Sunday, May 15, 2005

Flushing the Bowl

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.]


Anonymous said...

I was at that July 13, 1969 concert. My first concert. Thanks for the details and the links. I actually remember that jam, although I didn't remember all the performers in it!

Henry said...

I was at the August 23, 1968 concert. The Soft Machine opened, followed by the Chambers Brothers, Janis Joplin with Big Brother & the Holding Company and last was the Jimi Hendrix Experience. I was seventeen and had bought the ticket at a local unix-sex clothing store for the kingly price at the time of $7.00. The people couldn't get around the Soft Machine, but once the Chambers Brothers got on, it was party time. When Janis came on stage she had a small bottle of Jack Daniels and saluted the people and again all hell broke loose. Then the MAN came on stage and just blew the place away. It was one of the best concerts, I ever went to.

Anonymous said...

I was there and 17 as well. It was sold-out but the guard let us climb over the short fence and sit on the concrete steps. I remember the same performance sequence. The SOFT machine, Chambers Brothers, Janis and then Jimmy. I arrived the see most of the Chamber Brothers who were good. Then everyone started chanting "Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy". Not everyone knew who Janis was, including me. Everone just wanted to see Jimmy. She came out and blew the house down. When she left they were chanting "Janis, Janis, Janis." Hendrix came out but it was a short set. People remember this as a Hendrix concert but the night belonged to Janis.

Debbie said...

I was at the August 23, 1968 concert with my then boyfriend. It was the most amazing concert I've ever seen in my life. We were both 17. We were so in love. We watched Jimi and nearly cried. Two months later we broke up. The concert was always vivid in my memories as was he. Forty two years later we met on facebook. We realized that we are as in love with each other now as we were then. Maybe more. The rest is history. Thank you Jimi for that.

Signed D.C. said...

Thank you Debbie--that's one of the best comments I've ever gotten. Getting choked up over here!

Still in Love with Debbie said...

I remember this concert like it was yesterday. Anyone remember the Soft Machine having pamphlets thrown out of a helicopter before their set? So my girlfriend and I sat on the floor seats just a few rows from the stage. They introduced Janis (as I recall her first NY appearance) and everyone's reaction was - "who"? Well that sure changed after the first few notes. Then the Chambers Bros and then JIMI!!

So yep, my girfriend broke up with me less than 2 months later. She married someone else. So did I. And only now do we realize that it was each other we loved all these years and her breaking up was a mistake.

Oh, I'm Debbie's old/new boyfriend and for the past 42 years whenever either one of us remembered this concert or anything to do with Jimi we remembered how much we were/are in love. (Debbie forgot to mention that her dog's name is Foxy).

Debbie said...

thank you very much is amazing .....


I am writing a book on my husband, LESTER CHAMBERS of THE CHAMBERS BROTHERS and would love any comments from fans who saw them at any of their many concerts. I can be reached @

Anonymous said...

I also was a 17 year old, the house must have been filled with us, when a friend and I climbed a fence to see Jimi and Janis perform. Best memories, besides sneaking past security, was hearing Joplin scream and Hendrix smashing his guitar. The place was a madhouse of thrilled teens.

Kevin Benjamin said...

I was 16 that wasn't easy to convince my parents to let me go, but I did. Sadly, I couldn't get a date, so I sat next to an empty seat for one the the best concerts of my life. I was about 15 rows back on the floor, and I remember getting pissed because the revolving stage seemed to stop facing the other direction much longer than in mine. Still, all four groups were great, although Jimi's set was short. Hard to believe we could hear four top groups for the price of a snackbar Coke today.

Tony Batiglia said...

Late Summer [8/23/69]I had the pleasure of seeing Albert King and two of the best vocal groups of their cless-Poco and the Chambers was a sweet venue on a beautiful night and the experience was an out door variant of all the mixed bag Fillmore East Shows I had attended-great value and pop for your money never sadly repeated

Anonymous said...

I was also 17 and at my first concert. Janis blew me away; The Chambers Brothers were solid as always; and Jimi was phenomenal. I distinctly remember that at one point in the set he split his pants, exposing his ass, and had to cover himself. He used a Confederate flag and played the rest of the show wearing it around his waist.