To St. Louis’ law enforcement and the mayor’s office, odd developments in the good part of town must have seemed ominous. A peaceful rebellion, armed with kites and marijuana, had formed in Forest Park. Traffic was tied up for hours, and the next day the story landed in the newspaper. To those in St. Louis who hadn’t heard of KSHE, this was their introduction, along with the rest of the United States.
The thousands who gathered in Forest Park on March 29, 1974 celebrated the coming of spring. A cool sunny day punctuated by brisk winds gave the fans the perfect day to fly a kite. As the fans slowly filled up the park, dozens of kites sailed gently into the breeze. Massive contraptions took to the air before the large crowd made their launch impossible. At least one brave soul teamed up with his creation to take to the skies. As thousands poured in, there was less room for the giants and their smaller paper and wood versions. To get a better view, dozens of fans climbed upon backstops of the baseball diamonds and also bent the wooden soccer goal posts like a twigs under their weight. They weren’t there to just see the kites sail in the skies. They were there to see a concert. A band named Kiss just started their first U.S. tour a week before. Standing on stage, the band witnessed something historic. On that day they performed before their largest audience as a headliner in the United States, [as Kiss Alive author Kurt Gooch noted in 2007.] Just one week on tour and KSHE was there to help. KSHE became one of the first radio stations in the U.S. to play a Kiss single.
“Tonight we will give away Kiss tickets, we will give away Kiss albums. We will give away a chance to party backstage with the band as Monday Night Metal is proud to present Kiss with WASP, January 23rd at Kiel Auditorium…”
Radical Rich, Dec. 1984
The 1974 Kite Fly was a turning point for the free festivals. Shelley Grafman, who was the force behind this gathering, was keenly aware of the potential for problems. It had been less than three years since fans busted up Kiel Auditorium at a Ten Years After concert. Shelley certainly hadn’t forgotten that event as KSHE had sponsored it. The stakes were a bit higher in 1974. Forest Park was the crown jewel of all the parks in St. Louis. Thousands would pour into the park. Would he risk all this? You bet.
The first Kite Fly was four years earlier in Forest Park. Sponsored by St. Louis Stereo, it was one of Shelley Grafman’s early promotions. Shelley’s desire was to give the station some exposure to the kids that hadn’t signed on to KSHE. Through 1973, local bands played, and a contest gave the participants an opportunity to create the largest, smallest, most beautiful or ugliest kite. The staff at the radio station even sold kites printed with the station’s call letters and a peace sign.
But in 1974 complications started before showtime. Mark Klose recalls the hours leading up to it: “I remember right after their first album, we were playing some of that. I went out to the airport to pick them up. We had an old Ford Econoline van with no seats in it. It was like a cargo van. They came strolling out [of the airplane], and they had all their leather outfits on, and they are wearing their platform shoes and no makeup. They traveled so each one of them had literally a garment bag. I walked them through the airport and I got some pretty bizarre stares. And I think they stayed at the Howard Johnson’s at 44 and Hampton.
“I was kind of the jack-of-all-trades,” Mark said. “So they got the stage set up and Shelley Grafman told me to get power. So I went to a rental place and got four Honda generators, those little lawn mower types. And they are sitting there puttin’ away.
“Kiss was probably going to go on at three or four o’clock, (but) they were still at the hotel, and the road manager came up. He was a big black guy. He had leather on and all that, and he said. ‘I need to talk to the guy in charge.’
I said, ‘I guess that’s me.’
He says, ‘Yeah, we need to talk about the specs we have for the sound. We’re gonna need 85,000 watts.’
I said ‘uh huh.’
And he goes ‘Where’s your power source?’
And I pointed over to these generators, all four of these Mickey Mouse Honda generators. I point; meanwhile one of them just craps out. So now we’re down to three. And this guy just goes out of his mind.
“‘What the FUCK! We’re not PLAYING! This is BULLSHIT! We’re a BAND!’ And blah, blah, blah. He’s just going nuts and jumping up and down. And I said, ‘I got nothin’ in advance, nothing from the record label. Nobody said anything. I had no idea what you guys needed.’
He said, ‘We’re not playing. If you don’t fix this, we’re not playing.’
And I said, ‘All right.’
He said ‘Go talk to your boss.’
So I went over to Shelley Grafman and I said, ‘He said they’re not going to play, there’s a problem with the power.’
Shelley said ‘We’ve got generators.’
‘They’re looking for, I don’t know, about 83,000 more watts than we currently have.’
“At this point, I think for the Kiss show, we did about 40,000 people, and there were probably 20,000 already in the park. And Kiss, probably the biggest audience they had ever played to was 1,000 people...maybe. So Shelley’s very cool and he says, ‘Tell them to go home.’
I said, ‘What?’
He said ‘Tell them if they don’t want to play, tell them to go home.’
I said ‘Okay Dokay.’
So I walked back [to the road manager] and he said ‘What did your boss say?’
I go ‘If you don’t like it, go home.’
‘Hey, don’t kill the messenger. I’m just telling you what he said. If you don’t like it, sorry, but go home.’
“So he walks around in circles a little bit, and he comes over and says ‘Well all right.’ Meanwhile in between that transition time, another generator crapped out. So now we’re down to two generators, and I don’t even think he even realized that.
“Even in those days Peter Criss’ drum kit was on pneumatics and it would go up in the air. And he had special sticks with fireworks shooting out of them, and all this junk. So now we’re down to two generators, and he goes, ‘All right, we’ll play.’
“So between the time he goes to get the band and came back another one died. So now we’re down to one very small Honda generator. I had an intern and I stood him there with a can of gas and I said ‘Whatever you do, don’t let this thing run out of gas, I mean ’cause were gonna have NOTHING!’
“So we did the most basic PA system. Forget the pneumatics. Forget the explosions. They came out and they’re all dressed up in their outfits and so that was our run in with Kiss.”
“Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley still talk about it,” says Katy Kruze. “A few years back they spoke of that Kite Fly. They remember standing inside the back of a truck, holding on as the truck bounced over the grass in Forest Park.” David Grafman also remembers the journey to the park in the van. “The van had been paneled on the inside. Over the wheel wells, there was a boxed out ledge you could sit on. There were no chairs or anything. The four members of the band all sat on the wheel wells. They were feeling pretty good about themselves. And somebody said, I forgot who, ‘Hey, who is in charge of getting the girls tonight?’ And then Paul Stanley said, ‘Yeah, right. Like tonight’s gonna be any different than any other night. You’ll be alone in your room.’ It was classic. I was 13 years old and these guys were just normal 26 year olds in all their make-up. And they were just feeding each other shit about getting girls.” The doors open and the band stepped out in front of the largest crowd in North America they would play before, for decades to follow.