IT WAS SUCH a city symbol and massive gathering place for sports and spectacle that it is difficult to believe we are going on 20 years since the Kingdome departed — in a planned implosion, no less. Even harder to fathom might be that relative newcomers are unaware of the shortcomings (and, yes, charms) of what resembled, from afar, a giant, concrete hamburger.
Long before retractable roofs came into fashion, the Kingdome satisfied our drenched desire for a commoners’ cathedral we could swarm to and revel in, comforted that our “Seattle sunshine” could not cancel or interfere with our fun. In other words, there were no rainouts.
Dow Constantine remembers it well. Our King County executive was a 19-year-old University of Washington sophomore when he saw the Rolling Stones’ sixth show in Seattle, on Oct. 14, 1981, the first night of back-to-back concerts. Among 71,000 packing the Kingdome, he was down front in what was crudely called “the pit.” The Greg Kihn Band opened, followed by the J. Geils Band. The Stones took the stage at 10:55 p.m. and finished about 1 a.m.
This milieu radiates from our atmospheric “Then” image, captured by Mike Siegel, in one of his first photos for The Seattle Times. Constantine stands near left, eying the wilder youths to his side. His subdued expression speaks volumes.
“Near the stage, the crowd was pretty aggressive,” he recalls. “You had to stand your ground against the force of thousands pushing to get closer.” He adds, with no little irony, “We thought it was the last time we would get a chance to see the Stones because they were so old.”
The Oct. 14 and 15, 1981, shows also hosted scores of overdose cases, along with a deeper tragedy. A 16-year-old girl died on the second day after she lost her balance and fell backward 50 feet from the outside 200-level ramp onto a landing. Most fans, and probably the Stones, didn’t learn of her death until after the Oct. 15 show. It was the first fatality in the Kingdome’s then-five-year history.
While no one inside felt moisture from the sky, as always, there was — beyond the haze and the substitution of rumbling echo for sound — the disquieting feeling, despite the stadium’s enormity, of being trapped by the absence of sky.
That was no deterrent for Constantine, a lifelong music fanatic who graduated from grade-school trombonist to arts and music champion as an adult. He nurtured his obsession by volunteering in 1981 at the campus radio station, KCMU (now KEXP), eventually snagging plum DJ shifts.
Fast-forward nearly 38 years, and we find Constantine once more in the front row Aug. 14 at a Stones show, their 12th in Seattle, this time on the Kingdome’s footprint at open-air CenturyLink Field. “No pushing and shoving,” he says. “Very much an all-ages, good-vibe, bring-the-grandkids crowd.”
The Kingdome might have lasted only 24 years, but the Stones — and Constantine — roll on.