We begin with a mea culpa. As an editor at the local newspaper for 26 years (1983-2009), and as someone who has remained active and involved in the community since then, I arrogantly considered myself to be an expert on everything cool that has ever happened in Livingston County.
But until last week, I did not know that KISS performed a concert in Hartland back in 1975. Shame on me for not knowing that. I have no excuse for this – no excuse at all – and I am extremely chagrined and humbled.
I mean, this is one of the coolest events in Livingston County history – for God’s sake, we’re talking about KISS here – and I didn’t know anything about it? What the hell?
How did I not know this? Why didn’t one of you people tell me about it? How could this have happened?
What makes this whole situation even more outrageous is that the story of KISS’ 1975 concert in Hartland is a flat-out fascinating story all the way around that doesn’t just involve KISS performing a concert in Hartland. It also features a sketchy venue owner, a community that went ballistic when it happened, public urination, some outrageous letters to the editor, and, of course, drugs.
This story also features ANOTHER legendary rock band that performed a concert in Hartland just three weeks after the KISS concert. And I didn’t know anything about that one, either.
So as I sit here kicking myself in the rear for not knowing about any of this, I’m now going to tell you the fascinating story of the 1975 KISS concert in Hartland. Sit back and relax, because this is a good one.
First, a little background on KISS. The group formed in 1973, and the original four members were Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Peter Criss and Ace Frehley. The group toured a lot and released a couple albums in 1973 and 1974, but according to the Internet, it was 1975 when the band really started to skyrocket to fame. So when the band came to Hartland in April of 1975, it was just starting to become huge. As in, REALLY huge.
On March 19, 1975, KISS released its album “Dressed to Kill,” which included the song that would become the group’s anthem and best-known song ever, “Rock and Roll All Nite.”
That same day, the band also launched its Dressed to Kill Tour with a concert at the Roxy Theater in Northampton, Pa.
After three more tour stops (in New York City; Kenosha, Wisc.; and Toledo), the Concert That I Never Knew Anything About came to Hartland, Michigan.
The date was Friday, April 4, 1975. The concert was promoted by Brass Ring Productions, the legendary Detroit promoter.
The concert took place at a long-gone venue in Hartland called the Nordic Ice Arena, which was located on the south side of M-59, just east of U.S. 23, where the now-closed Walmart store is located.
The Nordic Ice Arena is a fascinating story in and of itself, so let’s talk about that for a minute.
According to newspaper reports at the time, the Nordic Ice Arena was owned by a guy named Harry Demas, and managed by his son, Allen Demas. Harry Demas also owned the land that surrounded the Nordic Ice Arena, including the Hartland Plaza, and he was evidently a controversial guy back then.
There are a lot of newspaper stories from 1974 and 1975 that talk about Hartland Township officials being very frustrated with Demas because he wouldn’t tell them exactly what he planned to do with the property, because he wasn’t getting the permits he needed, and so on and so on. So it seems that long before KISS came to town, a lot of people in Hartland weren’t happy with Harry Demas.
But it also appears that his son Allen, who was running the Nordic Ice Arena, was something of a marketing genius. In addition to bringing KISS to town, Allen Demas also lured the Detroit Red Wings to the Nordic Ice Arena in 1974.
The Wings held their pre-season training camp in Hartland that year, spending the entire month of September 1974 there. The team stayed at the Howell Holiday Inn, which also provided a huge economic boost to that community.
So while I never met Allen Demas, I do consider him to be a fairly incredible person. In less than a year’s time, he was able to bring both the Detroit Red Wings and KISS to Hartland.
In any case, it seems that a fair number of people in Hartland hated the Demases in April of 1975, and the KISS concert did nothing but fan those flames.
Here’s what we know about the concert itself:
- Tickets were just $4.50 in advance, $5.50 at the door. Among the ticket outlets were Schafer’s House of Music in Howell and Brighton. If anyone saved a ticket stub, we’d love to see it.
- There were a couple opening acts for KISS, including the Mike Quatro Jam Band. Mike’s sister, Suzi Quatro, went on to great fame as Leather Tuscadero on “Happy Days.”
