Dilapidated, depressing and drab are some of the ways old school Spokanites describe the late, not so lamented Spokane Coliseum. Some folks, however, look back at the Boone Street Barn, the nickname for the 5,400-capacity arena’s location, with affection.
The Spokane Coliseum was a home away from home for Lorrie McLaughlin. When the concert-mad lifelong North Side resident wasn’t attending shows as a fan, McLaughlin worked concessions from 1973 to 1976.
“I had some amazing times at the Coliseum,” McLaughlin said.
Those experiences weren’t due to selling popcorn and soda. McLaughlin’s mother, who worked with her, allowed the then-teenager to catch performances while she held down the fort.
“It wasn’t a big deal that I wandered off since most people stayed in their seats once the show began,” McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin, 65, caught sound checks and had access to the green room for every show but one. “The only time I couldn’t go back was for Elvis, who had his own security,” McLaughlin said. “But I was able to get back for everyone else.”
The late John Denver was particularly nice to McLaughlin before and after a two-show gig at the Coliseum in August 1974.
“When I saw John after the second show, he said, “Lorrie, you changed your clothes,” McLaughlin said. “I was surprised he remembered my name and what I was wearing from when we met a few hours prior. I was impressed. When I saw him earlier, I had my Coliseum clothes on and after his second show I had my street clothes on. John Denver was a very nice guy. I remember being backstage with two guys who made a drawing of him. They gave it to him and he seemed so thrilled. That was so different than most of the rock bands that played the Coliseum back in the day. Most bands came in, performed and boogied right after the show.”
McLaughlin has few photos with entertainers who played the Coliseum since she was smart enough not to pester the talent.
“If I bugged everyone then that might have been the end for me as far as wandering into the green room,” McLaughlin said. “I never lost my access.”
The icon who surprised McLaughlin was Bob Hope. During a soundcheck the versatile entertainer, who was in seven films with Bing Crosby, made eye contact with McLoughlin and started a conversation.
“I was just around the stage waiting to go to work when Bob Hope out of the blue asked what my name was and I told him and we had some loose chitchat,” McLoughlin said. “He said, ‘You sure have a nice town. You have some good stuff here.’ He was here during the Expo in 1974. I asked him for an autograph and he signed for me and I still have it.”
Drummer Robbie Bachman of Bachman Turner Overdrive noticed McLaughlin on the side of the stage during the Canadian band’s August 1974 show.
“I was dancing on the edge of the stage during ‘Takin’ Care of Business.’ After the show Robbie came up to me and said he saw me onstage. He started asking me a bunch of questions about Spokane and then someone said, ‘Hey Robbie, time to go,’ and he was off.”
McLaughlin and her mother had an encounter with Karen Carpenter, who suffered from anorexia, prior to the Carpenters’ performance at the Coliseum.
“My mom asked Karen why she always wears long dresses,” McLaughlin said. “She said, ‘Because my legs are ugly.’ It’s a shame since her legs were probably beautiful.”
McLaughlin never met Presley, but the King’s performance at the Coliseum left an indelible memory.
“Elvis was so full of energy, and boy, did he know how to play to a crowd,” McLaughlin said. “He could have just stood there and women would have shrieked, but he worked it. What I remember most is that he would wipe the sweat from his forehead with a scarf. He would toss the scarf into the audience and a catfight would start. The women made like a sea of piranhas fighting for the scarf. It was so funny to me, since most of the women at the Elvis show dressed like they were going to a country club. They wore long dresses and had their hair piled up onto their head. That cracked me up, since they looked so nice and then they were fighting over scarves in the Boone Street Barn, which was anything but pretty. It was hot, especially during the summer since there was no air conditioning and it was just this basic pile of concrete.”
The Coliseum experience was a family affair for McLaughlin.
“My mom and my brothers had jobs there and so did several aunts and cousins,” McLaughlin said. “Back in the day, if you knew someone who worked there, you could get a job there, too. I had so much fun working there and I loved seeing the concerts.”
Alice Cooper was McLaughlin’s favorite show.
“I was blown away by the ‘Welcome to My Nightmare’ show,” McLaughlin said. “Cooper can put on a show. It was macabre and it was like Cooper was doing magic up there.”
Chicago also is high on McLaughlin’s list.
“The shows they put on were great and what I loved about that band is that they came to Spokane nearly every year,” McLaughlin said. “I think they loved Spokane so much that they took some vacation days here. I saw something on social media a little while back that I think was posted by (late Chicago guitarist) Terry Kath’s wife (Camelia Kath) about Spokane and how much they loved it. You can’t help but appreciate bands that returned to our town like Chicago did since not everyone comes here.”
McLaughlin enjoyed watching the Spokane Flyers, who were a local franchise from 1949 to 1980, so much that she learned to play hockey and was part of a women’s league. McLaughlin played for Joe’s Rainier Jets in 1976. The highlight was playing at the Coliseum.
“We beat a team from Calgary before an old-timers game,” McLaughlin said. “I had a good time watching the Flyers play and we hung out with the hockey players afterward. It was so much fun.”
When pressed about her most indelible memory, McLaughlin noted that the tiny, dingy green room is etched into her mind.
“It was this little, dinky room that was 10-by-12,” McLaughlin said. “It was painted green. There was enough room for folding tables and some chairs. The dressing rooms, which were about 8-by-10, were smaller than a jail cell. They were like closets. The Coliseum was bare bones.”
When the Coliseum, which opened in December of 1954, was razed in 1995, McLaughlin shed some tears, but she never stopped going to concerts.
“I’ve seen so many shows here in Spokane and in other cities,” McLaughlin said. “There is nothing like a concert. I just bought VIP tickets for Peter Rivera’s show (Friday at the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox) and I can’t wait. But I guess my love of going to concerts started with the Coliseum. People like to talk about how awful the Coliseum was, but I have some great memories of that place.”
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