It's a Musical Marathon as Rock Meets Country for a Motown Hoedown

updated 05/22/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/22/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

With a cast and crew of some 500, a production tab of $2 million and tickets that sold as poorly as caviar at a K mart, the 23-act country-rock crossover hoedown in Detroit's Silverdome could have been a megawatt disaster. Instead, it turned into a 13-hour marathon of pickin' and riffin' that was as much celebrity bash as staged spectacle. The fans, who numbered a peak 18,000 in late afternoon but even then rattled around in the 50,000-seat arena, had paid prices ranging from $22.50 (in advance) to an empty Coca-Cola can (at the gate) to see Gregg Allman, Ted Nugent and the Marshall Tucker Band on the same bill with the Stray Cats, Sawyer Brown and Ronnie Hawkins.

But crowd size was irrelevant. The point of the This Country's Rockin' concert was to produce a 10-hour tape that will air on cable television July 4. The bill was designed, said promoter Jim Fitzgerald, "to break down the barricades and show how rock, country and blues have all been influenced by each other, and that good music is good music." Emcee Nugent teasingly threatened to make "everybody chewing tobacco swallow it at the door," but decided that "most country artists are just frustrated rockers anyhow." David Crosby and Stephen Stills performed separately but spoke briefly. The Band's Levon Helm, Garth Hudson and Rick Danko caught up with country rocker Ronnie Hawkins, whom they backed up in the early '60s. Former Oak Ridge Boy William Lee Golden toted along sons Chris and Rusty, who perform as the country-rock group the Goldens. Country singer T. Graham Brown rented a Lear jet so he could keep a later gig in Austin, Texas. Gregg Allman, too, found it important enough to fly in for the afternoon. And rockabilly granddad Carl Perkins, 57, accepted credit for inventing the genre when he wrote "Blue Suede Shoes" in 1956. "Somebody said, 'Carl, you really opened up that rock and roll door,' and I said, 'Yeah, and I stood in it and got run over by every damn one of y'all.' " But Perkins saw the beauty of the musical merger as he took the stage at 3 A.M. for a hardy holdout crowd of 3,000. "It's like iced tea," he said. "You got tea to make it hot, ice to make it cold, sugar to make it sweet and lemon to make it sour, but it all comes out tastin pretty good."

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