Wayback tours: Simon & Garfunkel sang ‘The Sound of Silence’ but a blown speaker made Paul cry out

This article is the fourth in a series looking back at concerts that shaped the Iowa City and Cedar Rapids’ musical imagination as they reach milestone anniversaries.

Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel circa 1968 – illustration by Kate Goodvin

On Friday, it will be 55 years since Simon & Garfunkel played the University of Iowa Field House. Bill Rohret still remembers that night clearly. It was his first concert.

“I was 15 years-old and a student at Regina,” Rohret said. (And yes, that is “Rohret” as in “Rohret Road” on the west side of Iowa City.)

He was already a fan of the duo, who were approaching the peak of their success. Mike Nichols’ film The Graduate, which featured their music on its soundtrack. had come out the year before. The two had just released a new album, which would build on the success of their earlier albums, Sounds of Silence and Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme. Their careful harmonies dazzled concert audiences around the country, but in Iowa City, their equipment struck a discordant note.

“The speaker blew-out and Paul Simon was annoyed!” Rohret recalled.

Rohret has lived in Las Vegas for the last 35 years, but still has vivid memories of growing up in Iowa City in the ‘60s.

“It was a pretty good crowd at the Field House and when the speaker blew, Paul Simon let it rip,” he said. “When it was fixed the show was amazing!”

Just four days before the April 7 show in Iowa City, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel released Bookends, a concept album, which ended up being their penultimate studio album. Two years later, Simon & Garfunkel released Bridge Over Troubled Water. That album won five Grammy Awards, and became the bestselling album of 1970 and one the most purchased albums of all time.

But at the height of their success in 1970, Simon & Garfunkel decided to go their separate ways.

Neither Rohret, nor anyone in the Iowa City audience that night knew the end was near for the duo. The crowd just enjoyed the music.

“They sounded just as pure on stage as they did on the records I owned. It was unbelievable,” Rohret recalled. “I knew every word they were singing.

“I had good seats. Close enough to recognize them,” he said. “There were people of all ages there. Nothing rowdy. I don’t even remember any pot in the stir. I went with four high school friends and I was in awe of the whole thing.”

The late ‘60s Regina crew went to Hamburg Inn No. 2 before the concert, as was the tradition for their unit before major events in Iowa City. There, Rohret and friends scarfed down hamburgers, onion rings and vanilla shakes. But Simon & Garfunkel got their greasy spoon fix somewhere else.

“My [late] brother who cooked at HoJo’s [Howard Johonson’s] made their hamburgers,” said John Jinkinson. “I recall he was anxious to make their meals, expecting some fine dining. He didn’t know until after they’d eaten that the burgers were for them.”

This all occurred during a time when the Vietnam War was top of mind for many Americans, but so was music according to Rohret.

“My older brother was in a band,” he said. “There were always local bands playing. Including outdoor venues. I was worried I’d be drafted someday. I worked at Burger Chef in Downtown-IC during high school.”

Music and burgers, two things people who were buying the latest albums in the ’60s had in common with those making them. The fans flipped the patties, the concert-goers gobbled them up and so did the “Mrs. Robinson” duo in 1968.