The Ramones hold the distinctive position in City Gardens history as the band that headlined the most—22 shows. The New York City-based group was a touring machine and, given their proximity to Trenton, it is no wonder they played City Gardens so often. Ramones shows were always an event, and just about everyone who ever went to City Gardens saw them in some form, at some point.
Ramones at City Gardens
December 26, 1981
April 13, 1985
November 27, 1985
June 7, 1986
July 11, 1986
October 10, 1986
January 3, 1987
August 29, 1987, with Elvis Ramone on drums
January 1, 1988, with Adrenaline OD
April 22, 1988, with Prong
August 5, 1988, with The Dickies
Oct 14 & 15, 1988 (two shows back-to-back)
April 14, 1989
February 23, 1990, with The Fiendz
October 7, 1990
May 29, 1991
October 4, 1991, with Ween
April 12, 1992, with Blitzspeer
April 17, 1993, with Outcrowd
October 3, 1993
November 20, 1993, with Bouncing Souls
Monte A. Melnick (Ramones tour manager/author On the Road With the Ramones): They weren’t just a simple, three-chord, go-upand- play, dumb band. They thought out a lot of the details. While the production looked really simple, people don’t realize that behind the band was a very large crew whose job was making sure everything ran like a well-oiled machine. It was not seen by the audience. The band was much better because of the lighting, the sound, and stage crew. We tried to never reveal what was going on behind the scenes. All you got was the show.
Randy Now: They were the first band to have a tractor trailer full of equipment, and we weren’t ready for it. I probably had one guy to help them unload it all, and we needed ten. We were disorganized and running way late, so we had to delay opening the doors. When we did finally open, we had everyone go in the back room so the band could soundcheck. That’s also the show were I learned you must have towels for bands—very important. The band is all sweaty and they’re up there yelling, “Where’s the towels?” Of course I didn’t have any, and they’re like, “Didn’t you read the rider?” I was confused. What’s a rider? I had no idea. Before that, I would get riders in the mail but never even look at them. I just tossed them aside.
Monte A. Melnick: One funny thing we asked for on the rider was Yoo-hoo. Yoo-hoo is a non-fat chocolate drink that has vitamins and minerals in it. For some reason, that’s one of the things Johnny Ramone added to the rider from the beginning. Johnny probably did it because Yogi Berra used to do Yoo-hoo commercials. Yogi would say, “Me He for Yoo-hoo.” A fan made Johnny a Yoo hoo shirt with Johnny playing guitar in front of a Yoo-hoo bottle. It was one of his favorite shirts. Hell, I got addicted to the stuff. In the beginning it was a local thing in our area, so I’d talk to some promoter in Idaho, and he’d say, “What the hell is Yoo-hoo?” I was flexible.
Deirdre Humenik (City Gardens employee): The Ramones were wonderful. All they ever wanted was pizza and Pepsi. One show, I was carrying two cases of beer and ice to the stage and it was very heavy. I was trying to walk through the crowd and usually people would get out of my way. An older guy turns around and says, “I’ve been waiting 13 years to see this band, and you’re not getting past me.” I said, “Thirteen years is a really long time when they play everywhere, all the time. And if they don’t get this beer, they aren’t playing tonight.” So, he punched me in the chest and got tossed out. He waited 13 years only to get thrown out for being an asshole.
Randy Now: When I lived in Pennsylvania, I had to drive down Calhoun Street and over the Calhoun Street Bridge to get home. I remember after a Ramones show having thousands of dollars in cash on me at two or three in the morning, thinking, “What am I doing?”
Monte A. Melnick: We played so many places, so many clubs. The guys learned early enough to carry their own PA, so they’d have consistency in sound at every show. In a lot of ways, City Gardens was a local gig for us. It was only 70 miles from New York, so it was easy enough for us to drive there and back. No overnight expenses and all that. It also hit the markets around Philadelphia. The crowd was always great, and the guys liked it. You know, City Gardens wasn’t the ritziest place in the world, but Randy did a great job taking care of all the things on the rider. A lot of clubs, you had to fight for stuff, and we didn’t really ask for a huge amount. Randy set things up the way we wanted it and made us feel comfortable. That’s why we came back so many times… Randy would do anything we wanted. He took care of the crews. He took care of the load-in and load-out. He made sure people were there. Some clubs would say: “Don’t worry, there’s some people coming to help you load in.” But then they’d disappear at the end of the night, and my crew would get pissed off because there was nobody there to help them. The thing is, we lived on the road. If we liked a place and knew we were going to make money there, why would we trash the place? Trash the place and not be able to come back and make money? It didn’t make sense. The whole rock and roll story about bands trashing hotel rooms and stuff… great if you’re Led Zeppelin and you have a billion dollars. We caused some damage in the early days, but the band learned the hard way after having to pay the bills: Don’t trash the hotel rooms or the club.
