The date was July 3, 1970, the place was Cleveland’s Public Hall. The band was Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
Just two months prior, on May 4, 28 young, green Ohio National Guardsmen had wantonly fired approximately 67 rounds over a period of 13 seconds into a crowd of student protestors, killing four and wounding nine others, one of whom suffered permanent paralysis.
The Kent State Massacre, as the incident came to be called, further fanned the flames of protest that were already ignited across the country, and the outrage engulfed the nation, threatening to push it over the edge. The killings moved Neil Young to write one of the most enduring protest songs of all time, “Ohio.”
My life was in as much tumult as the country, as I had recently left a marriage that was so bad one of us was on the verge of killing the other. The devastation of leaving my two beautiful children was indescribable.
A young musician friend of mine, a white dude from Mentor, had managed to snag two tickets to the concert, and when his girlfriend came down with something, he asked me if I wanted to go with him. I’d been raised on R & B and blues but my life was about to be forever altered.
We got to the venue early so we got a center spot about ten feet from the stage. The place was literally jam-packed, and as CSNY moved through the set, the anticipation became almost unbearable — the electricity in the air was palpable.
Near the end of the set Neil Young finally began playing the opening chords of the song everyone was waiting for and the energy was literally overwhelming: young women — and a few men — began to straightaway faint. The scene took on an otherworldly quality, a moment in time never to be felt again.
When the band didn’t end the song, but kept playing the chorus “Four Dead in Ohio” over and over and over again for what seemed like an eternity, peaceful pandemonium broke out. The screaming, crying, and wailing that erupted from the audience must have reached the heavens.
After the show finally ended, people couldn’t move; they were transfixed, drained, rooted to the spots on which they stood. Eventually the crowd began slowly moving towards the exits, I along with them, but somehow a different being. I would never again be the same person that had entered the auditorium a scant two hours prior — the boy had become transformed into a man.