In 1972, a new structure appeared downtown. It was called the Omni.
This Omni Complex, now home to State Farm Arena and CNN Center, had everything in those days from ice skating, a Burt Reynolds restaurant, a game arcade to restaurants and bars.
To say it was different from anything making up a part of Atlanta’s cityscape, is beyond an understatement. It definitely was what the city needed to begin meeting the entertainment demands from a growing public…locally, and statewide.
The Omni addition had a significant impact on Atlanta becoming a major city. The Omni Coliseum could host any and every kind of event imaginable, from tractor pulls to Big Bird to every major music act touring America. Not to mention the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
The list goes on and on. There were Atlanta Flames Hockey matches, pro basketball games with the Hawks, professional tennis matches, even performances by motorized vehicles. After an evening of motocross or monster trucks and the fumes of their fuel, I’d imagine a shower and fresh air were welcomed. I never attended either, but knew of many who did.
The amazing, strange, cool structure that could accommodate all these events was itself a marvel. Maybe, unlike other venues, it cost a couple of extra bucks to park — I mean this was downtown. And one thing I learned…park near the exit! It was grand going in, but if you left with everyone else, there were just too many people and not enough asphalt so the getaway could be a mess.
I chuckle when I think about how much the area has changed. Thank goodness in 1979, a MARTA train station opened. Some parking stresses were relieved, but there were still hundreds of people who didn’t take the train because it didn’t travel in their direction home.
While the building was a great place for most events, for concerts or any kind of music-based show, it could turn into an acoustical nightmare with cement and steel walls set at various angles. Still, I would bet that every genre of music known to mankind performed there. The Omni hosted loud rock and roll, gospel, metal, and a ton of funky soul bands, and artists.
We saw the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, perform there and there was no doubt as to why he held that title: James and the Flames had the place as funky as it had ever been…and possibly was until its demise. Later, we saw Michael Jackson. Some of his moves were not human, but he didn’t have a whole lot on JB.
Omni shows made room for all sorts of acts. We saw Steely Dan…they were perfect. Rumor has it they brought their top producer, Gary Katz, along to assist with “tuning the room.” Another artist whose show was perfect: Stevie Wonder. His amazing songs and energy were incomparable. And, for showmanship, I remember standing on the floor at a Bob Seger concert as his sax player flew over our heads while hoisted to a cable from above.
I had a 15-year-old niece who was a Billy Squire fan. I was lucky enough to get free tickets to his show and a backstage meet and greet. Billy opened for Queen, and Freddy Mercury’s group got the star treatment, which meant more hospitality space. We wound up on Billy’s tour bus. Here is this rocker dude who was as nice and polite as a southerner. We had fruits, crackers and cheeses with mineral water to drink! Not the afterparty one would expect.
Both times we saw Bruce Springsteen, he played for two hours, took a 30-minute break, and then came back and played two more hours. The Boss gave you your money’s worth.
Probably the best experience we ever had was sitting onstage with the Eagles. Yes, I said on stage. There were 12 of us. We were so close to guitarist Joe Walsh that he could give us all high fives. The afterparty backstage was anything but calm. I remember meeting Jann Wenner, the founder, and publisher of Rolling Stone magazine, along with Irving Azoff, the top dude at Frontline Management, the Eagles management company.
As I said in the first article, I began my career in 1978, six years after the opening of the Omni. When the building closed in 1997, I was left with countless experiences over the 19 years of entertainment memories there.
While putting this together, I had flashbacks of so many things I didn’t get to mention that there may be “The Omni, Part Two” column coming in future editions.