By March of 1975, Billy Joel had scored two Top 40 hits, “Piano Man” and “The Entertainer.” You’d think that would make him a good draw for the Mary E. Sawyer Auditorium in La Crosse. The Sawyer booked Joel, along with Al Stewart and a band called Pavlov’s Dog, for a concert on March 12th of ’75. Sources tell us that Billy and his band actually got to La Crosse for the show that night, but the show was cancelled at the last minute because only 120 tickets had been sold. And it’s reported that Billy performed a little bit on stage at the Holiday Inn on the pike that Wednesday night.
Auditorium manager Michael Gebauer was interviewed in 1975 about cancelled shows in La Crosse. Gebauer said a Gordon Lightfoot show was cancelled because the singer was drunk, and an Anne Murray concert was postponed because of low ticket sales. Local music fans also recall Bruce Springsteen scheduling a La Crosse concert, which never happened.
Billy Joel and the Boss may not have gotten to downtown La Crosse in ’75, but McDonald’s did. The Courtesy Corporation bought the Man-Lay sunken garden at 4th and Main, where the Linker Building had stood until a fire in 1961. The Golden Arches would open at that busy intersection in November of ’75 (without the actual arches), and would stay there for the next 20 years. I’ll meet you any time you want, in our McDonald’s restaurant, yesterday in La Crosse.