From Weezer at a water park to ’70s Elvis Presley. Here are 10 iconic Fresno concerts

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Let’s admit that it’s almost silly to try to quantify something like “the most iconic” live performances to happen in a city — Fresno or any other.

For one, you have to get around a person’s individual tastes. While we might agree that Paul McCartney opening his “One on One” tour at the Save Mart Center in 2016 was a big deal, we won’t won’t get that kind of consensus about Gwar’s visit in 2019 on its “Use your Collusion” tour.

There are also just the sheer numbers.

Even breaking things down by decade, it’s easy to get bogged down by the massive number of performers who have passed through the multitude of Fresno’s venues over the years, even as the individual performances get somewhat lost to history.

That said, it does make for a great hit of nostalgia and can be a whole lot of fun. So here are 10 of the most iconic concerts to happen in Fresno (in no particular order and open for debate).

A woman waits in her fur coat before the Bocelli Concert at the Save Mart Center on Friday November 7, 2003.
A woman waits in her fur coat before the Bocelli Concert at the Save Mart Center on Friday November 7, 2003.

Andrea Bocelli opens Save Mart Center Arena

For a brief moment in 2003, the Save Mart Center looked like it could become a hub for Fresno’s cultural institutions. The arena was still under construction when Fresno Grand Opera announced it would bring in Andrea Bocelli as the inaugural concert.

Bocelli was the biggest-selling and probably best-known classical artist on the planet, and the performance was one of just seven he would give in North American that year.

It was a major get for Fresno Grand Opera.

The show took five years of planning to come together and cost $1 million, according to a story in The Fresno Bee.

The sold-out crowd wore tuxedos and sequined dresses. There was even a fur coat or two, it being November. Bocelli would perform at the arena again in 2005, but played at the smaller (and more intimate) Saroyan Theatre downtown in 2009.

Steve Martin gets ‘wild and crazy’ at Fresno State Amphitheater

The amphitheater at Fresno State hosted any number of legendary performances before it was razed in 2020.

Tom Petty, Radiohead and Tool all had concerts there. It was home to the Vans Warped tour in 2000 and 2001 (the tour later moved to the Save Mart Center’s parking lot).

A 33-year-old Steve Martin broke attendance records with a pair of shows at the amphitheater in 1978. The comedian had just released his album “Wild and Crazy Guy” and was on the cover of Newsweek under the banner of “Comedy’s New Face.”

According to campus publication the Collegian, he closed his show with a rendition of his song “King Tut.” At $8 a ticket, the two performances made more than $100,000, which made it one of the highest-grossing concerts in Fresno to date.

Peso Pluma plays Chukchansi Park and is not the headliner

Those following regional Mexican music could tell Peso Pluma was going to be the next big thing, even before he became an arena-level headlining act (his “Exodo” tour will be at the Save Mart Center on Sept. 7).

It was noteworthy then, when his name popped up, sandwiched on a lineup with several regional Mexican acts playing Chukchansi Park in April last year.

The week before, he performed with singer Becky G during her set at the Coachella music festival. The following week, the singer made his TV debut as the first regional Mexican music artist to perform on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.”

The concert itself, which has headlined by MarcaMP, sold 21,097 tickets.

It was the most attended event event in the history of Chukchansi Park, according to the Fresno Grizzlies.

Taylor Swift’s impromptu concert. At a yogurt shop

Country radio loves breaking in new talent.

Fresno, being a country radio town, has been given early access to artists who would go on to become mega-stars.

At the top of that list is probably Taylor Swift, who was top-bill on a rare, one-off gig at Warnors Theatre in 2007. The next time she headlined a show in Fresno, it was at the Save Mart Center.

But there was an even rarer performance before all that, in which Swift played an impromptu set at Caliche’s, a frozen custard place on Blackstone Avenue. As recounted by Swift in The Fresno Bee: “I had just finished up a show, and the band and I went to get some ice cream. When we went up to the register, the girl working there freaked out and started telling me about how much she loved my music.

“It was so touching because I was brand new and didn’t even have an album out yet. I couldn’t believe this girl was so excited about my music. So, we brought our guitars into the ice cream shop and played a few songs for the people in there. When people tell me they like my music, they have no idea how good that makes me feel. I take every opportunity I can to make it up to them.”

FRESNO, CA. 11/10/05 LIF EPZ STONES ARMEN TICKET Armen Bacon holds the ticket she saved when she saw The Rolling Stones at Ratcliffe Stadium at the age of 13 in 1965. Bacon said she handed the ticket stub to an events worker and urged him to get a signature. The ticket stub now displays a signature which appears to say Mick Jagger although she never saw the ticket actually being signed. Photographed on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2005 in Fresno, CA. ERIC PAUL ZAMORA/THE FRESNO BEE

The Rolling Stones rock Ratcliffe Stadium

When the Rolling Stones came to Fresno’s Ratcliffe Stadium in 1965, the band left a “quivering mass of teenage femininity in their wake.”

That’s according to a story in The Fresno Bee the following day.

The Stones played less than a half hour and managed to set a noise record level for the stadium, inspire more tears than a Irish wake and “touch off some of the best broken field running seen in Ratcliffe in some time,” The Bee wrote.

