Growing up in New York in the late 70s, I looked forward every summer to the outdoor concert series held at the ice skating rink in Central Park. Although the shows weren’t free, they were cheap. During my tenure, orchestra seats started out at a mere $2.50 and were eventually raised to a still unthreatening $4.50. There was even a cheaper option for bleacher seats. You had to act fast in buying tickets since at these prices most shows were quick sell-outs.
Every year I waited for the schedule to be announced in either the Sunday New York Times or Village Voice. Tickets had to be bought in person with cash. For me this meant taking a trip on the Path train to the Korvette’s department store in Manhattan’s Penn Station on the day tickets went on sale.
The rink held somewhere between 6 and 7 thousand. It was a comfortable great-sounding venue offering general admission seating on folding chairs in the “orchestra” that were flanked by the cheaper bleacher seats on the back and sides. Back in my college days, I would usually skip a class or two to get there early for a good seat. This involved waiting most of the afternoon on a long line that meandered through the hilly nooks and crannies of the park. (At least it was shady!)
The concert series had two different beverage sponsors: Schaefer Beer (1967-1976) and Dr. Pepper (1977-1980). It was referred to as either the Schaefer or Dr. Pepper Music Festival. The series later moved to a pier on the west side and ended in 1988.
Looking back, I was surprised to find that I only attended 15 shows at the park. But as the above unused tickets reveal, I sometimes missed a show and didn’t worry about recouping the cost of the cheap ticket. Some of my favorite acts that I saw in the rink were John Sebastian, Poco, The Souther Hillman Furay Band (photo below), Peter Frampton, Hall & Oates, David Bromberg, Garland Jeffreys (opening for Bonnie Rait), Dan Fogelberg, Leo Sayer and Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes.
One of the interesting things about the shows in the park was that you could sit outside on the rocks and hear the music although you had no visibility. I did this with a few friends once for a sold out Dave Mason show and had a fun time. Legend has it that close to 10,000 did the same thing for Bob Marley.
The list of legendary artists who appeared in the early days of this series includes Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and The Who. There was one famous show in 1974 when a young lively Bruce Springsteen opened for a rather surprised Anne Murray audience.
There were some great musical moments at Central Park’s Wollman Rink and I am so glad I got to share in that experience. I just wish that I had seen more of these great shows.
Here is a newspaper advert announcing the schedule for the 1977 season.