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  1. Music

A rained-out Led Zeppelin concert caused a riot at Tampa Stadium 40 years ago today

Tampa Stadium — June 3, 1977 — with Robert Plant belting out Nobody's Fault But Mine, the rain descends, the concert ends abruptly and the crowd riots. Here's how it went down.

This story appeared in the pages of the Evening Independent on June 4, 1977. What follows is the text of the original story, interspersed with photos from the event.

Led Zeppelin Mini-riot erupts after rain cancels concert

By Robin Mitchell

Staff Writer

Billy club-wielding policemen armed with tear gas fought off a mini-riot in a packed Tampa Stadium last night when a lightning-flashing thundershower canceled a Led Zeppelin concert two songs into the show.

More than three dozen concert-goers and nine Tampa policemen were sent to three Hillsborough County hospitals with injuries.

More than 20 arrests, some drug related, were made among the 70,000 concert goers – 4,000 of whom police say stormed the concert stage when the show was called off.

The windshields of two police cruisers were smashed by the angry concert-goers.

Plans for a rain-check concert tonight were canceled early today when Tampa Stadium officials figured a "cooling off" period is needed. Ticket holders who got to see 11 minutes of the four-member heavy rock band are being told to expect alternative plans or a total cancellation notice before noon Friday.

Stadium operations Director Bob Pierce says an announcement is in the works now. Concert promoters, Concerts West, are attempting to arrange a return engagement later this summer for what some people consider the finest rock band still touring the nation.

Matt Larson | Times files

Matt Larson | Times files

The highly-touted concert, which began drawing spectators as soon as the stadium gates opened at noon yesterday, began an unusual 15 minutes early at 8:15 p.m. Two songs into the program, a cascade of rain descended from the heavens sending the electric instrument-laden performers scurrying for the locker room and laid low the curtain of smoke over the playing field.

Staff photo

Staff photo

It was then, after a laid-back day with only a few disturbances "considering the size of the crowd," police say the troubles began.

The group refused to come back out on stage despite what police say was an appeal that the thundershower would soon move over. By 9:15 p.m., the group had left the stadium leaving more than 70,000 fans, many whom paid as much as $12 a ticket, with nothing to do.

The still-drenched fans close to the three-tiered stage, angry at the long wait and then no concert, surged forward over and into the barricade manned by a handful of policemen. It was there the fighting began.

Some fans joined the melee when it was announced over the public address system to hold on to ticket stubs for refunds. Many persons already had tossed the stubs away.

Staff photo

Staff photo

"I could hear them (the cornered policemen) yelling – hell, screaming – for help on the radio." Said a Tampa policeman called in to guard property near the stadium. "It was pretty heavy."

Bottles and night sticks flew through the air during the confrontation that lasted no more than 30 minutes.

Staff photo

Staff photo

At least 35 spectators were treated for injuries ranging from cut heads and hands to bruised arms and legs at nearby St. Joseph's, Centro Espanol Memorial and downtown Tampa General hospitals. Only one Tampa youth remains hospitalized today, according to hospital officials.

Nine policemen, including Sgt. Dan Smith who was laid low with a concussion, were treated for an array of injuries ranging from a broken hand, smashed teeth, gashes over eyes, a cut lip and bruises. All were sent home later from hospitals.

Matt Larson | Times files

Matt Larson | Times files

"What happened last night was the fault of the Led Zeppelin," said Tampa police spokesman Johnnie Barker bitterly this morning. "We tried to tell them the rain would blow right over. They didn't treat this area or the people here very well and they (the fans) are going to remember that."

Barker said the stadium problems were calmed over before midnight, but calls started flooding in reporting vandalism and attempted burglaries in the nearby Tampa Bay Center shopping mall.

"It was probably as close to a disaster as we've had in a long time," said St. Joseph's Hospital emergency head nurse Mrs. Sandra Britt. "We just started calling in doctors and nurses for the mini-disaster."

Stadium official Pierce said last night's flurry of fighting would not affect the future of rock concerts in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tampa Bay Rowdies home playing field. "That is," Pierce added, "unless there's something to last night we don't know about."

Damage to the stadium and playing field was limited to the stage and the natural grass which Pierce said is little more than "ruffled" and filled with broken glass.

There was still an estimated 500 to 1,000 concert goers camped out in the stadium parking lot this morning.

Tampa police would not release the names of persons arrested in the melee.

Staff photo

Matt Larson | Times files

Staff photo

Matt Larson | Times files

To order reprints or download any image from this story, please visit the Times image archive.

Tim Rozgonyi

Twitter: @timrozgonyi

e-mail: trozgonyi@tampabay.com

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