Readers share their favorite 'Morris Memories' — onstage, backstage and in the audience

The first time I attended a show at the Morris Performing Arts Center, I saw comedian George Carlin.

It was Feb. 5, 1987 (I checked the ticket stub), and I was a sophomore at the University of Notre Dame, back when the theater was called the Morris Civic Auditorium (the name I still prefer because “civic” denotes a sense of community and communal ownership of the venue, but I digress).

Since that first experience, I have spent hundreds more nights at the Morris, usually as a reviewer or photographer for The Tribune, including three more Carlin shows — April 9, 1995, and, as a reviewer, Sept. 20, 2003, and Nov. 17, 2007.

For this special section devoted to the Morris 100 Fest, The Tribune asked you to submit your favorite memories from times spent at the Morris — or the Palace Theater, as it originally was named. You came through with memories, photos and even a 78 RPM record. Thank you.

Before we get to your memories, I’ll share my two favorites: Brian Wilson, Nov. 13, 2008, when he performed his then-new solo album “That Lucky Old Sun” in its entirety — a rare night when the new material eclipses the classics in performance; and the lengthy, emotional standing ovation former Junior Walker & the All Stars drummer and longtime South Bend resident Billy “Stix” Nicks received when his Motown Machine opened for B.B. King on Oct. 6, 2013 — a well-deserved tribute to a superb drummer and a beautiful human being.

― Andrew S. Hughes, Arts & Entertainment Editor

The following have been edited for style, spelling and clarity:

Performing at the Morris

I took up guitar at the age of 9 to please my father. From that day forward, we never got along. He loved Country & Western music, and I was pre-rockabilly.

From the ages of 13 through 18, back in the ’60s, I was a member of the Willow Ridge Trio, a folk group. Ricky Fisher was on banjo and his cousin Jackie Winter and I played guitars. For some reason playing banjo reminds me of popping corn.

The Willow Ridge Trio graced the cover of the program for the May 1, 1966, Country Music Jamboree at the Morris Civic Auditorium in South Bend. The trio consisted of Ricky Fisher, left, Jackie Winter and Coleen Hoover, who submitted this memory to The Tribune's "Morris Memories" feature. Hoover's father, Tex, also produced the jamboree.
The Willow Ridge Trio graced the cover of the program for the May 1, 1966, Country Music Jamboree at the Morris Civic Auditorium in South Bend. The trio consisted of Ricky Fisher, left, Jackie Winter and Coleen Hoover, who submitted this memory to The Tribune's "Morris Memories" feature. Hoover's father, Tex, also produced the jamboree.

Jackie had great volume and I did just fine with harmony. Those were the days of The Kingston Trio, Peter Paul and Mary and the Chad Mitchell Trio. We won a local talent contest on the DD Donovan television show. We performed in local bars and clubs in the area from Kalamazoo to the north and Chesterton to the west.

My dad was Tex, the owner of Tex’s Western-style bar on Western Avenue. He organized a country music jamboree at the Morris Civic on May 1, 1966, with an assortment of country and western performers.

I don't remember what we sang as a trio. I’m guessing, “This Little Light of Mine.” I do remember that I did a solo song of Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight.” I don't know who I was singing to since what I do remember is the incredibly bright lights that engulf you on the stage. I couldn't see anyone in the audience. I only felt the blazing heat and sang into the blinding lights.

We were warmly (no pun intended) received by the audience. I thank you for the memories.

— Coleen Hoover

I performed in “The Nutcracker” as a young child with my ballet company. I have fond memories of the performance as well as watching others.

— Martha Krull

When I was 12 and my sister was 10, we auditioned to be in “Hansel and Gretel.” Both of us were chosen — it was the first time I’d been in the Morris and what an exciting experience that was! (If I'm not mistaken, a young woman named Valerie Toth played Gretel.)

When I was 13, my girlfriend and I saw The Cowsills at the Morris.

When I was 15, my mother took my sister, me and our best friends to see “Hair” at the Morris — my first experience with a Broadway production.

That theater holds so many happy, exciting memories for me!

― Patricia Hans

I don't remember the exact date, but it was in 1973 (I do have the program if interested). I was 6 years old and taking dance classes at Joanne Brines’ School of the Dance. Some of the photos are attached but, sadly, not the classic one where I throw a mild temper tantrum onstage.

