out there. For a mere $16.50, I was in for the adventure of a lifetime.
The 1980 Texxas Jam was a long time ago, and memories are a tricky thing. They often fade into vapor or become memories of memories. Forty years and the frailty of the human mind notwithstanding, let’s relive my experience at “The Texxas World Music Festival.”
Dallas was experiencing a heatwave for the record books. By summer’s end, the scorching Texas sun had roasted the good citizens of the metroplex with triple digits 69 times. I was sixteen years old and headed to the Texxas Jam; a cut-off pair of Levi’s and brightly colored tank-top would be my rock and roll uniform. If SPF70 had existed back then, the notion that I might need some never occurred to me.
My fellow festival warriors were my brother Mike and cousin Danny. We had never been to the Cotton Bowl, located on the Texas State Fairgrounds, so we piled in Danny’s Datsun and left our hometown of Denton by mid-morning. The opening band, a local group called Savvy, was scheduled to start at 11 am. Savvy had won some sort of “battle of the bands” and therefore had earned the honor of opening the show. To prime our rock engines, we alternated jams broadcast by KZEW and Q102. Both radio stations had hyped the show for weeks. I was never so amped from anticipation as I was on that ride to the stadium. My day was full of possibilities.
Savvy, Le Roux, Point Blank/Position: Bleachers, 60 Yard Line
The drive, parking, and walking to the stadium were uneventful. Why wouldn’t they be, right? But when I first glimpsed the iconic entrance of the Cotton Bowl’s main gate, my instinct was to run toward it like kid sprinting to a birthday party. The broad concrete facade rose skyward like a monument more befitting our nation’s capital than Dallas, Texas. A rather sparse crowd made its way through the structure’s columns and arches and onto the playing field, which was covered by a tarp to protect the artificial turf underneath. Initially, we opted for seats in the bleachers. It was going to be a long day and, I suppose, we were pacing ourselves. A massive stage rose from the south endzone, larger than I could have imagined. It was so big! Eventually, the crowd would swell into a smoldering mass of 80,000 partying rock fans, but for now, the opening acts brought out only the most enthusiastic fans. Mike, Danny and I were very enthusiastic.
Here’s what I remember from the first three bands. Absolutely nothing. Zilch. Nada. Interestingly, Savvy never took the stage. No one really missed them. But I’m sure that if you’re in a band set to open the Texxas Jam, getting bumped from the lineup would be a massive bummer. According to a local news report, the Eagles didn’t want them to play. What a gut punch. Le Roux and Point Blank played their jams, and I’m sure they did a fine job. Point Blank would score a modest hit the next year with Nicole. The song sounds so…1980.
Christopher Cross/Position: Bleachers, 40 Yard Line
One of these things is not like the others, and that thing would be Christopher Cross. In 1980, the smooth sounds of Sailing and Ride Like the Wind were pop music sensations. However, his songs were more at home in an elevator than inside the Cotton Bowl that day. Cross’s set was tight, and his music sounded just like the record. I remember thinking how cool it was to hear Ride Like the Wind live and in person. To be clear, I was digging Christopher Cross. But here is where the story shifts to equal parts myth and urban legend. It’s been said that Christopher Cross was booed off the stage by the hard rockers in the audience wanting more jam and less lamb, but I never heard any booing. Were there pockets of discontented fans giving Cross the business? Probably. But I never heard anything like jeers from where we were sitting. The legend also says that Cross became so overwhelmed by the heat (temperatures on the floor neared 115 degrees) that he tossed his biscuits backstage.
To satisfy my curiosity, I recently emailed Cross’s management because, well, I wanted to ask him what had happened that day. A representative for the artist politely replied, “Sorry, Christopher is passing on all media requests as he recovers from Guillain-Barre syndrome as a result of Covid-19.” Here’s to a speedy recovery, Christopher.
Sammy Hagar/ Position: Field Level, 30 Yard Line
Thank heavens for free water fountains. A soda cost a buck twenty-five! Mike, Danny, and I had ventured into the growing throng of humanity at field level, and the afternoon heat was becoming incredibly brutal. There was no escaping it. Oppressive. Debilitating. Overwhelming. Forty years later, the temperatures we endured that day is one of my most vivid memories. Thankfully, during each set change, a dude packing a firehose blasted the crowd with thousands of gallons of water. When the water hit my skin, I was convinced I could hear a faint sizzle.
