Route 66 News

Filmmakers plan documentary on Benld’s Coliseum

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.


4 thoughts on “Filmmakers plan documentary on Benld’s Coliseum

  1. Jim Marcacci

    Thanks for the great “plug” about our work on the “AMERICA’S COLISEUM–Dance To the Music”. The article is spot on. We now have a 9-minute promotional video that gives a brief history of this grand old ballroom. Here’s the link if you think you want to link it to your site. Anyway thanks for what you’ve done already.
    It’s had about 2600 views in only 2 weeks.

  2. Gerry Mantel

    Not to be lost in all of this is the fact that the stories of Count Basie and Route 66 intersect amazingly and rather weirdly: Basie, as the bandleader for whom we now remember, got his start in Tulsa when he heard the street sounds of OKC’s famous Blue Devils, an outfit he was soon to join.

    This key career moment no doubt occurred along Greenwood Ave., in 1926 and just yonder off US 66, which was commissioned around the same time.
    Basie later died in 1984, which of course is the same year that 66 was ultimately decommissioned.

    In fact, the “bell curves” of jazz history in general and that of Route 66 are very similar—making jazz the ultimate sound track of the Mother Road we’re trying to recapture & celebrate today.

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