My group was called “Little Chefs and Chefettes.” Believe it or not, I still have my pink tutu with the ice cream cone in my daughter’s closet! And the giant spoon we danced with. Yes, I have a slight hoarding problem! :)

As the story goes, I went one way, and the rest of the girls went another. I started jumping up and down on stage in anger thinking everyone else had done the steps incorrectly. It was all caught on film!

Another memory … I went to my first concert at the Morris. Cheap Trick in 1980, I believe.

Thanks for the opportunity to share memories!

— Aviva Wulfsohn

I recall back in the ❜70s (❜72 or ❜73) participating in a South Bend Parks Department-sponsored fashion show held at the Morris. (I believe our picture was in The Tribune but don’t have a copy.)

Various local high school students were invited to wear fashions from the downtown department stores, and I was to model an outfit from JC Penney. Several rehearsals were held with a professional who was brought in to show us how to walk and turn on the Morris runway. I recall being able to explore the lower levels of the theater, peeking into dressing rooms, finding all the walkways and tunnel-like hallways, and how creepy but fun it was to see the workings behind such a beautiful theater.

The day of the fashion show I was extremely nervous, and when it was my turn, I walked out on the runway and did my much-rehearsed turn, took a few more steps and did another turn then yet again took a few more steps and turned again — repeating this several times. Apparently, we only needed to take TWO turns, so I must’ve thought my brown suit from Penneys was pretty spectacular! They kept having to talk about parts of my outfit before finally getting waved off the stage. It was a fun experience and being able to get ON the stage — a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

We’ve also enjoyed many of the fabulous performances over the years, such as “Wicked,” seeing the “So You Think You Can Dance” performers and, lastly, experiencing the magnificent performance of “TheLion King” just days prior to the world shutting down due to COVID.

Can’t wait to see the transformation to come of this gem in our city.

— Mary Meehan Firtl

For the last 12 years, I watched my daughter Lauren Holloman literally grow up at the Morris Civic. She danced the “Nutcracker” ballet at the Morris every year since she was 5 years old. She went from dancing as a soldier, a mouse and a party girl to the lead, Marie, her last year as a senior in high school. The time and determination and hours of practice throughout the years were on full display. We were so proud of the dancer she became. Every year during the holidays, we looked forward to “The Nutcracker” at the Morris. We will miss the time we spent at the Morris, and I am sure the holidays will not be the same.

Here's to another 100 years and more memories.

— Jim Holloman

Meeting celebrities

When Gene Autry was coming to the Morris (the Palace Theater, at the time), there was a contest for kids to say what question they’d like to ask Gene Autry if they could meet him. I was one of the lucky ones chosen to go backstage and meet Mr. Autry and ask him, “How I could get to be a cowgirl.”

The radio station WHOT recorded the conversation and I have a 78 disc with that recording. The date on the disc is 2/4/53. I thought it happened the previous year but have nothing to verify the exact date.

I would have been 7 years old and in second grade at the time. I remember being envious of the girl who asked if she could get to ride Champion, because she was allowed to have her picture taken on Champ.

— Mary Ann Moran

I met Joan Collins in the lobby following a showing of her movie.

— Douglas Burns

As Peter Kernan/Pacific Coast Concert’s marketing consultant, I was quickly pressed into action when the RFRA bill (Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 2015) was passed and it looked like Jay Leno might cancel because of the bill.

Across the city and state there was a huge outcry against the bill coming from all quarters, including several of Governor Mike Pence's biggest supporters. My contacts at the Statehouse told me that the bill was likely to be amended to take out the discriminatory language. We just needed Jay Leno to hold up on a final decision on his performance for a few more days.

I reached out to Jimmy Brogan, Jay’s head writer for nine years, for help. Jimmy was a Notre Dame grad and we had both worked at WSND while at ND. Jimmy called Jay, and a few days later, the bill was amended and the show went on.

The night of the show, I was introduced to Jay as the person who reached out to Brogan. When Jay learned that my communication with Brogan was via Facebook Messenger because I didn’t have a phone number, he asked if I would like to talk with Jimmy and dialed him up on his phone. The photo is Jay handing the phone to me when he reached Jimmy.

— Russ Dodge, former WRBR-FM DJ and former Regional/National Sales Manager Artistic Media Partners (U93 and WZOW)

Significant shows

One of my first memories of the Morris was attending a Blue Oyster Cult concert on Aug. 4, 1974. The opening band was one my 16-year-old self didn't know — KISS.

