Remembering Aerosmith playing the Hyatt Sarasota ballroom: commentary

December 9, 2012 

It has been nearly a decade since one of the most legendary rock shows in Sarasota-Manatee history.

For me, it's doubtful any local performance will ever come close to matching the magnitude of seeing an arena-filling band play such a small room.

And I almost missed it.

No one took the rumor seriously. Aerosmith at the Hyatt Sarasota? Yeah, right.

But I was there nonetheless in February of 2003 for the Sarasota Film Festival's "Late Night UnWrap Bash." A friend had secured me a press pass so I figured it would be fun.

Maybe Steven Tyler or Joe Perry would arrive to honor their longtime record producer Jack Douglas, who was being given a career achievement award by the festival.

But the idea of Aerosmith -- all five original members -- appearing seemed highly unlikely.

A performance by the band seemed absurd.

Even Sarasota-based promoter Barbara Strauss, who had been asked to oversee security for the film festival show, didn't think it would happen. In fact, when Sarasota Film Festival honcho Mark Famiglio told her his plan she pretty much laughed in his face.

"Aerosmith will never play," Strauss recalled telling Famiglio during a phone conversation I had with her last week.

She added, "In my mind, they were never going to play."

Tickets were sold out for the festival's Richard Dreyfuss tribute dinner at the Ritz-Carlton on Feb. 1. On hand to pay tribute to the star of "Jaws," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and "Mr. Holland's Opus" were Rick Nielsen and Robin Zander of Cheap Trick, David Johansen of New York Dolls fame and Aerosmith.

All five of 'em.

I wasn't at The Ritz, though, and had no idea.

Neither did Strauss.

"Everyone's over there at the big party and I'm stuck setting up for an imaginary band," she recalled.

Soon, though, Strauss received a phone call from Famiglio telling

her he had Tyler in the car. She didn't believe it until the Aerosmith front man got on the phone with her.

"He had one of those raspy voices like Gregg Allman or me," she said with a laugh.

I recall watching Strauss, a petite woman, walk Tyler through the crowd to get him from the VIP yacht to the Hyatt ballroom.

Sure enough, after Tyler said a few words in honor of Douglas, Aerosmith made rock 'n' roll magic happen.

Aerosmith was joined on stage by Nielsen and Zander for a rousing performance of "Walk this Way," "Sweet Emotion," "Walkin' the Dog" and "Train Kept A Rollin.'"

Watching from the sidelines were Johansen as well as Rick Derringer and wife, Brenda.

I was by the stage, too, trying to not get used as a ladder by the ladies behind me.

An amazing night.

I started thinking about it the other day while preparing to interview Aerosmith bassist Tom Hamilton. The story ran on the cover of last week's Weekend section to advance his band's Tuesday show at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

That venue holds 20,000. I saw Aerosmith rock 500 people at a local ballroom.

"I remember thinking I wish we were staying for a couple days," Hamilton said of the surprise Sarasota appearance. "It was such a cool event, a really cool evening with beautiful people."

Hamilton didn't plan on playing. The band didn't even bring their instruments. Aerosmith used borrowed equipment.

"We just decided to go for it," Hamilton told me. "We were there to support Jack and we got down. It was very cool."

I also talked to Perry about the show when I interviewed the guitarist back in 2006. He remembered it fondly, too.

"At a gig like that where everything is loose it's great to just get up there and just start playing," said Perry, who has spent time vacationing in the area. "It was a fun night. Sarasota has always been like a second home to us."

To read the rest of the interview with Hamilton, visit bradenton.com/weekend.

Details: Aerosmith with Cheap Trick, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 11, Tampa Bay Times Forum, 401 Channelside Drive, Tampa. Tickets: $46.75-$146.75. Information: 813-287-8844 or www.ticketmaster.com.

Wade Tatangelo, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7057. Follow Twitter.com/wtatangelo.

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