These were the top selling concerts in America 40 years ago

Foghat was basically the Coldplay of 1978.

In the modern music biz, bands make their bucks on the road. A song stream brings in a fraction of a fraction of a penny. But a musician can charge serious cash for a concert ticket. Those $35 shirts help, too.

Looking back at the top concert draws of 1978, two things immediately jump out. First, tickets were cheap. Dirt cheap. Even considering inflation. The average ticket was around $7, or approximately $27 in today's dollars. Big arena acts charge five times that today. 

The second thing: Big acts played much smaller venues. The Billboard Top Boxoffice chart from March 25, 1978, tallied total attendance, and the counts at these big arena shows were, oh, 5,000–7,000 bodies. That would be considered an intimate theater gig for the biggest acts of 2018.

Beyond all those numbers, the names themselves might surprise you. Would you guess Foghat was the biggest draw of the day? Let's look back, starting with the "Slow Ride" rockers…

1. Foghat


Venue: Checkerdome, St. Louis
Attendance: 13,374
Tickets: $6–$8
Opening act: Point Blank

The English group's brand of hard blues clicked in the States. They had recently released their Live LP, and were about to drop their eighth album, Stone Blue. Fans packed into the St. Louis Blues arena to witness the riffs.

2. Gordon Lightfoot


Venue: Northrop Auditorium, Minneapolis
Attendance: 9,780
Tickets: $5–$7

The gentle songsmith played two shows in one night to slide into the No. 2 slot on this list. By this point in his career, Lightfoot had released, like, eight greatest hits albums. You can bet "Early Morning Rain" was played.

3. Emerson, Lake & Palmer


Venue: Omni, Atlanta
Attendance: 8,406
Tickets: $6.50–$8.50

The prog trio was promoting its goopy album Love Beach, which was hardly beloved by devotees. Nevertheless, ELP drew in crowds. The 1979 release In Concert documented this tour, on which the band would open gigs with a take on the theme song to Peter Gunn.

4. Jerry Garcia Band


Venue: Suffolk Forum, Commack, NY
Attendance: 8,110
Tickets: $7.50–$8.50
Opening acts: New Riders / Robert Hunter

The Grateful Dead were (well, are?) always a draw, even when not entirely the Dead.

5. Parliament


Venue: VonBraun Civic Center, Huntsville, AL
Attendance: 7,738
Tickets: $6.50–$7.50
Opening acts: The Bar-Kays / Cameo

Seven bucks to witness a landing of the Mothership? Now that is a deal. Nobody put on a show quite like George Clinton and crew. The funk icons had just released Live and were in the process of promoting Motor Booty Affair.

6. Waylon Jennings


Venue: Civic Auditorium, Omaha, NE
Attendance: 6,775
Tickets: $6.50–$7.50
Opening acts: Jessi Colter / The Waylors

A year before The Duke of Hazzard made its debut with that unforgettable Waylon Jennings theme song, the outlaw country king was truckin' in tour of his latest, I've Always Been Crazy.

7. Willie Nelson + The Charlie Daniels Band


Venue: Salt Palace, Salt Lake City, UT
Attendance: 6,584
Tickets: $5.50–$7.50
Opening acts: Country Joe McDonald / Don Bowman

Waylon frequent partner in song Willie Nelson was doing well for himself, as well.

8. Journey


Venue: Hara Arena, Dayton, OH
Attendance: 6,060
Tickets: $5.50–$6.50
Opening acts: Ronnie Montrose, Van Halen

At this point, Journey was blossoming from prog weirdos to arena giants, thanks to current hits like "Wheel in the Sky." Rock fans would perhaps crave a time machine to see young guns Van Halen opening the show.

9. Blue Öyster Cult


Venue: L.C. Walker Arena, Muskegon, MI
Attendance: 5,758
Tickets: $6–$7

Blue Öyster Cult albums never quite burned up the charts, but the kooky pop-metal act remained a popular live draw, thanks to recent singles like "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" and "Godzilla." The group's second live album, Some Enchanted Evening, was recorded on this tour.

10. Santana


Venue: Paramount Theatre, Portland, OR
Attendance: 5,679
Tickets: $7.50
Opening act: Eddie Money

Concertgoers got their money's worth — Eddie Money, that is. He opened for the jammy guitar god.

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Beatseeker 25 months ago
foghat was the coldplay of 78? what you smokin, fella?
musicman37 33 months ago
I saw Journey in 1977 at Delhi, NY - they were a prog rock band at this point, unremarkable, and the opening act for Livingston Taylor!
TexasGreek 47 months ago
Weirdo Journey and kooky BOC. I can safely say I've never heard those bands described in that manner.
Interesting take. Santana described as jammy, oh my (George Takei here/hear). As for "quite the show", Ozzy, Van Halen and KISS were weekly fare for "quite the show". I could go on, but... I shan't.
WILD 63 months ago
The Emerson, Lake and Palmer album (in Concert) was recorded right here in Montreal. Montreal is a Prog-Rock lovin' city. Bands like ELP, Supertramp, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Chris de Burgh, Marillion and Yes were either broken in Montreal or have a home away from home here.
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