Music Memories From the Astrodome's Birthday Celebration

In the waning moments of a special night celebrating the Astrodome's 50th anniversary, a young man sitting at the MetroRail station on Fannin gazed in awe at photos he'd just taken of the "Eighth Wonder" on his smartphone.

The way he looked at the pictures of the fading giant -- which he'd just entered for the first time in more than a dozen years -- recalled that old Billy Joel song. The one that goes, "leave a tender moment alone."

But, of course, we were there to talk all things Astrodome, so we asked about his experience. The thing that seemed to move him most was how many of the more than 25,000 souls who came to tour Harris County's most famous haunt for its "birthday celebration" were moved to tears.

We pondered why just standing on the Dome's floor would bring on the waterworks, but only for the briefest of moments. Returning to the scene of so many special times, many of those being music-oriented, how could one not get emotional?

REWIND: Remember the Astrodome For Concerts, Too

Of course, some of those tears could have been tears of relief for finally getting into the structure itself. The event, presented in part by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Preservation Houston, drew tens of thousands who waited for hours to get a glimpse inside. We snapped a photo of a father and son who'd just exited the tour. The kid had never been in the building. There were lots of those moments occurring simultaneously last night.

Amid the first-timers and families, the young and the old, we sought some music fans and found a few, like native Houstonian Terry Williams. Spotted in line with his family, he looked the part of lifelong rocker. We guessed correctly.

"My first Ozzy concert was here, with the Texxas Jam," he said. "I saw Styx, Ted Nugent here, Metallica. Guns N' Roses with Faith No More, I worked security backstage on that show. I used to come to the Texxas Jam pretty much all the time."

Williams recalled a pair of Canadian rock bands blowing the roof off the Dome.

"I saw Rush here and their laser show in the Dome was phenomenal. Triumph, I saw here too. I was front and center, right in front of Rik Emmett, when he was doing his solo, man he was incredible."

"I remember Rush and Triumph sounded excellent live in the Dome, I didn't notice any distortion or anything like that. I really never saw a bad rock show in the Astrodome, man."

That was a sentiment echoed by people who'd seen live shows in the Dome. Maybe it was revisionist history, with no one wanting to knock the Dome's acoustic challenges after all these years. Or maybe the important thing about seeing a live show has less to do with acoustics than just enjoying the moment.

"I went to the Texxas Jams in '82 and '83 with my cousin John and both were awesome," recalled Stephen DeLeon, a native Houstonian now living in Boston. " We did get jumped in the parking lot in '82 and they stole my concert shirts but I still had a great time.

"There was Ted Nugent, Triumph and Sammy Hagar that day. Styx was there too but everybody left during their show because they were just playing the Kilroy Was Here album. I remember Ted Nugent swinging in on a long rope in a loincloth! Crazy! "

"I saw Elvis at the Houston Rodeo in 1970 with my parents when I was six years old," said Dome fan John Senn. "I remember Elvis coming out in a white convertible Cadillac! My dad was a huge fan of Elvis and grew up in Tennessee watching him before he was famous touring with Johnny Cash and a few other greats.

"Elvis was my favorite then and still today," he added. "I will always be grateful to my parents for taking me to that awesome show."

My brother and sister-in-law, who I wrote about in yesterday's recollections of Astrodome music, came to the event. They remembered dancing up and down the Dome's stairs during Madonna's '87 tour stop and seeing Selena.

"We were all a lot younger then," is what my sister-in-law recalls most about those shows.

Doug and Bunnie O'Brien were some of the first to tour the Dome last night. We caught them leaving at roughly the same time thousands were showing up to get in line.

"I was here for the opening. I was 13 years old, a baseball player. I got to see Mickey Mantle, so that was a big thrill for a young, 13-year-old baseball player," Doug said.

"Back in that day there was actual grass on the field and it was prior to painting the roof. That was an issue because the players couldn't see the ball, so they had to paint the roof. When they painted the roof the grass died."

He set aside the thoughts of regret over Astros and Oilers teams that almost but never quite made it to talk music.

"I saw the Rolling Stones here twice," he said. "My daughter, she and I came to see Madonna. It was a great show. It was one of the first concerts I ever recall going to where basically all of the music videos were acted out. She had basically the entire casts of all of her videos and each song was a major production. That was kind of a first for concerts. It was like she kind of took it to the level of performance art."

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Bunnie looked over Doug's shoulder at the building and thought about its future, rather than its past, something that was on the minds of many of its aficionados. Never mind the displaced, stacked seats or the rolled-up, worn-down Astroturf inside the building.

"If you could envision, if they would keep it, how lucky we would be as Houstonians to have what was here and the new and have it preserved. The possibilities are endless," she said.

My brother and sister-in-law spurred on an avalanche of music memories from the Dome with their recollections. They remembered, in their early, lean and hungry days, buying Zappo's sandwiches to smuggle into the rodeo to avoid paying exorbitant prices for food to nosh on while watching George Strait perform.

And all the music memories weren't just big stars playing for a packed-to-the-rafters Dome. Our kid brother was in the Lamar High School marching band and it was a moment of pride anytime the band got to do its thing in the Dome. They even had a chant that went "Redskins to the Dome, (opposition) go home!" My brother says he remembers walking to cadences on the concrete ramps of the Dome and the drums being deafening. How many non-famous musicians in Houston from high school and college bands have the same fond recollections?

My personal favorite music moments of the Dome were hearing "Luv Ya Blue," "Wooly Bully" or "You Can Call Me Al" (played anytime Houston Oilers' kicker Al Del Greco put one through the uprights) played triumphantly during Oilers games. Being back at the scene of so many times spent with family and friends, some of whom the Dome outlasted, it was clear why the tears were shed this night.

That provided some insight on why people like Bunnie O'Brien want to see it preserved in some way. We have special memories of the place, but it might have that same sort of usefulness for today's Houstonians, with a little love and some direction.

"The structure is here, the architecture is here," she said. "It's the perfect marriage of what's already here and what's to come."

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Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.