Remembering Chuck Berry’s 1989 Performance at Detroit’s Hart Plaza

By: Steve Kostan

Really bad news about the passing of CHUCK BERRY Saturday night. While there are thousands of testimonials about Chuck’s impact on Rock&roll and American teenaged culture out there, many far more eloquent that anything I could compose, I can offer you this.

Late summer of 1989 my rock station had a huge 3 day free music festival in downtown Detroit, right on the river, at Hart Plaza. A big variety of acts including thee Ray Charles, but 80% rock acts overall. It was a hot weekend, we broadcast live for 3 days from a closed restaurant in the plaza and naturally, no A/C. It was there but it didn’t work.

CHUCK BERRY headlined Sunday night and while I had seen him several times since 1970, had emceed a Chuck show in 1981 at the Second Chance in Ann Arbor, This would be would be 25,000 people instead of 1,500. I had been down there 3 days in the heat, should have been running on fumes, but was totally jacked to bring him on. I think talking to the M C 5’s ROB TYNER just before Chuck went on was the last piece of adrenaline I needed.

As I walked out to the mic the crowd looked like it went on to the horizon. The word had spread. After all, it was a free weekend and this was Sunday night. I knew all about Chuck and what he meant. Time to nail it. After thanking everyone, the sponsors etc, I told the crowd about CHUCK BERRY’s essential role in Rock&Roll. Now for the big finish…”not only that, but this guy (don’t say the name yet) influenced every kid that ever picked up an electric guitar on BOTH sides of the Atlantic. Guys like The Beatles, Johnny Winter, and Keith Richard.” I did the, chant, calls letters “Thee Home of..” audience responded “Rock&Roll”, twice then “He’s the seed, inventor, the FOUNDER of Rock& Roll CHUCK BEERRRYY! ! “

The crowd went ape, and I headed off stage-left near the front to give Chuck, back by his amp, a wide berth. I looked to my forward left and here comes Chuck striding right towards me. I started thinking, “ Oh man what did I do wrong? Was he not ready?” He reached me by the next step and… BOOM Out came that BIG Chuck Berry hand to shake mine. Whew! He said “Great intro” I said “ Hey, it’s all true. They’re all yours.” By the 4th song he finally hit top gear and the slow starting set really rocked after that. He had the huge loud crowd eating it up and it provided a tonic for Chuck who was totally in his element.

After show he chatted up ROB TYNER of the MC5 for 2 minutes, right at the curb on the street, hopped in a Caddy and drove off leaving Rob, his guitarist Robert Gillespie and I to just say “wow…that was great.”

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