|Massive Crowds For Paul Simon's 1991 Central Park Concert|
In 1910, the New York City Parks Department had built a band shell up at the north end of McGowan’s Pass (Fifth Avenue and 102nd’ Street), where they staged musical performances six days a week in the summer. Municipal appreciation of “good music” was seen as an essential cultural building block by the local government. In other words, music brought people together.
|Opera Legend Enrico Caruso|
|Leonard Bernstein in Central Park - 1966|
The No Nukes rally on June 12, 1982 can’t be classified as solely a concert event. Nor can the attendance estimates of 750,000 to over one million be trusted at face value. But this largest ever political demonstration (which began with a march down 5th Avenue) did culminate with a series of superstar musical performances from a stage on the Great Lawn. Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, Joan Baez, Linda Ronstadt and Gary U.S. Bonds headlined this musical and political protest against the threat of nuclear weapons.
From 1983 – 1991, only the NY Philharmonic was given clearance to perform in Central Park. The mild-mannered classical music fans were obviously no threat to rowdy behavior, or a need for a mass police presence. It wasn’t until 1991 that the NYC Parks Department relented on their ban of pop music shows.
In June of 1993, legendary tenor, Lucinao Pavoratti, became the first opera star to headline Central Park in 75 years. He had been slated to perform there back in 1991, but that show was rained out. His ’93 performance on the Great Lawn was backed by the NY Philharmonic orchestra and drew an estimated 500,000 spectators. Millions more watched at home on the PBS cable network.
Five years later, New Jersey rockers, Bon Jovi headlined Central Park. This concert was organized by Major League Baseball as part of the festivities for the All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium. It took place on July 12, 2008. Like the Dave Matthews show, this event was also ticketed to keep down the numbers. 67,500 wristbands were distributed around the city, with only the first 50,000 being allowed on the Great Lawn. Many of the wristbands ended up being acquired and resold by ticket scalpers to the chagrin of true music fans. Still, the show was considered a triumph for the band and the lucky handful of loyal fans who managed to attend.
The most recent headliner to play Central Park was Opera sensation, Andrea Bocelli. His show on the Great Lawn took place on September 15, 2011. Bocelli was backed by the NY Philharmonic, and was joined on stage by such guest stars as Tony Bennett and Celine Dion. 70,000 attended this ticketed show, which took place under a light summer rain. The event was broadcast nationally by PBS. A live album of the concert reached # 4 on the Billboard chart a few months later.
On September 29th, 2012, The Global Citizen Festival was launched on the Great Lawn. The non-profit organization behind the event elected to utilize the glamour of a Central Park concert to raise awareness for global poverty and inequality. Foo Fighters, Neil Young and the Black Keys headlined the inaugural show before a ticketed crowd of 60,000.The most recent concert featured Coldplay, Beyonce, Pearl Jam and Ed Sheeran in 2015. If not the magical, carefree outdoor musical celebration of yesteryear, this seemingly annual event is probably the closest we’ll likely come to recapturing the spectacle of what a Central Park concert used to be. But for those of us lucky enough to have participated in the extravaganza of these open-air performances from the past, there will never be anything quite like the sights and sounds of half-a-million or more, all gathered in one hallowed venue, unified by music.