- While we don’t know exactly what songs KISS played that night, the tour’s typical set list began with “Deuce” and “Strutter,” and ended with “Rock and Roll All Nite” and “Let Me Go, Rock ’n’ Roll.”
And here’s where the story gets REALLY interesting, because it turns out that while the people inside the concert might have loved it, the people outside the concert did not. You can say it was a flat-out fiasco.
The Nordic Ice Arena was torn down many years ago, but size-wise, it sounds like it was similar to most small-town ice arenas. The listed seating capacity at the venue was 1,500.
So, of course, they sold 5,000 tickets for the KISS concert. That’s right – they jammed 5,000 people into an arena that held 1,500.
The parking lot at the ice arena and the nearby Hartland Food Town and Matthews Pharmacy were beyond overflowing. The fire department was called, and when the firefighters got there, they couldn’t get into the parking lot, so they had to tow 18 cars just to clear the fire lane.
Then there was the bathroom situation. According to a story in the April 9, 1975, Livingston County Press:
“Both stores were flooded with concert fans hoping to use the restrooms because Nordic had reportedly locked its bathrooms. Many youths used the parking lot as a urinal.”
And then there was this bit of shocking news:
“Several people, including many who spoke at Hartland Township’s annual meeting Saturday night, thought there was widespread drug use inside the arena.”
WHAT?? Drug use? At a KISS concert in 1975? NO WAY!
Yes, as you can see, things went just about as badly as they possibly could have gone on the night of April 4, 1975. You had 5,000 people at a venue that held 1,500. You had teenagers peeing in the parking lot. You had people parking wherever the hell they wanted. You had people using drugs. It was reported that another 15 people passed out because they were drunk.
Needless to say, this did not go over well among the residents of Hartland Township. The concert was on a Friday night, and as it so happened, Hartland Township’s annual meeting was the next night. The meeting was jammed with residents, all of them demanding to know what the township was going to do about all this.
Well, the township responded by filing a lawsuit against Harry Demas and the Nordic Ice Arena, demanding that no more rock concerts take place on the property. Livingston County Circuit Court Judge Paul Mahinske granted a temporary restraining order until they could figure out what was happening.
Time was essential here, because – and this is something else that I NEVER KNEW ANYTHING ABOUT – there was ANOTHER concert coming up on April 25 at the Nordic Ice Arena featuring a little band called REO Speedwagon.
Yes, if you’re keeping score at home, both KISS and REO Speedwagon performed concerts in Hartland in April of 1975, and I never knew anything about it.
In any case, in April of 1975, the only thing that anybody in Hartland was thinking about or talking about was the KISS concert at the Nordic Ice Arena. And with the REO Speedwagon concert coming up in just a few days, they started flooding the letters-to-the-editor sections of the Livingston County Press and Brighton Argus with letters like this:
The Hartland Township Board also got an earful from residents. The president of the nearby Hartland Shores Estates subdivision, Warren Carr, wrote a letter to Supervisor Harold Armstrong, saying, “This was obviously one of the most inept and stupidly planned events to occur in our area in some time. These violations not only show a disregard for the welfare of the people in attendance, but a complete lack of respect for the well-being of the residents of Hartland Township, especially those in the immediate area.”
Judge Mahinske eventually lifted the temporary restraining order with a few restrictions, and the REO Speedwagon concert on April 25 went off with only a few minor hitches. Harry Demas then promised that he wouldn’t sell as many tickets to future events, and that he’d keep the bathrooms open so that people wouldn’t have to pee in the Food Town parking lot.
It looks like the concerts pretty much went away after that, though. By 1978, the Nordic Ice Arena was sold and had changed its name to the Livingston Community Arena. The building became a BMX track in 1982, and was torn down a few years later.
As for KISS, well … they did pretty well for themselves after the Hartland concert. Pretty well, indeed.
And that’s the amazing, incredible, untold story of the 1975 KISS concert in Hartland. I’m still mad at myself that I never knew about this before, and I’m still mad that none of you 5,000 people who went to the concert ever told me about it.
If there’s anything else I should know about – say, for example, if the Beatles once performed at the Howell Opera House or something – now would be a good time to tell me.