On a beautiful May morning in1978, I was an excited, nervous 25-year-old on the way to my new job broadcasting middays on WQXI in Atlanta.
Tower Place was the glass palace this legendary radio station called home. Little did I know that this day would be the beginning of an amazing, long and, I must admit, colorful career. I had experiences that most people dream of, in the greatest city in the world…Atlanta.
I’m Kelly McCoy and I want to remember/relive a lot of those experiences with any Atlantans who were enjoying concerts, clubs, restaurants and the entertainment from those days we “seasoned” humans experienced. If you weren’t here then, I’m hopeful you’ll learn more about those days before we became a major city.
I’ll maybe give you some inside scoop that we people in the biz were privy to– how we were the station that the TV show “WKRP in Cincinnati” was patterned after; how on-air interviews with artists, bands and stars happened all the time since we, and our sister station 94Q were dominant in the market.
Life in the ‘semi-fast’ lane
Hanging in recording studios, backstage after the show for “meet and greets,” industry parties, wild conventions, lunches and dinners with artists and musicians, and enjoying life in the semi fast lane was our way of life.
There were plenty of entertaining places to eat and drink in the mid 70s: Jeryl’s, Billy’s, Nikolai’s Roof, Manuel’s Tavern, The Colonnade. The Coach and Six was happening way before this new place, Bones, opened (in 1979). Writers Ron Hudspeth and Lewis Grizzard showed up here and there. Harrisons, Café Erewon and Cy Timmons…all great names, and places we experienced. Music, recorded or live, could be found at record stores such as Turtles or in venues such as The Omni, The Agora, the Great Southeast Music Hall.
Chastain Park Amphitheater
I thought I’d start with one of the best places to hear live music that this great city has to offer: Chastain Park Amphitheater. Chastain, before it had corporate names, was just called Chastain. I’ve said many times that there’s nothing better, and that nothing says “Atlanta,” quite like a perfect Chastain evening…definitely a crown jewel. When temperatures, and the weather cooperated, it was musical magic.
Over the years, hundreds of performances happened on Chastain’s stage. I attended dozens of shows there, seeing and hearing anyone from Tony Bennett to The Allman Brothers Band.
Having worked making ads for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, I started appearing as a narrator with the orchestra and emceed a good number of Chastain shows. Of course, our radio stations usually were involved to promote certain acts. As one of the on-air people, I got to “meet and greet” the patrons, and quite often meet with the performer(s) before and after show time.
Every age group could be there. We even took our kids to see the Monkees at Chastain after their resurgence in popularity thanks to Nickelodeon. They were most surprised to see the Monkees looked like their parents and not the silly dudes on TV.
Chastain’s patrons included some of Buckhead’s finest decked out in high style and rockers who rolled in from just about anywhere in the state. In those days – before catering companies would deliver your feast – menus could vary widely for the patrons who brought in dinner. Candelabras, and champagne flutes gleamed from the tables in front. A few tables away, there would be a group enjoying a KFC dinner with cold beer.
I’ve been to concerts at Chastain that were so crowded, women would go to the men’s restroom and no one cared. Once again, these were the “old days,” and amenities have greatly improved.
Sinatra to The Allmans
You could catch any kind of act — from Motown legends, to rockers with lots of hair. There were big names, both current and from the past. Chastain was a favorite of Frank Sinatra. Tom Jones played there. On one of those perfect evenings, we got to enjoy The Allman Brothers with Gregg Allman.
The great blues artist BB King celebrated his 80th birthday there…what a night!
As an evening progressed, quite often the adult beverages would usually be abundant. One evening I heard a band say, “the more you drink, the better they sound.” This was before Uber, of course, and cabs were pretty nonexistent. Having a designated driver or behaving yourself was usually the best way to stay safe getting home after the show.
That was then. Now with the pandemic, many venues and clubs where musicians appeared have shut their doors, at least for now. According to Pollstar, the entertainment industry has lost more than $30 billion. Yes, billion.
I know you join me in looking forward to more perfect Atlanta evenings while enjoying one of the best places to catch a concert in our city, state and country: Chastain.
Editor’s note: Kelly McCoy is a veteran broadcaster who worked for more than four decades at radio stations in the metro Atlanta marker before his retirement. He was inducted into the Georgia Radio Museum and Hall of Fame in 2013. This is the first of a series of columns he will write for Atlanta Senior Life about the concerts, venues and musical celebrities he recalls from the days when metro Atlanta was becoming a major musical center.