The Biggest Party In History, 1989








For about 10 months in 1989, people in Texas were inundated with TV commercials from Miller Lite beer.  Featuring the actor Randy Quaid, the commercials unfolded as he made plans to throw a party – the “Biggest Party In History.”  OK … it didn’t sound too promising at first but by mid-summer 1989, it sounded awesome.  “I’ll get back to you later with more details,” Quaid said on the commercials.  And I sure as hell wanted to go.

This was a publicity stunt to help Miller Lite grab sales from Budweiser in Texas, Miller’s biggest-volume state.  So they planned a party for Labor Day weekend – in San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Midland/Odessa and McAllen  … but the biggest shows were to be in Houston, on a Saturday, then the next night in Dallas.  The Astrodome hosted a wild bash that included beach volleyball, professional wrestling (The Ultimate Warrior vs. Andre the Giant), a “side stage” and a monster concert featuring the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, and the Who.  The identical lineup played the next night in Big D.

The Who had “reunited” in 1989 for a 25th anniversary tour and played their entire rock opera “Tommy” on some dates, and I was hoping they’d do the same thing in Houston.  Tickets were only $25, and my wife was going out of town, so I planned to buy one as soon as I could shake loose a few bucks.  But I lucked out and won a contest on KLOL radio, the package included a hat, a t-shirt (with all the proper logos) and a VIP pass to everything.

(Digression No. 1: Sometimes when I look back, I ask myself, “What, you couldn’t put together 25 bucks for a concert?”  You kiddies may well ask the same thing – think of it as trying to gather about 100 bucks in change today.  This will happen to you too as you get older.  It’s natural.)

So, day of the party, it’s about 400 degrees outside (the paper later said they recorded the temp on the asphalt at 115).  Most of it was a free festival and it featured live shots by the T-Birds and Stevie Ray as well as sets from LeVert, the O’Jays, Asleep at the Wheel, Jerry Jeff Walker, Joe Ely and many others.  Something for everyone.   There were some acts indoors but most played on outdoor stages.  I caught some of the wrestling card and a set from Jerry Jeff Walker, then they opened the Dome doors.  Ah, air conditioning – it was two hours before show time but hey, it’s hot on the asphalt.

Anyway, Stevie Ray rocked – it was the last time I saw him (he died the next year in a helicopter crash) and the Fabulous Thunderbirds seemed a little lost in the cavernous Astrodome.  Then, finally, the Who came onstage.  Roger Daltrey still had his signature moves, and Entwistle wore a coat made of the Union Jack.  When Pete Townshend hit the first notes of “Pinball Wizard” I got chills – I’d listened to that song since I was a kid.  They didn’t do the entire “Tommy.”  They played a standard Who set – kicking it off with “Substitute” – but the encore featured a couple of interesting choices: “Hey Joe,” dedicated to Jimi Hendrix, and Creedence’s “Born On The Bayou,” which Daltrey said was the only thing he remembered anyone playing at Woodstock.

(Digression No. 2: When the Who kicks into “Baba O’Riley” in concert, you will likely find yourself thinking you are hearing the World’s Greatest Rock Band performing the World’s Greatest Rock Song.  “Baba O’Riley” is simply one of the best rock songs ever written.  When the Who finished that song on their 2006 tour, Pete Townshend said “It doesn’t get any better than that.”  And he may very well be right.)

Great show, a great day, a painful sunburn from the hours I spent out in the parking lot.  And thanks to the internet, here’s the ending to this tale: About 450,000 people attended all of the shows across Texas, 120,000 of them in Houston.  Miller spent about $15 million on the party, which included 10 months’ worth of TV and print ads.  But I guess it was worth it – Lite’s sales in Texas rose 6.5 percent during the first ten months of 1989, vs. a 9.4 percent decline in 1987, before its TV ads for the parties began. Budweiser sales fell 6 percent during the 10-month period in 1989.

And that’s our little story for today, kiddies.  We leave you with the Who, recorded live from Dallas on Sept. 3, 1989 (hey, it was on the radio): “Hey Joe” and “Born On The Bayou.”

MP3: “Hey Joe” (live) by the Who

MP3: “Born On The Bayou” (live) by the Who

Stevie Ray Vaughan photo by Art Meripol.  Check out his great photo blog here.

16 Responses to “The Biggest Party In History, 1989”

  1. did you by any chance take pics? connie

  2. 30daysout Says:

    No, sorry … back in the days of big Astrodome concerts they used to frisk everyone and I didn’t want to risk it. I used to have a regular-sized Minolta that I would smuggle (usually into the Summit) by sucking my gut and sticking it in the waistband of my jeans. My small telephoto lens would go inside a boot or a brand-new tube sock (loosely-laced, high-top Converse sneakers are recommended for this). But they didn’t pat you down upon entering the Summit, as they did at the Dome.

  3. I was there. They should have called it “Loudest Party in History.” The Who lived up to their reputation. Even with earplugs, the show roared from my orchestra center seats. No complaints though. Thanks for the write-up – your scan of the poster is priceless! Good memories!!

