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Ferragut: Long live the Fargo Civic Center

Ferragut shares memories of the Fargo Civic Center in response to a Forum story that said its future is in limbo after losing $2.2M in 15 years.

James Ferragut
James Ferragut

This is for everyone who grew up in Fargo in the 1960s. My buddy Ricco and I have a long history talking about the concerts we've each seen: Where? When? How many times? The Fargo Civic Center was the baseline for our adolescent concert experiences.

My very first concert was held there. It was 1962, I was 11 and I saw the Everly Brothers. That's a hell of a start.

My next concert at the Civic was three years later. The television show, “Where The Action Is,” filmed at the Santa Monica Beach, featured the top pop stars of the week. They would lip sync their hit songs into the hearts of American teenagers. The “in-house band” was Paul Revere and the Raiders (who dressed in uniforms representative of the Revolutionary War). They had several hit songs by 1965 and they kept on kicking out No. 1 hits for five more years.

Every one knew the Raiders by name. They were famous. Big time. They played the Civic Center in the fall of 1965. We had seen them only as black and white TV stars, but when the curtains rose, there they were. The Raiders were nicely tanned, wearing rich, deep brown uniforms. Not what I expected. I was stunned to see them up close and real. It was a game changer for me.

Ricco and I didn't know each other back then, but we both attended Dick Clark's Cavalcade of Stars, which was a traveling minstrel show with the country's best pop stars of the season. We both knew the lineup by heart: Gene Pitney, Chad and Jeremy, Norma Tenega, The McCoys, Len Barry, Bobby Goldsboro, BJ Thomas and The Outsiders. Just last week, Ricco found the same tour line-up from another city. That one was called “Shower of Stars.” Whatever the name, the show came to the Civic for two consecutive summers.

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After that came The Beach Boys, Them, The Jefferson Airplane, The Who, The Dave Clark Five, The Guess Who. Things settled down for a bit, but I remember seeing Dolly Parton and Harry Chapin in the late 70's.

In 1990s there was a short spurt of acts: Crosby Stills and Nash and Barry Manilow, both played during the year of the massive flood (each offering all ticket sales to our Flood Relief Fund). The concert run ended in earnest with Fargo's Bob Dylan. He uncharacteristically talked about his time in Fargo and several times invoked his lifelong friendship with Fargo's own Bobby Vee.

But the Fargo Civic Center was more than just a concert venue. It was the home of the Fargo Kiwanis Pancake Feed for at least 50 of its 65 seasons. And I remember the first time I was on the Civic's stage. It was for an American Boy Scouts/Indian Guides play. No one paid attention, of course, but I thought I was destined for Broadway.

There have been endless craft shows, corporate rallies over the past 20 years. But we can't forget the actors, celebrities and politicians that graced the Civic's hallowed halls. For me, the most important was then Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. I watched him in utter awe for his humor and the depth of his campaign for president speech. It was April 1968. He was assassinated and died two months later.

President Nixon started his 1972 presidential campaign walk at the Civic Center. I shook former President Clinton's hand as he came here to offer his support for Heidi Heitkamp's bid for the U.S. Senate in 2012.

It has been a long, impressive and esteemed run for the Civic Center. Its presence and history must never be forgotten as it struggles to stay relevant in our growing, complex community. I love this quote by Cameron Mackintosh: “An old building is like a show. You smell the soul of a building. And the building will tell you how to redo it.”

Carry on Fargo Civic Center. Carry on.

Ferragut is a special ed para-educator for Fargo Public Schools and a longtime contributor to The Forum's Editorial Page. Email him at jferragut50@gmail.com.

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This letter does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.

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