Former schoolteachers Jim Marcacci and Bruce Logsdon have started planning a documentary about the history of the colorful Coliseum music venue in Benld, Ill., according to the Springfield State Journal-Register.
The Coliseum, which sits on an early alignment of Route 66 and predates the road, now exists as a sprawling antiques mall. But vestiges of its musical history remain, including the original stage:
In its heyday, the Coliseum Ballroom on Route 4 in Benld, was, in one concertgoer’s estimation, “the happeningest place.” Built in 1923-24 by Dominic Tarro, the stage hosted nearly a dozen Rock and Roll Hall of Fame acts — and that was on the heels of Big Band and jazz greats such as Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington and Count Basie.
Baritone Vaughn Monroe brought in a national radio broadcast of the Camel Caravan. Lawrence Welk struck up his orchestra here. Johnny Rivers (“Secret Agent Man”) packed so many people into the Coliseum that there was no place to dance.
“And it made it especially difficult to get to the bar,” Marcacci recalls.
The filmmakers have titled their movie “Dance to the Music.” They’ve sent out the word that they’re looking for vintage photographs, memorabilia, film footage and memories to help tell the Coliseum’s story. Marcacci and Logsdon own Sound & Image Videography in Springfield. They’ve already received some cooperation from the Tarro family that ran the place for decades.
The Journal-Register article includes interviews with the former leader of Joey Dee and the Starliters, who played at the Coliseum six times in 1963-64, and former Head East keyboardist Roger Boyd.
The Coliseum originally was a big-band venue. But when that genre faded, it turned to rock ‘n’ roll in 1955. The first rock act there was Fats Domino. Other rockers who’ve played there include Chuck Berry, Ray Charles, Bo Diddley, The Everly Brothers, Bob Seger, Ike and Tina Turner, Jerry Lee Lewis, Del Shannon, and Dion and the Belmonts.
A Coliseum documentary would make a terrific film. The only place I know with a history and breadth of music that’s comparable is Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa.
The best part about the article is that new Coliseum owners Kelly and Marlana Swanson are considering having bands play there again. A local band performed there during a car show in June.
Those who have interesting memories of the Coliseum should call Kelly Swanson at the Coliseum at 217-835-7788 or 573-513-2438, or Marcacci at 217-825-4111. The Coliseum also has a Facebook page here.