Dave Franklin (Vision): In 1989, when Ramones Mania came out, they were booked for two nights at City Gardens. Randy called us up and said, “Hey, do you want to open up for The Ramones? It’s gonna be just you and The Ramones.” I was like, “What? Are you kidding me? YEAH!” So, we ended up opening for The Ramones in 1989, my first year out of high school. I tell people that and they’re floored by it. Now, especially after some [Ramones members] have unfortunately passed away, they are recognized as one of the most legendary bands ever. That one night, it was just us and them. Of course, the show was completely sold out and the range of people went from 15-year-old kids to 40- and 50-year-olds. The Ramones drew all kinds of people. We had brought 100 Vision 7-inch singles with us to sell that night. We played our set and then boom—all of them were gone. I’m a 19-year-old kid walking through the crowd, and I’ve got 30-year-old dudes saying, “That was awesome! Great set!” and stuff like that. I thought this is crazy! Sharing the stage with The Ramones was the best part. When we were doing our soundcheck, something funny happened. Our drummer played double-bass, meaning he physically kicked two bass drums at the same time. The Ramones brought their whole sound system… everything, the whole nine yards. All their equipment was already set up on stage when we got there. We’re setting up the drums out front, and their stage manager comes out and asks if we were the opening band. We told him yes, and he says, “Oh no, you guys got double bass drums? That’s a no-no.” We’re like, “What do you mean?” He explained that there wasn’t going to be any room on stage for it with all The Ramones stuff up there, so we had to go up and rearrange everything. You know that little room above the stage at City Gardens? It was a little area where the bands would sit and then come up on stage. Our drummer, Matt, had to set his drums up right at the edge of the stage by that room, because it was the only place he could fit his whole kit. With all The Ramones’ gear, there wasn’t even room enough for us to move. I had maybe this four-foot span between two monitors, and I kind of went back and forth, back and forth, and that was it. While we were doing our soundcheck, The Ramones came in, saw us do soundcheck, and then left. And that was it—that was all the contact we had with them! Even so, on that night it was just us and The Ramones.
Bruce Wingate (Adrenalin OD): There were three risers set up on stage for The Ramones to stand on during their show. Their road manager goon warned us before we went on that not only were we not allowed to stand on them, but if we even put one foot on them, they’d cut our set short. So, of course, we immediately mentioned this fact to the audience and while we were playing, we each took turns dramatically lifting a foot as if to step onto the risers. If it were any other band in the world, we would have went for it, but if The Ramones needed to be two feet higher than us, we weren’t gonna step on shit.
Ken Hinchey (City Gardens regular): Of the 20 shows I saw The Ramones play, I only ever saw Joey acknowledge the opening band once. That was the Dickies.
Leonard Graves Phillips (The Dickies vocalist): That’s a nice distinction. But I don’t remember opening for The Ramones at City Gardens.
Jim Norton (City Gardens stage manager): You know what happened every time The Ramones played City Gardens? Somebody in the opening band stepped on the lightbox. Every time. I played in a band called the Shock Mommies. We were really into being funny, but then we’d mix it up with this super-serious, dry, political stuff that was just awful. Our stage banter was much more interesting than the music, the music was really there to clear the way for a round or two of joke telling. One night, we played with The Ramones and experienced what it was like to play with The Ramones. The Ramones would come in, set their stuff up, and use up a good 70% of the stage. They took all the space they wanted, which was fine because they were The Ramones. You didn’t really begrudge them anything—until you were in the opening band and you had to set your stuff up alongside theirs. They brought their own monitors, which were twice as many and twice as big as what the house had, and that ate up all your front-of-stage space. They had these big, honking, side-fill [monitors] which ate up the sides of the stage. They had Johnny Ramones’s three Marshall Stacks and Dee Dee’s three stacks, and that ate up the whole back of the stage. They had their own drum riser. You had very little space to set up, but you were opening for The Ramones! You knew that it was a trade-off, and you always knew going in that this was the deal. You knew it was going to be sold out. You knew there was going to be a minimum of 700 people watching you. They might hate you, but they were watching you. You would be told by one of the roadies not to stand on the lightbox. Now, the easy way for The Ramones’ crew to have handled this would have been to, you know, put something on top of the lightbox. Perhaps put a case lid on top of it, so if you stepped on it you would slip and fall and die. But, being The Ramones’ crew, they decided to take the path of most resistance. Every night they would set up the lightbox, leave it exactly how they wanted it, and police it during all the opening bands’ sets. So now you’ve just created a situation where somebody in The Ramones’ crew has to be “the cop.” Admittedly, these were pretty cool and effective stage effects. When you think of all the low-budget effects people have used before, a box that shoots light up into your crotch is pretty fucking cool. Naturally, our guitar player Mark Saxton, who was a total character—a complete piece of work—gets up on one of the boxes and does this one-legged jig he was prone to do. What happens when you get up on the lightbox is not nearly as bad as you think it is. What happens is all the lights go out—that’s it. Then you get off the box and the lights come back on. The penalty really did not match the crime. I just picture those poor bastards, every night, browbeating these opening bands rather than finding a solution that would solve the problem. And then the punishment was that if you did it they were going to turn the lights out. I still have no idea why we didn’t spend the whole show on those damn boxes.