Story and photos by Darl Devault, Contributing Editor
Fifty years ago, John Carpenter, 67, was attending his last year of high school and most major rock’n’roll concerts available in Oklahoma as an immense fan of live performances, going on to attend more than 1,000.
From Midwest City High School, he went on to Oscar Rose Junior College on a wrestling scholarship. He continued attending many major concerts at the zenith of what many consider the most productive era of rock’n’roll music.
Soon arena shows and music videos changed the way young people were entertained, as live performances were enhanced with showmanship.
For Carpenter, it was about the music. Those five years, 1970-1975, were some of the most iconic in rock’n’roll history, including the release of the most famous song ever recorded in the rock’n’roll genre, Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” selling 37 million copies since 1971.
In 1970 Carpenter bought his first copy of “Rolling Stone Magazine” as a MCHS sophomore. “It had articles about Bob Dylan, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones that gave me a window to a world that I was missing, and I loved it,” Carpenter said. “I sent my money off for a year’s subscription, which cost $8, and I soon learned about all these new artists and groups, including one from California, the Grateful Dead.”
Not that he’s competitive about it, but local music historians could easily describe Carpenter’s status as one of the most dedicated rock’n’roll fans of the last 50 years. He has averaged 20 (yes, 20) concerts a year. Married in 1979, he and his wife Jo often attend shows together.
The list of the concerts he has witnessed is so long it is easier to list the four that got away. He missed seeing Jimi Hendrix in May of 1970 because he was 15 and could not find a ride to Norman that Friday night. He missed the first two Led Zeppelin concerts because of no car and no ride and says he is still puzzled about how he missed seeing Led Zeppelin in 1977.
And then there were Oklahoma State Fairgrounds Arena concerts that came with a bonus, like first seeing the Eagles in 1972 as an opening. “I recognized the song they were performing as a new hit on the radio, “Take It Easy!” The single had been out a little over a month,” Carpenter said in a recent interview. “I watched the “new group” in action. I think it was Don Henley who was wearing an OU football jersey. I was just over two weeks out of high school, but I could tell these guys were really good. Their 50-minute set ended way too fast for us before British sensation Jethro Tull took the stage.”
Carpenter can relive that special night through the magic of YouTube. “Someone in the crowd taped the Eagles’ portion of the concert that night and recently posted it on YouTube,” Carpenter said. “Listening to it 50 years later, it is like I am back at the beginning of all that major concert going.”
He made the trip to a Rolling Stones concert on June 24th in Ft. Worth, where he saw his favorite group on their Rolling Stones American Tour 1972, which also included Canada. He says he could get tickets only because that tour was so successful the Stones added a second show.
But in Oklahoma City, later in 1972, he became a diehard fan of his favorite all-time supergroup. “The Grateful Dead were to play at the Civic Center, probably the best acoustics in Oklahoma,” Carpenter said. “When a second concert was added for November 15th, we got outstanding tickets near the front of the concert hall.”
His third world-class concert of the year swept him away. “The Grateful Dead with Jerry Garcia took the stage without fanfare, and we were off. They played two long sets that night, with the standout for me being the almost half-hour jam on their classic “Playing in the Band,” Carpenter said. “During that show, with such great acoustics, I became a Deadhead for life.”
Hundreds of concerts, hundreds of artists later, in 2022, Carpenter still thinks about the Grateful Dead, especially since he saw them play at the Oklahoma City Fairgrounds Arena again almost a year after that eventful night. “As the years went by, I continued to follow the Grateful Dead and watched them become an icon in American popular culture,” Carpenter said.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in Sociology at Oklahoma State University and became a distinguished Probation and Parole officer. He capped his 24-year career as the Sentencing Guideline Specialist for the Western District of Oklahoma. He has been retirement privileged since 2011 and has become a well-known yoga and spin teacher in the Oklahoma City area.
Today he will share with you all the complications of modern ticketing where you can think that you’re buying a ticket at one price only to find that the price is two or three times higher when it’s time to pay. Still, the genuinely dedicated will put up with that because, as Carpenter will tell you, nothing beats hearing the live performance version of talented artists’ songs.
When he thinks about what keepsake is his favorite from all those concerts, he thinks about Garcia. Never one to follow the band from city to city as some fans did, he says he is devoted. “Although he died in 1995 of a heart attack, their records and music continue to sell,” Carpenter said. “Jerry (Garcia) remains as popular as ever and is even revered by younger generations of music fans who never had the privilege as I did of seeing him in concert. I am grateful to rock’n’roll music to have experienced this phenomenon myself.”
Speaking with Carpenter about Oklahoma being the crossroads of America and touring musicians, he not only gives you answers but opens your eyes to more questions, more ideas, more perspectives and more wonder about Oklahoma’s place in rock’n’roll history. When you hear Carpenter speak with a high school friend his age, another strong concertgoer, Barbie Garrison, you realize his nearly encyclopedic knowledge of rock’n’roll history.
“My Facebook friends asked me about specific artists I have seen, so I wrote narratives about what was going on in my life when I went to specific concerts and what kind of performance it was,” Carpenter said. “This recent writing has sparked my realization of how profoundly concert going has affected my life.”
“Concert going helped me create a whole different circle of friends and provided at times a much-needed release from the stress of being a college athlete and on throughout my life working with offenders on parole or probation,” Carpenter said. “Being a fresh diversion each time, many concerts were so startlingly creative, with high-quality musicians and their voices and their harmonizing and the brilliance of their words and poems set to music. Rock and Roll music will never die.”