It turns out the advertising for the free show had worked a little too well. Instead of the manageable hundreds expected, a crowd of over 15,000 made the trek to Ontario Place. The loud and largely loaded mob of doped up teenagers and beer-swilling hosers descended upon the venue and its unprepared staff. While Teenage Head had spent most of their career playing 19+ bar crowds, the free all-ages show meant that thousands of kids who had heard the Head on the radio could finally see them live. The crowd packed in shoulder-to-shoulder, filling every possible space. The staff freaked out and locked the gates, leaving several thousand rowdy rock fans trapped outside. By the time the music started, things began to get really ugly.
The first band, led by veteran rocker Bob Segarini, had rushed through their set while the sweating mass of people began hearing a strange noise outside the venue. Teenage Head started walking up through the tunnel from the dressing rooms to the stage. Before they could see the crowd they could hear it. It was roaring, screaming, banging on things, out of control. It must have been cool, if a little bit scary. The band took one last look at each other, then kicked into their set. Absolute pandemonium ensued. As the music blasted, rocks, bottles, and people flew through the air.
Outside was an uglier scene. It didn't take police long to arrive and start busting heads and trying to regain some kind of order. Kids
threw bottles and rocks as cops fought through the crowd with billy clubs and horses, taking out whoever they could get their hands on.
The venue, located on a man-made island, was secured by the police trying to push the crowd back across the bridges toward Lakeshore Avenue. Drunk kids jumped into the water and tried to swim across. The angry crowd smashed the windshields of cop cars with rocks and pelted police boats with garbage. By the end of the night, a few dozen kids were arrested and 58 charges were laid.
On stage, Frankie and the boys tore through their set, oblivious to the chaos outside. The crowd surged onto the stage as the band's small, loyal crew fought back. At one point, a creep jumped out and tried to grab Robbie's guitar. The band, realizing it was now or never, took whatever they could carry and ran off the stage to try and escape the madness.
The next day the band was on the cover of ever newspaper in the country, securing their place in rock n' roll infamy. Their records started flying off the shelves, and it seemed like the band was creating some real buzz. Everyone wanted to see the band that started a riot, and big American labels started sniffing around. Unfortunately, the rock n' roll universe can be cruel: a few months later, Teenage Head's rise was derailed when they wrapped their van around a tree. The band would continue to limp along for years playing thousands of shows, sometimes led by Frankie, but would never again play a show like they did that night in 1980.
Frankie would later say that it was, “better than any drug, any alcohol I’ve ever done. It was amazing to have 15,000 screaming kids just wanting a piece of you. We never had that again, but I’ll never forget it. It was fantastic!”
Great Moments In Canadian Rock n' Roll:
The Teenage Head Punk Rock Riot
June 2, 1980 – Ontario Place, Toronto
photo credits: Toronto Star Photo Archive
Teenage Head were a damn good rock n' roll band. No need to qualify with “Canadian”, or “early Canadian punk”. They were just a damn good rock n' roll band. In the summer of 1980, the boys from Hamilton, Ontario were at the top of their game. They had released their second record, “Frantic City”, that year and their song “Somethin' On My Mind” was starting to get mainstream radio airplay. The band had been “the next big thing” for years but continued to play bars and other small venues.
The band's management got them a gig playing at Ontario Place on June 2, 1980. It didn't exactly sound like the most prestigious show: a free all-ages concert playing for fat tourists and whoever managed to wander down to the amphitheater by the lake. The promotions team for Attic Records, who had released “Frantic City”, decided to take advantage of the 10,000 seat venue and spend some money on advertising. They bought local airtime on CKOC in Hamilton and CHUM in Toronto. They even made a parade float and drove it down Yonge Street to plug the appearance.
On June 2, lead singer Frankie Venom was having a great 24th birthday. He was sitting in the dressing room underneath the stage waiting to play to a good crowd along with guitarist Gord Lewis, bass player Steve Mahon, and drummer Nick Stipanitz. There were kids milling around outside when the boys had shown up and
people already sitting in the stands during the sound check. After four years of playing every punk club, dive bar, school gym, and community hall you could play, Frankie knew that whether there were 10 people or a hundred, his band could blow them away.