The Led Zeppelin "Riot" at The Big Sombrero

Tampa Stadium

Led Zeppelin broke a concert attendance record previously held by the Beatles at their Tampa Stadium performance in 1973. However, they are more notorious in Tampa for their rain-aborted concert on June 3, 1977 which sparked a mini-riot.

The original Tampa Stadium was part of a West Tampa sports complex located on the perimeter of the World War II-era Drew Field. The city of Tampa purchased 720 acres for the complex in 1949 after Drew Field gave way to Tampa International Airport. In 1967, the stadium was built in the hopes of attracting an NFL franchise to the Tampa area. The University of Tampa Spartans were the original football “home team” as the city waited for a professional football team. The university discontinued D-1 football in 1974. In the meantime, The Tampa Bay Rowdies, a professional major league soccer team, called Tampa Stadium home. The city of Tampa was awarded the NFL expansion Buccaneers football team in 1974.The stadium was expanded from a capacity of about 46,000-57,000 (more seating was possible by adding temporary bleachers to the open end zones), to just under 72,000. It was the perfect sized venue for rock bands that were attracting massive crowds to extravagant arena shows.

Tampa Stadium hosted some of the biggest names in rock and roll including The Who, The Rolling Stones, Jethro Tull, and Pink Floyd. In a performance by Led Zeppelin on May 5, 1973, attended by more than 56,000 fans, Tampa Stadium broke a rock and roll record for attendance previously held by a Beatles concert at Shea Stadium. Still, what most people in Tampa associate with Led Zeppelin and Tampa Stadium is the melee that ensued on June 3, 1977 after the band prematurely ended their concert after performing only two songs.

A crowd of 70,000 paid between $10-$12 apiece for the opportunity to see Led Zeppelin, arguably the world’s biggest rock band at the time, perform at the open-air Tampa Stadium. The gates had opened around noon, and, so far, there had been no major incidents. The enormous mass of fans eagerly anticipated the guitar wizardry of Jimmy Page, the wailing vocal of Robert Plant, and the inevitable Bonzo drum solo. The band took the stage at about 8:15. However, anyone that has lived in Tampa will tell you: rain is unavoidable in the summer months Eleven minutes after the show began, it started to rain. The band, fearing what might happen to their electrical equipment in the thunderstorm, left the stage. The storm passed shortly after it started, but Led Zeppelin did not return to the stage. When an announcement was made that the band would not be coming back, angry concert goers on the field stormed the stage. The police guarding the stage were not prepared for the onslaught of 4000 angry rock fans.Eventually, other officers were called in with tear gas to break up the mob. There are conflicting opinions about whether the use of such tactics was justifiable, or if the incident could truly be labeled a riot. In the end, thirty-five fans and nine police officers were treated for injuries and twenty arrests were made.

Fans were assured that there would be a “raincheck” concert, and that the incident would not affect future shows at Tampa Stadium. Both of these statements turned out to be false. Led Zeppelin never returned to Tampa, and there were no more concerts at Tampa Stadium for almost three years. The Buccaneers continued to play football there, as did the USFL’s Tampa Bay Bandits, and, starting in 1997, so did the University of South Florida’s Bulls football team.

Tampa Stadium was nicknamed the Big Sombrero due to its unique shape and hosted two Super Bowls. The Hall of Fame Bowl, now known as The Outback Bowl, came to Tampa Stadium in 1986. It was host to the Tampa Bay Mutiny MLS team, monster truck extravaganzas, show jumping competitions, and the Reverend Billy Graham’s five-day Florida West Coast Crusade. The Big Sombrero was demolished in 1998 and Raymond James Stadium was built in the old parking lot. The Buccaneers and the USF Bulls still play their home games at the new stadium.