BetteBack March 16, 1976: New Depression Hits Shady Grove

Mister D: I was at this particular concert…live (not dead!) and had the time of my life with several of my college friends…

High priestess of camp pitches tent at Shady Grove
Frederick, Md., Tuesday, March 16, 1976

Miss Bette Midler, the high priestess of camp, opened at Shady Grove Thursday evening, again having showered, shaved, and FDS’ed herself into a stupor. This has now become a pro forma pre-show ritual for the performer – most actors being content simply to get into costume with a little makeup.

But then Ms. Midler is not like most entertainers, ‘n’ cest pas’? Her run opened two days and a half-hour late. The two days were due to th e flu and an emergency appendectomy. This, she discounted, stating she had been laid up donating her mammary glands (Bette had a more terse term for that part of her anatomy) to Cher. The half hour apparently was
her wait for a standing-room-only audience which did not materialize, or even a full house for that matter; certainly a blow for the Divine Miss M who is reported to bring SRO houses to their feet night after night.

American audiences are notoriously patient toward performers who keep them waiting. Europeans by contrast consider such lateness rude, and the audiences let them know by welcoming them with flying objects. Judy Garland and other Yankees who had gone abroad to thrill those on the continent have learned this much to their shock and displeasure.

Bette Midler’s arrival on stage was preceded by her three “girls” carrying a bedpan, an IV feeding apparatus, and what appeared to be a douche kit– after which the great one was carried in on a stretcher with a sheet over her head. Off
came the covering and on came the camp.

At one moment in her nearly three-hour exhaustive performance (both for her, but more so for the audience which bolted for the doors at its conclusion leaving Miss M. and entourage screaming “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy From Company B”
a-la-Andrew Sisters) she characterized her Shady Grove opening as'”the middle class event of the century.”

I couldn’t have agreed -with her more. She may have had the “Village” (Greenwich) at her feet, but certainly not the “Village” (Montgomery) which for the most part was something less than wild with enthusiasm over her recognizable chansons and patter. Bette has a certain well-known following and these dauntless devotees of the diva were out in substantial numbers, rooting for her, laughing hysterically at anything she did or said.

Ms. Midler’s act comprises classless Kitsch ranging from second-rate tongue-in-cheek imitations of well-known artists, to blue, ribald rib-ticklers at the expense of such stage notables as Sophie Tucker. Her general comic, vocal approach is commonly reminiscent of Joan Rivers, but Bette’s vocal range is wide, affording her a stretch in many directions.

Mid-way through her performance she assumed the identity of the fictitious night club entertainer. Vicky Edie, an
attraction known for “going around the world in 80 days.” This expanded the limiting Shady Grove stage and allowed
Miss M. to deliver a whirl-wind world tour in song and action.

Miss Bette flashed her derriere in Cambridge recently after receiving the Woman of the Year award from Hasty Pudding, the prestigious university’s 181-year-old theatrical club. This was her reaction to what I can’t help but feel was a school-boy-prank put-on as the Divine Miss M. was being accorded the “Harvard Lampoon.”

Presented by Lee Guber and Shelly Gross, she sings, she dances, she cavorts, she transports, she conducts joke-alongs, she derides her musicians, she berates her three girls, and she entertains – those who tramp to ‘high camp.’ Her highlight is her”Songs for the New Depression.”

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2 thoughts on “BetteBack March 16, 1976: New Depression Hits Shady Grove

  1. That is so cool that you can say you were there! What a memory I bet that is. I wish I was born sooner to have experienced more of her live. The furthest I can date back is 1993 for Experience the Divine. Wow even that seems so long ago lol.

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