When David Cassidy was driving the Baltimore girls crazy

A lot of women of a certain age lost their first schoolgirl crush this week, when David Cassidy died Tuesday at age 67. And a lot of them were in the audience, screaming, when Cassidy, at the height of his teen-idol phase, played Columbia’s Merriweather Post Pavilion in 1971 and the Baltimore Civic Center the following year.

“That was my first concert ever,” says WLIF-FM radio personality Diane Lyn, who persuaded her indulgent father, Lou, to take her to the Civic Center show. “That was the biggest thing in the entire world -- he was like Elvis to the previous generation.”

Indeed, few acts at the time were bigger than the shaggy-haired Cassidy. From the day his TV show, “The Partridge Family,” debuted on Sept. 25, 1970, much of young America — especially much of young female America — fell hopelessly in love. As Keith, the eldest of mom Shirley Partridge’s five singing children (think “The Sound of Music” with a decidedly more pop beat, and without the Nazi menace), Cassidy shot to superstardom. The show became a hit, the songs — like “I Think I Love You” and “I Woke Up In Love this Morning” — hit the top of the charts (Cassidy sang lead and was the only one of the “kids” to actually perform on record) and Cassidy became a major concert draw.

Lyn, a pre-teen at the time, remembers the Feb. 27, 1972, Civic Center experience vividly. It was just Cassidy, no opening act. In the course of the show, she says, he was given the key to the city, told he was “an honorary member of Baltimore, and that he could come back any time he wanted to.” He played, she recalls, for “several hours.”

She couldn’t have been happier. “I cried. I absolutely cried,” Lyn remembers. “My dad said, ‘Are you happy?’ And I said, ‘Yes, Daddy, I’m happy.’ And he said, ‘Well, I’m not. I can’t hear a thing.’”

Yes, as much as Lyn remembers, the music didn’t have the chance to make much of an impression. “You couldn’t really hear anything, because people were screaming so much,” she says.

Lisa Mahon Wechtenhiser, who was only 10 when her mom and aunt scored tickets to the Aug. 15, 1971, Merriweather concert for her and her cousin, had a similar experience. Sitting in the second row, she could hear the music fine, but that wasn’t really the point. Not when the love of her life was almost within arm’s reach.

Seeing David Cassidy, she says with resolve, “was a big deal. That was a really big deal.”

“He had just had gall bladder surgery, and he had lost a lot of weight,” Wechtenhiser remembers, her memories undimmed over the ensuing 46 years. “He was wearing this white outfit, and it had to be safety-pinned on him. We were sitting in the second row, and I could see the safety pins.”

(Wechtenhiser, who grew up in Towson and now lives in Stevensville, was such a devoted fan that she covered one of the walls of her bedroom with David Cassidy photos. Her father made her take them down — although, she says, he later felt guilty about it.)

The Baltimore Sun took note of Cassidy’s appearance at Merriweather, but with a decidedly bemused eye.

“Their hero could have stood on his head and recited poems from the Sanskrit to the music. The reaction would have been much the same,” critic Earl Arnett wrote in the next day’s edition. “But he sang popular songs and danced somewhat awkwardly around the stage. His motions seemed unnatural and strained, like the audience, but no one seemed to mind. Prepubescent vibrations dominated the atmosphere.”

ckaltenbach@baltsun.com

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