Fans rushed the bandstand and had to be stopped by security.

While the show was frenzied, it wasn’t quite the success that promoters had hoped and may have been the reason the Beatles never made it to town.

“I had pegged it for a 10 grand profit,” the concert’s promoter told The Bee at the time. “We’re working on a couple of Beatles show this summer. Fresno was on the list. Now I don’t know.”

Elvis doubles up at Selland Arena in 1973

Elvis Presely had been a star for more than two decades and was and well into a career comeback when he stopped at Fresno’s Selland Arena in April 1973.

He was still a draw. The two shows (an 8:30 p.m. evening performance and a 4:30 p.m. mantinee) grossed around $120,000, according to a story in The Bee at the time. That set a box-office record that doubled the previous one.

It was what we’ve come to think about Elvis.

“Grown women and girls alike launch themselves at the stage as he appears, bounding to stage center, resplendent in white, bejeweled jumpsuit with high collar and white boots. He stands, half smiling, sultry gaze under thick eyebrows fixing on something in the 18th row. Louder scream. Louder screams,” read a review in The Bee (and posted on the site

“He reaches for an enameled guitar and the band goes into the opening chords of “C.C. Rider,” and just like that, he’s singing, only it’s hard to hear for the tumult. Spraddle-legged, he twitches the guitar, suspended at crotch level, ever so gently, looking up through heavy lids.”

Presley made a return trip for two shows the following year.

Van Halen on film at Selland Arena

Van Halen’s first appearance in Fresno was as an opening act. They were touring off of their debut album in 1978 and playing support for Black Sabbath when they stopped at Selland Arena on Sept. 22.

The concert was rare, not for the band’s performance (fierce and electric as it was), but because someone in the audience captured it on 8-mm film.

According to fan site Van Halen News Desk, clips of the footage circulated among bootleg collectors in the 1980s. Eventually, it was cleaned up and digitized and uploaded on YouTube, only be be taken down (though you can still find it if you look).

Similar footage was also taken during Van Halen’s 1979 headlining concert at the venue and is considered critical viewing by fans.

Fans wait to pick up their will call tickets outside Warnors Theatre on the first night of the Neil Young and Crazy Horse concert on Tuesday, May 1, 2018. Young and Crazy Horse last performed together in 2014.
Fans wait to pick up their will call tickets outside Warnors Theatre on the first night of the Neil Young and Crazy Horse concert on Tuesday, May 1, 2018. Young and Crazy Horse last performed together in 2014.

Neil Young + Crazy Horse’s reunion at Warnors Theatre

It’s not often a Fresno concert gets the national press treatment.

Rolling Stone magazine did send a reviewer to see the opening night of McCartney’s “One on One” tour in 2016.

They also had someone at Warnors Theatre in 2018 to see Neil Young kick of a three-night stint of intimate (and unrehearsed) performances with his backing band Crazy Horse.

The surprise concerts were a bold move, according to the review, “even by Neil Young’s fearless standards.”

Young hadn’t played with the band in four years and there was speculation among fanatics about the set list, especially after it was announced guitarist Nils Lofgren would be sitting in on the shows. Some believed they were going to get a full-on recreation of the 1975 album “Tonight’s the Night.” A previously unheard live version of the album had just been released the previous week.

What fans got was an hour and 45-minute set that spanned Young’s entire catalog with Crazy Horse (though “Rockin’ in the Free World” somehow didn’t make the list).

Spotted among the crowd was the late basketball star (and Neil Young fanatic) Bill Walton.

Selena at the Fresno Fair

Seeing Selena perform at the Big Fresno Fresno Fair in 1993 is one of those “who could have known” moments.

Yes, the Tejano singer was popular at the time. Enough to draw a capacity crowd of 5,000 to Paul Paul theater, according to The Bee’s review of the show, which called her music “a techno-pop version of the Tex-Mex sound” that combined “funk, reggae and cumbia.”

The reviewer knew Selena was on the verge of becoming an international superstar (“the next Gloria Estefan”) but couldn’t have anticipated her exact career trajectory, or the fact she would be shot dead in 1995.

Other fair acts in 1993 included hip-hop duo Kriss Kross, jazz master Kenny G, R&B group TLC (a year before the release of “CrazySexyCool”) and relatively new grunge-rock band Stone Temple Pilots.

Weezer ends tour at Wild Water Adventure Park

The final show of Weezer’s 2000 summer took place at an unlikely venue: Wild Water Adventure Park in Clovis.

The band was headlining New Rock 104.1’s annual Birthday Bash and played a 14-song set that pulled heavily from 1994’s so-called “Blue Album.”

As recalled by Weezer friend and historian Karl Koch on the site Weezerpedia: “The Clovis Show took place in a big fenced-in zone of a water park, so we watched people sliding down the refreshing water halfpipes and stuff while we toiled in the sun, struggling to get a very rough sound system to obey our wishes.”

The set ended with bassist Mikey Welsh setting his instrument on fire and smashing it on the stage.

“The band then sat down and signed autographs for all who would wait in line for them,” Koch wrote. “About 500 kids waited, which was impressive considering that the cops wanted to force everyone to leave immediately. ... All in all an awesome end to an awesome tour.”

Fresno Concerts
Fresno Concerts