My husband and I usually stay at a certain Manhattan hotel when visiting NYC, but it's all booked up this week, so we have a reservation at a new Ramada in Corona, my real hometown--overlooking scenic Grand Central Parkway and Shea Stadium. I've got to spend lots of time with what's left of my family (my mother passed away recently), so it's more convenient for my pops anyway. The hotel's proximity to Flushing Meadows Park (more pics/info here, here and here) is prompting me to ponder past rock and roll action in the area. I'll start with a long-lost hotbed of hippiedom:
(Via The Bowery Boys.)
SINGER BOWL--At the northern edge of Flushing Meadows, near the Shea Stadium/Willets Point stop on the 7 train. The Singer Bowl was an open-air stadium built for the '64 World's Fair and apparently sponsored by the Singer sewing machine company. Seems it was used primarily for sporting events until the late '60s, when it became a major venue for big summer rock shows. Some notables who played there:
The Doors, with the Who and the Kangaroo as openers, performed on August 2, 1968--an event which caused a riot, though of course volatility was not uncommon at Doors gigs (or Who shows for that matter!). There's a ticket stub for sale here, and the Doors' setlist for the night can be read here.
[UPDATE 5/14/2010: Quite a bit of footage from the Doors show wound up in When You're Strange, as shown on PBS the other night. Not so much of the band performing, but you do get to see Morrison mingling with some people in the crowd before the show (including a guy selling Who programs), and of him backstage comforting a girl who got hit with a chair during the melee. I tried to see if there was more on youtube, but no dice...however, I did find audio of "Light My Fire," and of the Who's whole set.]
Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company and the Jimi Hendrix Experience were the big draws on August 23, 1968. This show is often called the New York Rock Festival, but I've seen the Doors/Who show referred to as such also--perhaps this was an overall title for concerts at the Singer that summer. I'm not absolutely sure who else was on the bill, but it may have included the Soft Machine and the Chambers Brothers, if this guy's memories are correct. Audio and video of Hendrix's set has been well-circulated among Jimi-philes.
[Oddly, this August 23 date conflicts with a reference I found for a bill featuring Country Joe and the Fish, the Byrds, and the 1910 Fruitgum Company.]
[UPDATE 5/25/2012: I just found some vintage reviews and photos for this show at a French Hendrix fan forum. And a lady who attended the show recently posted a couple of Janis snapshots at the "You Know Your [sic.] From Flushing" FB group.]
Two of the NYC-area's finest, The (Young) Rascals and the Vagrants, shared a bill there on August 30, 1968--here's a ticket stub.
The Singer Bowl Music Festival happened on July 13, 1969, and appears to have been the heaviest show in the stadium's history. I haven't seen a copy of the full bill, but based on various websites I've perused, it included the Edwin Hawkins Singers, Raven, Jethro Tull, Ten Years After, Vanilla Fudge, the Jeff Beck Group, and Led Zeppelin--plus a jam session (no late-'60s fest was complete without one) comprising various members of those last three bands.
Later that summer, Poco, the Chambers Brothers and Albert King shared a bill on August 23. On August 29-30, Zeppelin played the Bowl again, with support from Buddy Guy and Foreplay, which featured Larry Coryell, Cream's Jack Bruce, and Mitch Mitchell from the Hendrix Experience. The Jimmy Castor Bunch played the Bowl in the early '70s, but I can't confirm the date.
On July 4, 1973, the Bowl was rededicated as the Louis Armstrong Stadium, a fitting tribute to Corona's most famous longtime resident. A concert in honor of what would have been Satchmo's 73rd birthday was held there that summer (presumably on August 4, though I haven't confirmed the date), featuring Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Eubie Blake, Gene Krupa and other jazzbos. But the stadium's days as a music venue were numbered. In 1978, Armstrong Stadium was adapted for use as a tennis facility called the USTA National Tennis Center, and it became the new home of the U.S. Open (formerly held at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills--a place with its own musical legacy, to be discussed in a future entry). Armstrong Stadium still stands today, albeit in a much-renovated form; it serves as a supplemental facility to the larger Arthur Ashe Stadium, which was built beside it in 1997. Thousands still flock to the area every summer--but instead of rock and roll, they're more likely to hear grunting tennis players, balls whacked against racquets, and the otherworldy hum of the Fuji blimp circling overhead.
I'll cover more of Flushing Meadows' musical happenings next time.
[UPDATE 5/23/2010: Why I failed to learn about or mention the important role that Gary Kurfirst played in all of this until just now is a mystery for the ages.]
[UPDATE 6/17/2020: Here's an ad for the 1969 season from the 6/5/69 issue of the Village Voice. It's incomplete, so I'll keep looking for revised versions of the ad in the archives.]
[UPDATE 3/15/2012: Revised and updated post on Singer Bowl and NY Pavilion ads here.]