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Mesa Musings: Lighting cage provides best seat for Smothers Brothers

March 26, 2012|By Jim Carnett

It was the spring of 1963 — 49 years ago.

The Smothers Brothers blazed incandescent on the national college concert circuit. They visited my campus, Orange Coast College, for a concert that year.

I was 18, my buddy, Joe, 19. Ten months later, I was in the U.S. Army and Joe was in the Navy. But, for the moment, we wallowed in the convivial environs of "college-student life." We were carefree — and broke!

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Tommy and "Little" Dickie Smothers weren't much older than we were, 26 and 24, respectively.

The singers-musicians-comedians performed folk music and had already achieved cult status. They appeared regularly on national television, and within a couple of years, would have their own weekly national comedy series on CBS. They welcomed such big-name artists to their show as George Harrison, The Doors and Jefferson Airplane.

In 1963, they were appearing in clubs and selling out venues on campuses nationwide. By then, they'd recorded four best-selling albums. Joe and I knew their routines by heart.

Their shtick was this: They'd sing folk songs, but would get drawn into hilarious family spats during virtually every number. Tommy's signature line was, "Mom always liked you best." He played the "slow" brother, while Dick was the cerebral one.

Their performance in OCC's 1,200-seat auditorium (now called the Robert B. Moore Theater) sold out. Tickets, as I recall, went for 10 bucks a pop — not exactly chump-change for college students of the day!

Joe and I were huge Smothers Brothers fans but couldn't scrape up a sawbuck ($10 bill) between us. We desperately wanted to attend the concert.

What to do?

We were drama students, and one of our fellow thespians worked as a part-time lighting technician in the auditorium. It just so happened he was scheduled to run the lightboard for the Friday evening performance.

He agreed to sneak us in.

The theater was closed just before noon the day of the performance, and the doors wouldn't be opened again until an hour before curtain, which was set for 8 p.m.

Just after the building's closure, we slipped into the house. Founding OCC president, Basil Peterson — a no-nonsense administrator who was then in his 15th year at the helm — would surely have expelled us on the spot had he discovered our maneuver. Thankfully, he was none the wiser.

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