Balloon exterior, graduation weekend, May 2005. Courtesy of Stank, UD '05To me, the Stone Balloon really wasn't about drinking. It was about friends. First gathering our crew on Choate Street, then heading over to the Balloon, showing our IDs (yes, our legitimate ones), paying cover, walking in, and seeing a hundred other people we knew…and then another couple hundred we knew by one-degree-of-separation. There were some nights during the '94 - '95 school year where I felt like I knew everyone in the Balloon. A lot of you probably felt the same way. And okay, the Balloon was also of course about MUSIC.
As for the origins and early history of the place, look no further than Bill Stevenson’s excellent book Stone Balloon: The Early Years. Bill is the guy who bought the building in the early '70s, turned it into what it became, brought Bruce Springsteen into the place in '74, got a new network called MTV to broadcast out of there in the early '80s...and then sold the place a decade before I ever stepped foot in there (he must of known I was on my way). Bill has also become a friend of mine, and a big supporter of Glory Days at Delaware…hey Bill, can’t thank you enough!
The group of investors that bought the Balloon from Bill Stevenson tried to change its direction a bit. Let’s just say it didn’t work out. The Balloon was then sold to Elvin Steinberg, whom Bill credits with saving the place; Elvin owned the Balloon from the mid '80 through early 1995.
Stone Balloon 30th Anniversary Mug courtesy of Dana P, UD '04(she decorated it with some stickers)Elvin: “I created Mug Night to bring some life back into the Stone Balloon. Glass mugs were imprinted with the school year, the Stone Balloon logo, and a beer that we featured. I sold over 10,000 mugs. Originally, you bought a mug for $5.00 and we refilled it every Thursday for 50 cents. Inflation brought the price up, but I don’t believe I ever got over $1.00. It was the most successful promotion I ever ran.”
Hey, that 10,000 number sold was just on Elvin’s watch! The total number sold until the Balloon’s close I’d guess is at least double that. As for when the mugs shifted from being glass to plastic, the best I can pinpoint it, it was 1999. I arrived at this based on numerous people telling me (independently) that they were the one’s responsible for the change…because of, um, a smashing good time they had in '99.
Bill’s Early Years book includes a comprehensive list of famous bands that had played the Balloon during its entire lifespan, but there's two acts I want to note from the '87 onward era, because of their longevity and enduring fanbase...
Bootleg record cover (I've always assumed it to be a bootleg) of the Metallica show at the BalloonMetallica swung into Newark, DE to play the Stone Balloon during their “Damaged Justice” tour. The gig was August 7th, 1989, and was played to make good on a “50 Shows, 50 States” promise…it was a one of those fans only, last minute add kind of things.
Elvin Steinberg on the show: “The Metallica show…there was no power outage. That occurred at a Greg Allman show. The problems with the Metallica show were, 1) Too many people showed up, and there were more people outside than inside, 2) The City of Newark was paranoid about the show, and put the entire police force on duty around the Stone Balloon. They also requested we cut off beer sales at 11:30, which we did, and, 3) The crowd was unruly and pushed over the banister separating the dance floor and stage from the rest of the club. People fell onto the dance floor and the doormen had to help them up to restore order. The best part of the show, though, was the band signing autographs in the parking lot until about 2 AM.”
Dave Matthews Band played the Balloon on October 12th, 1994. Tickets were $8 in advance, $12 at the door. DMB was about thirty seconds away from becoming huge, as Under the Table and Dreaming gained momentum in late '94, and then blew up in '95. And actually, I was able to dig up the Balloon’s schedule from the month of the Dave gig; transcribed from an ad in The Review…
No Cover Till 9 PM Nightly
Tuesdays: Ladies Night (No Cover for Ladies)
$1.25 Domestics, $1.50 Imports
Music by Audible Illusion
Wednesdays: Original Band Night
$1.50 Bottle Beer Specials All Night
$2 Cover with Student ID
Thursdays: Mug Night
50 Cent Drafts with Stone Balloon Mug
until 10 PM, $1 Drafts after 10 PM
Shooter Specials $1
$2 Cover with Student ID
Fridays: Jam Session
5 to 9 PM Rail Drinks
$1.25 Bottle Beer Specials, Shot Specials
Free Domino’s Pizza and Taco Bell
Saturdays: The Best Bands & Early Bird Specials
$3 Cover with Student ID
Wednesday, 10/5: Mother’s Garden
Thursday, 10/6: Lost Boys
Friday, 10/7: Everything
Saturday, 10/8: Great Train Robbery
Wednesday, 10/12: Dave Matthews Band
Thursday 10/13: Steamroller Picnic
Friday 10/14: Big Idea
Saturday 10/15: The Nerds
Wednesday 10/19: Mutha Load
Thursday 10/20: Lost Boys
Friday 10/21: Tisra Till
Saturday 10/22: Love Seed Mama Jump
Wednesday 10/26: Gangster Pump
Thursday 10/27: Big Idea
Friday 10/28: Underground Cartoons
Saturday 10/29: Grease Band
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