The Rolling Stones performed the first live concert ever televised on Pay-Per-View, The Hampton Jazz Festival has an annual pilgrimage coming from around the country, Grateful Dead followers came regularly and Phish crowned it the Mothership. This just scratches the surface of the Hampton Coliseum’s 50-year legacy.
And then there is Elvis, who performed there four times including in the summer of 1976, one year before his passing. It was the first time in 16 years that he performed in Virginia and more than 21 thousand people saw him perform over two days.
The iconic crown structure stands off Interstate-64 for residents and visitors to easily to see.
It includes 500 tons of structural steel in the roof, plus 250 tons of metal decking. There is approximately 50 tons of roofing material with a vinyl membrane covering. The complete cable-suspended ceiling is held by 48 two-inch bridge cables. Each cable was tested and stressed prior to installation at 200 tons.
The floor of the arena is almost the size of a football field. It contains nearly 10 miles of coolant coil for freezing the ice rink.
It can hold just under 10,000 people.
The original estimated cost was $4.5 million in 1967 when the project was started. When it was complete, the final estimated cost doubled up to $9 million.
Ann Kilgore was Hampton’s mayor and Tom G. Waters was vice mayor. His daughter, Sandra Waters Faison, writes “he was so proud of it.” She noted her favorite concert was Elvis.
With Phish dubbing it The Mothership, followers from around the country are familiar with it, said Terri Vander Vennet, interim director. They have performed 21 sell-out concerts between 1995-2018. After the band broke up in 2004, they chose the Coliseum for three reunion performances in March 2009. In 15 minutes, 41 thousand tickets were sold.
There have been many more historic concerts. Prior to becoming a mega band, U2 played. People from as far Philadelphia made a road trip to Hampton to see them.
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band Born In the USA show in 1985 sold out so quickly (even with a six ticket limit), that another show was added the morning tickets were sold.
One show that grew from one to four was the comedian Kevin Hart in February 2012, Vander Vennet said.
Another crooner who performed one year before his death was Marvin Gaye. In satin pajamas and matching robe, he wooed the audience with his song “Sexual Healing.”
Vander Vennet said country music shows usually draw a big crowd as well as jazz shows.
More recently, the Coliseum hosted the First African Landing Commemoration Concert featuring Common and Sounds of Blackness.
Family-oriented show have proven to be very popular, Vander Vennet said. Shows such as Disney On Ice and the Monster Truck Show always draw a large audience.
The Ringling Brothers and Barnum Bailey Circus last performance with elephants was at the Coliseum in April 2016. It was one of the last performances in 2018 prior to Feld Entertainment closing it down.
Sports also have played a significant role. The first event was a college basketball game between the College of William and Mary and North Carolina State University in December 1969. This was prior to the Coliseum’s official opening in January 1970
The late Muhammad Ali had five fights from 1971 to 1980. The late Pernell “Sweetpea” Whitaker of Norfolk became the first boxer to knock Greg Haugen down by sending him to the mat in the sixth round in 1989, winning the IBF Lightweight title.
Notable Virginia Squires played with the famous Julius “Dr. J” Erving, who played for two years.
In the 1970s, it was home to the Virginia Wings and Virginia Gulls AHL hockey.
Like many Peninsula residents, Vander Vennett, who has worked at the Coliseum for 17 years, starting as box office manager, has one favorite show.
“It was B.B. King. In all my time working here, it is the only show that I sat through. I get to see a lot of bits and pieces, that is the one I really wanted to see the entire show,” she said.