  4. NJ Bryan Says:

    That was a great time. I was at the show and have the ticket stub, the little Miller Lite guitar and some reviews. What you didn’t mention is that Miller did it the next year too. They did it just like the previous year with all the build up etc. The reason, they claim, “Randy forgot to take pictures!” Randy would come on during the months long campaing and tell everyone how he forgot to take the pictures ect. Then later he revield that the picture would be taken with the good year blimp from high above. It was at the Cotton Bowl. I was there. And so was the blimp. Great memories and good times

  5. Of the various Texas venues, I attended the Cotton Bowl concert in Dallas with the band I was playing in at the time; we all thought it was a great show. This was also the second time I saw Stevie; I caught him a few years earlier with Double Trouble on a large stage right on the beach of S. Padre Island during Spring Break-’87 of my college freshman year. (RIP, Stevie……we miss you.)

    This Who concert was also the final show of the Who’s world tour in ’89. A great memory was when every band member of The Who who had children at the time (mainly the 4-piece horn section and 3-piece backing vocal section) got them on stage to sing and dance to the final few encore numbers.

    You all may also remember that from the same world tour, The Who played a nationwide-live TV concert a few months earlier from Radio City Music Hall in which they played their album “Tommy” in it’s entirety. Special guests Patti LaBelle, Billy Idol, Elton John, Phil Collins, and Steve Winwood sang the various character parts incredibly well. Collins as Cousin Ernie was especially good…and hilarious. This is still available on DVD…which I HIGHLY recommend. (This show is also an excellent musician’s video clinic for bass and drums with extended camera shots on the late great John Entwistle and Simon Phillips, respectively)

    A CD-version of the “Tommy” show at RCMH came out soon after, but it was an alternate show from a day earlier without the guest stars singing the various parts. Instead, Pete and Roger sang their parts as originally sung on the album which was just as good. (There may be a CD version out of the show with the guests on it by now)

    Aaaah, the good ‘ol 80’s.

  6. I was at that concert and the party. It was my last concert before I did myself a bit of military life. That was just a great time. SRV played the Eyes of Texas Are Upon Us behind his back. I remember something like that that was awesome. I think I saw Kool and the Gang in the park too. Hell I can barely remember it. Some dude posted a great SRV video on youtube though. You might wanna check it out for a walk down memory lane. It was the first timel for the Who to do the Last Tour bit. Texas used to know how to throw it down. Oh, the good old days!!! Nice post Sir.

  7. BTW. I saw it in Dallas

  8. I worked for Miller in Waco that year as one of the original Miller girls. It was some seriously fun times. I didn’t, however, have the resources to go to the concert. Or maybe I had to work at one of my other jobs that weekend. Still, that whole experience was awesome.

  9. iPhone 5…

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  10. Daniel J Says:

    corpus NAS,huey lewis ,& cheap trick , plus my 1rst beer, truly a time I will never forget those guys rocked .

  11. Saint Jimmy Says:

    This was my 1st concert on my own. I was 13 at the time & my mom took me for the free concerts (she was a big fan of Asleep at the Wheel, Joe Ely & Jerry Jeff) & I had talked her into getting me a ticket for The Who since they were my favorite band at the time.

    I literally had last row tickets up in the dome but still had my socks rocked off. Didn’t know much about SRV back then but after his set I was wondering how The Who could top that bad mutha on guitar but they did somehow. It was like they were determined to blow the roof off the joint.

  12. oldheep Says:

    Hey man this is great I went to the Houston concert and spent the whole day out there. Got to see Thunderbirds, and SRV twice in one day. Went to buy tickets but on the way was given 4 free tickets, so I saw one of the greatest bands for free, are should I say two (SRV). Don”t remember much about anything else like wrestling or the other bands, I do remember seeing Randy, oh ya and Joe Ely. One of the biggest best parties ever, I was 24 years old and a fresh paycheck in my pocket.

  13. Robert Bakalar Says:

    I will never forget that day. Me and my buddies stayed up all night, got to the party early, and was front row center stage for the first Stevie show. In between sets the fire department used fire hoses to cool the crowd. Stevie was 5 feet from me, kneeling, staring at me, singing his heart out and playing mean. Never forget it.

  14. Crashola Says:

    I was there too. My buddy and I drove from Pensacola for the party and show. The outdoor concert with the Fabulous Thunderbirds and SRV was fantastic. We had nosebleed seats for the indoor SRV-Who show. It was great, but the performers looked like little ants from where we were!

  15. sjhfkjhgf Says:

    I was at the Dome….they should do it again, charge a buck a beer and they could refurbish the dome from the proceeds!

  16. randy graham Says:

    Thanx for a great re-memory, lol. Oi too was there that sultr Saturday eating smoked turkey legs and drinking mi-li. Stevie was awesomw and the tbirds and jj walker. Will never forget that day. Wate on 130 degree asphalt equals 115 degree steam. Yip it was definitely hot but never forgot.

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