The Cape Cod Coliseum is a former entertainment venue in South Yarmouth that once hosted ice hockey games, professional wrestling matches, as well as some of most legendary acts in rock music.
The Coliseum opened in 1972. It was initially built as an arena for youth and amateur ice hockey matches, and was home to the Cape Cod Cubs of the Eastern Hockey League.
Within a few years, the Coliseum was converted into an auditorium that could hold around 6,500 people. The Boston Pops performed there in 1973, and the venue soon began attracting some of the top rock performers of the day. That may seem hard to believe, given what most people remember about going to concerts there.
“The walls would rattle, there was no air conditioning. The sound was not pristine. It was like, if you listen to Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water,” it was that kind of big, muffled vocal,” recalled Dylan Stanton, owner of Instant Karma records in Orleans.
Yarmouth resident Todd Kennelly also attended numerous Coliseum shows back in the day.
“We were spoiled rotten,” he said. “Some of the greatest acts ever to exist: Chuck Berry, Jackson Browne, Marshall Tucker, Aerosmith…you name it, they came through.”
One legendary pair of Coliseum shows featured the Grateful Dead, who played there for two nights in 1979. Kennelly says the shows are considered to be among the band’s best.
Kennelly also remembers the Coliseum’s parking lot “scene.”
“Everything went on in that parking lot,” Kennelly remembered. “I had a friend that used to go around and do standing back-flips for a dollar. He’d bet someone a dollar that he could do a back-flip. And they’d say ‘No, you can’t,’ and he would do a back-flip. He wouldn’t even spill his beer.”
The Cape Cod Cubs ice hockey team folded in 1977, but promoters were able to keep the music going for a few more years.
Eventually, the Coliseum was taken over by Vince McMahon, the famous owner of what was known at the time as the World Wrestling Federation. He brought in star wrestlers like Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant and Bob Backlund. But by 1984, McMahon was ready to move on, and he sold the Coliseum to the Christmas Tree shops, which converted it into a warehouse.
“He did try to make it work for a long time…did a lot of stuff there: wrestling and more concerts,” Kennelly said. “There were sports, and that sort of thing. But I think he saw the writing on the wall that a venue like that couldn’t support itself any more. What I thought was great was he donated all the hockey equipment to the Tony Kent Arena.”
These days, the tan-colored building just off Route 6 is still a warehouse, with no outward sign of its unlikely heritage as a concert venue. Kennelly has mixed feelings when he passes the old Coliseum on White’s Path.
“I used to think the Coliseum was 20 years ahead of its time, but maybe it was just ahead of Cape Cod – it was too big for Cape Cod,” he said. “I’d like to see something like that, but I don’t think it would ever happen. I think it was just a point in time where it worked, and I’m glad it did. We had a lot of fun in there.”