The water cannon created several memorable reactions from the crowd. The sea of human bodies followed the stream, swaying toward the moving spray just hoping to catch as much water as possible. One guy near me had a perfectly good joint ruined by the water. Apparently, he wasn’t paying attention when the fire hose washed over him, and I thought he might cry. Several young ladies, hoping to draw the water cannon in their direction, climbed on the shoulders of their boyfriends and, um, flashed a certain pair of body parts. My introduction to both weed and boobs happened that day at the Texxas Jam. My sixteen-year-old self was enormously grateful.
Sammy Hagar is a rock showman, and he put on a clinic that day. Wild hair catching what little breeze was available inside the Cotton Bowl, Hagar spent about as much time in the air as he did on the stage floor. Wearing white shorty-shorts and a bright red, “Trans Am” t-shirt befitting of the moniker, The Red Rocker. Hagar’s set, although full of enthusiasm, was bereft of any hits. He hadn’t had any yet. Whatever songs that might come to define Sammy Hagar were still a couple years away. I’ll Fall in Love Again would be released in early 1982. Your Love Is Driving Crazy and Three Lock Box would get airplay later that same year. I Can’t Drive 55 would reach number 26 in 1984. So yeah, I dug Sammy’s show, how could I not? But to be honest, I needed to hear some songs I knew, and I needed to get closer to the stage.
April Wine/ Position: Field Level, 20 Yard Line
God bless April Wine! No disrespect intended to the previous acts, Hagar in particular, but the crowd wanted and needed a few sing-along jams. April Wine served them up by unleashing Roller and I Like to Rock, songs that garnered airplay locally by the two AOR stations mentioned earlier. I can’t overstate the importance of KZEW and Q102 to so many fun-loving, mullet-wearing, Camaro-driving teens like me who lived in the metroplex during the golden age of rock radio. Almost every vehicle parked in the Denton High School parking lot had one or both of the stations’ stickers on their car. Mine was centered on my 1978 Camaro’s back window, and I kept spares in my glove box.
April Wine’s set was fantastic. Hard rock delivered by pros. If you haven’t listened to any April Wine in a while, find some. Although the Canadian band enjoyed massive success back home, their success moved south on a more modest scale. The band played a pivotal role at the 1980 Texxas Jam, and thanks to their set, the festival shifted a bit. Like the lyric in I Like to Rock says, “We get high on rock ‘n’ roll,” and the fans in the crowd were inhaling. With the main headliners still to come, the crowd was primed. There would be more weed, more firehose, and more blistering heat to endure. More importantly, there would be more music for the masses.
We missed Foreigner’s entire show. All of it. Every smash hit Lou Gramm belted out that day was lost on us. Forty years later, missing Foreigner at the Texxas Jam is one of my life’s biggest regrets. Frankly, I don’t want to dwell on this, but it was hot as hell and we were starving! We left the stadium (incredibly, it was allowed) to find some grub. In our defense, the stage changeovers were taking forever, so we took a gamble that we could leave and get back in time to hear the set. Sadly, we lost that bet. My consolation prize was a tasty Monte Cristo inside a delightfully air-conditioned Bennigan’s. Shameful.
Cheap Trick/Position: Field Level 30 Yard Line
Our temporary rock reprieve did have an unplanned benefit. All three of us were refreshed. We were fed and, more importantly, hydrated. The sun had started to dip behind the top of the stadium and shade was slowly creeping toward the playing field. After reentering the Cotton Bowl and learning we had completely missed Foreigner, we resolved to make up for it by working our way as close to the stage as possible. It was tough going inching our way through the chaotic crowd, but we managed to snag a decent position near the center of the field, and we settled in for Cheap Trick.