I was awed by their staging, costumes, pyrotechnics, and Gene Simmons was spitting fire and blood with a tongue that looked about a foot long. It was a “what are they doing! — who cares?, they're rockin’ hard!” kind of show. Kiss Army was chanting for them even after the BOC set. Kiss was definitely a headline act within a month or two after.

More memorable was Fleetwood Mac, May 25, 1975. My pal had played me their previous albums so we went expecting Bob Welch, but Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks were in the band now. They played most of the eponymous “Fleetwood Mac” album, which wasn’t released until July. We didn't know any of that music and my pal was a little disappointed but not me. From the eighth row, hearing the unknown (to me) Stevie Nicks on the day before her 27th birthday, backlit and twirling wearing a diaphanous dress, singing unreleased songs that turned out to be “Rhiannon” and “Landslide” — now that’s my vivid Morris memory!

— Mike Marley

This newspaper ad advertises the May 25, 1975, concert by Fleetwood Mac, with special guest Bob Seger, at the Morris Civic Auditorium.
This newspaper ad advertises the May 25, 1975, concert by Fleetwood Mac, with special guest Bob Seger, at the Morris Civic Auditorium.

Concert date May 25th, 1975. Pre-Ticketmaster days. To get good seats, you go down to The Morris and purchase on a first come, first served basis. Box office personnel helped using a seating chart. I was there for tickets to see Fleetwood Mac, with opening act Bob Seger. Tickets I got were 15 rows back right of center!

The band formed in ’67 with Mick Fleetwood on drums and John McVie on bass. Originally a British blues band with guitarist Peter Green, they recorded his song “Black Magic Woman.” The song was later recorded to fame by Carlos Santana. A succession of songwriting guitarists moved the band toward a contemporary style in the ’70s.

I expected to see a lineup including Bob Welch. In pre-internet days, information was scant and traveled slowly. Lol. I was disappointed at first. The band came on stage and an unknown-to-me Stevie Nicks says something like, “We’re going to play a number of songs on our new album.” The album was released in July. According to the band’s tour history, The Morris was their 10th stop on that initial tour featuring the now classic lineup of vocalist Nicks with Lindsey Buckingham on guitar. Fleetwood Mac brought their A game to the intimate confines of The Morris that evening.

My favorite Morris Memory is a piece of music history that was in the making.

— Marc Schmitt

Years ago, my husband and I decided at the last minute to go to a Friday-night performance of “Chess” at the Morris. The only seats we could get were at the top of the auditorium on the third balcony. I was dismayed that we were so far away from the stage we wouldn’t be able to see the play well enough to enjoy it. But this was our only chance to see the sold-out play, so we went.

The lighting and staging of the play created a black and white chess board on the floor that continually visualized the chess game being played between the characters. To my delight, being at the top of the auditorium explained and reinforced the chess moves in both the actual games, the political spy games and the love games that the complex plot consisted of far more than being on the ground floor in the orchestra section would have done. I have never forgotten that “Chess” game.

— Ann Germano

In 1973, 14-year-old me went to the Slade concert. Within 30 seconds, the whole crowd was singing and dancing. If the audience didn’t know the song, the crazy-looking lads from Wolverhampton, U.K., taught us. I went to many more concerts at the Morris Civic after that, but Slade brought the house DOWN. I was sweaty and exhausted at the end, but I’ve never forgotten that night of perfect rock and roll.

— Jennifer Bella

While I’ve seen many things at the Morris and enjoy every moment there, my favorite memory isn’t my own. My Dad (a WWII veteran who died in 2010) told me once that shortly after he returned from the war, he saw Louis Armstrong and his band play at the Morris. It means so much to me to know that my Dad saw such a music legend there and that I still enjoy so many performances there myself. To me, it shows that entertainment at the Morris has been a fixture in South Bend throughout generations.

Here’s to many more years!

— Beth Anne Riches

I have many great memories of being at the Morris that I'm going to only name a few of them. The first performance I saw there was The Temptations with my dad. I also got to see Harry Connick Jr. perform at the Morris as well.

My very first musical show was “The Nutcracker” that my good friend Ronald Silverman was one of the cast members of. My absolute favorite though was when I got to see “The Lion King.” That was one of the best performances I've ever seen!! Unfortunately, the pandemic started, and I wasn’t able to see it again like I had planned.

— Trina Detwiler

This article originally appeared on South Bend Tribune: Readers share their favorite 'Morris Memories' as theater marks 100th