Iconic Concerts in Central Park

Concerts have been a major draw to Central Park since its founding. We thought we’d give you a little rundown of some of the top concerts the park has hosted. In doing this, we’re not making a judgment call – one man’s Demi Lovato is another man’s Beethoven. We get it. We chose to feature these performances because they were the most highly attended in the history of the park, and some of the most highly attended in the history of concerts! Though exact crowd counts are notoriously murky, safe to say these shows were overwhelmingly attended. Probably in no small part because they were all free.

Everyone loves to see couples get back together. Simon and Garfunkel resumed their rocky relationship for the second time in Central Park on Sept 19, 1981. The park had fallen into a severe state of disrepair in the 1970s, and the proceeds from this reunion were allocated to its redevelopment and maintenance. How does a free concert have any proceeds?  HBO broadcast the performance which was also released as the duo’s first live album, The Concert in Central Park. The city reaped about $51,000 in profits from merchandising, television and video rights. The crowd was estimated at 500,000.

The next free benefit concert was held on July 23, 1983 by Diana Ross. Proceeds from merchandise sales and 7.5 percent of the profits from the live telecast on Showtime were allocated to build Central Park’s first children’s playground, however the concert didn’t go as expected. About 25 minutes into it the rain started pouring down. Miss Ross defiantly declared, “it took me a lifetime to get here, I’m not going anywhere.” And damn she looked good singing in that downpour. Thirty minutes later, however, Ross made the decision on her own that the show had to end and would resume the following night. Estimates of attendance range from 450,000-800,000, but this concert ended up being a financial catastrophe with a loss of over $2 million for the city between the cost of the two productions, the clean-up and the spate of crimes and rowdiness at the close of the concert the following night (171 people filed complains, 83 were arrested and 41 were injured). To ensure the construction of the playground, Ross wrote a personal check for $250,000, which was larger than the total amount of money raised from all Central Park concerts since 1967.

After the crimes that closed the Diana Ross concert, Parks Commissioner Henry Stern banned concerts in Central Park that might attract violence (like that thug-magnet Diana Ross…). So it was a risky chance the park took with its next large free concert three years later on July 5, 1986. The park hosted the New York Philharmonic and the rowdy crowds they attract. The Philharmonic now often plays free concerts in Central Park, but over 800,000 turned out that year to celebrate the rededication of the Statue of Liberty. This concert produced the largest crowd ever for a classical music concert. Shockingly, no incidents of violence were reported.

Philharmonic Photo Credit (above): Noise Addicts

Though the New York Philharmonic concert is generally credited as the largest in the park’s history, according to the New York City Fire Department it’s a country boy that brought out the most attendees in this city. Garth Brooks took the stage in Central Park on August 7, 1997 with surprise guests Billy Joel and Don McLean, who joined in for an acoustic version of “American Pie.” In May of 1998, the New York Fire Department officially announced the final attendee numbers at 980,000. Either Mr. Brooks has friends in high places, or his concert was the largest ever held in Central Park.

Come join the masses at one of this year’s concerts in Central Park!

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Comments on “Iconic Concerts in Central Park

  • cynthia ann

    I love you simon garfunkel

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