Rock on: epic concerts in San Diego history

Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and Tina Turner each headlined America’s Finest City at some point in SD’s musical history.

SD Rolling Stones at Jack Murphy 1981

The Rolling Stones played this high-profile gig on Oct. 7, 1981, at The Murph.

Photo via San Diego City Clerk Archives

Table of Contents

We know San Diego rocks — and music’s biggest acts have proven this. Let’s tune into some of the most epic concerts to hit San Diego’s live music scene over the decades.

🎶 Hint: We’re “All Shook Up,” ready to “Come Together” to feel the “Good Vibrations” of these musical memories.

Elvis Presley, 1956

Before becoming The King, Elvis rocked San Diego Arena — and fans went wild. The icon would return in 1970 to perform to a sellout crowd at the International Sports Arena.

Did you know? Elvis sang “Heartbreak Hotel” at a live studio taping of “The Milton Berle Show” in 1956 aboard the USS Hancock, docked in San Diego.

The Beatles, 1965

During their US and Canada tour, the Fab Four added this last-minute performance for 17,013 fans at Balboa Stadium — their only show in San Diego. Tickets cost $3.50-$5.50 and 10,001 tickets went unsold. The 31-minute setlist included “Twist and Shout” and “Ticket to Ride.”

SD Beach Boys 1975

Beach Boys fans had “Fun, Fun, Fun” at this Balboa Stadium show on Aug. 10, 1975.

Photo via San Diego City Clerk Archives

The Beach Boys, 1975

Nine years after the infamous “Pet Sounds” album cover incident at the San Diego Zoo, the surf rockers headlined Balboa Stadium. The show featured Jesse Colin Young and Pure Prairie League, too.

SD Fleetwood Mac 1975

This all-day, multi-artist lineup — including Fleetwood Mac — rocked Balboa Stadium on Aug. 31, 1975.

Photo via San Diego City Clerk Archives

Fleetwood Mac, Loggins + Messina, Rod Stewart + Faces, Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1975

General lawn admission to this jam-packed lineup at Balboa Stadium cost $7.50. Fleetwood Mac’s setlist included bangers like “Rhiannon” and “Station Man.”

The Rolling Stones, 1981

To the “Satisfaction” of nearly 70,000 fans at Jack Murphy Stadium, this was the biggest concert San Diego had ever seen. Tickets averaged $16, and this was the year’s highest-grossing tour. The Stones also played in SD in 1965, 1972, 1998, 2002, and 2005.

Tina Turner, 2000

She was simply “The Best.” The beloved late icon performed many times in San Diego, but her final local show was at Sports Arena in 2000 where her powerhouse vocals owned the stage.

Have a favorite local concert memory? Share it with us via this survey or drop us a note.


💌 SDtoday readers share their core concert memories

Core concert memories, unlocked. We asked you, our SDtoday readers, to share your favorite local concert memories, and you were totally in tune. For our readers, these shows rocked.

  • Tom W. fondly remembers Peter Gabriel’s local show in the late 1970s: “Small theater, iconic artist, extensive playlist, in San Diego!”
  • Mary L. never forgot James Brown’s local concert in 1968: “Epic JB energy and ‘The Cape’ to top it off. If you know, you know!”
  • Carmen B. saw Spanish singer Rosana Arbelo locally in 2014: “With her raspy voice, and variety of rhythms that bring the perfect emotions to the lyrics, she sang ‘Contigo,” my favorite song of her writing. I [heard] it live! I [can] still replay it over and over. So much fun when she took advantage of the smaller venue to come down from the stage, mixing in with the audience vibe, smiling, singing, dancing, and [posing for] a few selfies. I captured vivid memories of this one — indeed one of the most enjoyable concerts I’ve ever been to with fun and all the emotions of her love songs.”

Meanwhile, native San Diegan Louie P. said he’s been to many memorable local concerts over the decades and remembers when tickets cost just $5.50. His first concert experience was watching Linda Rondstadt and Neil Young at the Sports Arena on March 29, 1973. “After that night, I was hooked!”

Louie P. also fondly remembers these shows:

  • Led Zeppelin, 1975, Sports Arena | “It was a rainy day and the concert started late, but the Mighty Zep proceeded to play into the late night. They opened with ‘Rock and Roll’ and closed with ‘Heartbreaker.’ [I] couldn’t hear myself think for days after.”
  • Crosby, Stills & Nash, 1977, Sports Arena | “Their harmonies were spot on and they played a great mix of their original hits and some Stills solo numbers. At the time, they were one of the biggest acts touring.”
  • Eric Clapton, 1990, Sports Arena | “I’m a huge Clapton fan and have seen him in concert numerous times but this one was special. Eric played with a fury and made his Strat sing the entire night. It was doubly special because Clapton’s bass player Nathan East is a local San Diegan and Crawford High alum. Clapton played from the new album along with some standards like ‘Layla’ and ‘Cocaine’ but he literally blew the roof off the arena with the encore, ‘Sunshine of Your Love.’”
  • Traffic, 1994, Embarcadero Marina Park | “Rock legend Steve Winwood and Jim Capaldi, two members of the original group, reunited with a very tight band to resurrect some of the greatest progressive jazz/rock songs of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Winwood didn’t disappoint with his stellar vocals and often underrated guitar play. They played the gambit of Traffic hits including ‘Pearly Queen,’ ‘Medicated Goo,’ and ‘Empty Pages’ but the evening highlights were ‘Low Spark of High Heeled Boys’ and the classic ‘Dear Mr. Fantasy.’”
  • Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, 2002, Sports Arena | This show encompassed the emotion and gravity that these four guys had on many of us who grew up in the ‘60s and ‘70s. From Buffalo Springfield, The Hollies, and The Byrds to their solo careers, their songs are a soundtrack of our lives and many of us can identify a specific moment or place in our lives with some of these songs. They opened with ‘Carry On’ and continued to play songs from both their solo careers, CSN and CSN&Y. One of the most moving portions of the show was when each guy played a song that they had written and was backed by the other three. ‘I Used to Be a King,’ ‘Down By the River,’ ‘49 Bye-Byes,’ and ‘Almost Cut My Hair’ sent the crowd into a frenzy. I get chills to this day from not only the performances but the response and emotions from the crowd. You could sense how special the moment was and the applause was deafening. Great show!
  • Sheryl Crow + The Rolling Stones, 2002, Sports Arena | “Sheryl Crow opened this show and her hour-long set was fantastic. She really got the crowd going. The setlist and venue for this Stones show was special. The intimacy of a closed arena plus the vibe you get indoors in my opinion is the best. They opened with ‘Street Fighting Man’ and finished with ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash.’ But in between they shined on classics like ‘Satisfaction,’ ‘Brown Sugar,’ ‘Midnight Rambler,’ and ‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.’ They had a long runway from the main stage back to a small circular stage in the back part of the arena. Many of the fans, including myself, were able to get a close up of the band. Nice touch!”