By 1980, Cheap Trick had blossomed into one of the hottest bands in the country, bar none. They had risen to rock royalty by releasing Cheap Trick at Budokan followed by Dream Police. The audience at the Texxas Jam was catching them at just the right time. The band was operating at peak performance. Between Rick Nielsen’s stage antics and Robin Zander’s killer vocals, Cheap Trick pretty much stole the show. At the time, no one had seen a rock star dress like Nielsen, or change guitars as often. Drummer Bun E. Carlos looked like an accountant. By the time Zander belted out Surrender and Dream Police, the crowd was losing its collective mind. I’ve been to hundreds of concerts over the years, and Cheap Trick’s set at the 1980 Texxas Jam was one of the best performances I’ve ever seen. How so? Because it was such a gas! Everyone was having a blast dancing and singing and watching the spectacle up on the stage. After the band had done their thing, the crowd stood half exhausted and fully in disbelief. Three decades later, I would see Cheap Trick play a club date in Austin, Texas. They hadn’t lost a damn thing.
Eagles/Position: Right in front of the stage
The crowd, worn out from a day of hard-partying and incredible heat, was getting restless. Did I mention it was hot that day? Thankfully, it was dark, and the night gave our pink skin a reprieve. But where were the Eagles? It had been a long day, and everyone was ready for the headliner. No one knew it at the time, but the band’s cohesion was threadbare. The Eagles’ set at the Cotton Bowl would be one of their last before they split. At the moment, at least, none of that mattered. The fans in the Cotton Bowl were tired and irritated.
Adding to the discomfort of the folks on the field was the condition of the area in front of the stage. The field level was a disaster. The fire hose had sprayed rivers of water on the crowd all day, and that water wasn’t draining. The tarp prevented the water from going anywhere. Thousands of fans stood ankle-deep in water mixed with beer, trash, food scraps, and probably a little pee. Disgusting doesn’t do it justice.
Heroes rise from the shadows. On that evening, under the stars of a Dallas sky, an anonymous man with a rather large knife saved the day. He slipped blade through the tarpaulin protecting the synthetic football field below and started slicing. After he’d made his way across the field, the crowd did the rest. In a show of cooperation for the ages, we all helped roll away the tarp and along with it, the nasty flotsam and jetsam that was making us twitchy. Pristine, dark green Astroturf became our playground. I had never stood on Astroturf before that moment. It felt quite nice. Luckily, by removing the tarp, we had repositioned ourselves even closer to the stage. Awfully close. My brother Mike, Danny, and I now stood near the very front of the crowd. Out of the tens of thousands of fans waiting for the Eagles to show up and play, only a handful were closer to the stage than we were at that moment. I looked at Danny. Danny looked at Mike. Mike looked at me. We had done the impossible. Moments later, the stage went dark and the hair stood up on the back of my neck.
The Eagles strolled onto the stage and set themselves in position. Stage lights lit up the band and the opening notes of Hotel California eased through the massive array of speakers. The stadium erupted, then quickly quieted as if shushed by a stern librarian. In front of me stood Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Don Felder, Timothy B. Schmit, and Joe Walsh. Those guys were famous, superfamous, and there they were. So close to me. The stars in the night sky took notice as well. I stood, spellbound, taking in one hit song after another. Lyrics I knew by heart washed over me and, at that moment, connected everyone in the audience.
The band, spaced evenly across the front of the stage, drum kit in the rear, played their songs to perfection. There was no “stage show.” No one was jumping around or yakking it up between songs. Pyrotechnics did not fill the air. Confetti never exploded over the crowd. In a world now filled with complex stage productions and back-up dancers, the Eagles just stood there and played music: Already Gone, Take it Easy, Lyin’ Eyes, Life in the Fast Lane, I Can’t Tell You Why. The list goes on and on. An epic concert requires epic music because the songs are the show. It’s as simple as that. The songs are the show. Forty years later, I still go to concerts for the songs, a lesson the Eagles taught me that night at the Texxas Jam. It’s a night that my pals, all 80,000 of them, would never forget.
Photos: Feature photo, Sammy Hagar, Rick Nielsen/Joe Walsh copyrighted by Vernon L. Gowdy III (check out his book on the Texxas World Music Festival); photo of ticket courtesy of the author