Watching Simon and Garfunkel in Central Park

Simonandgarfunkelonstage2It’s hard to imagine how rundown Central Park was in the early 1980s. Neglect, graffiti, and lack of funds in a broke city left it a place of patchy grass and unkempt ball fields.

One way to raise much-needed funds to help restore it? Hold a benefit concert.

That’s what brought Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel together on a cool Saturday night in September 1981, harmonizing in front of 500,000 fans, who carpeted the lawn with blankets, beach chairs, and coolers.

SimonandgarfunkelcrowdThe show was free, but money raised from merchandising and HBO rights was supposed to net $70,000 to benefit city parks. Amazingly, the promoters made good on their promise.

“The restoration money, [Parks Commissioner Gordon J. Davis] says, paid for landscaping beyond any damage done, ”and the other funds have gone for a variety of projects running from graffiti removal from walls to some of our recreation programs dealing with troubled kids,'” wrote the New York Times almost a year later.

SgconcertincentralparkThat reference to damage done? The crowd left behind tons of beer cans, bottles, and other trash that cost $20,000 to clean up as soon as Simon and Garfunkel left the stage.

They weren’t the only stars to play Central Park in the late 1970s and 1980s: James Taylor, Elton John, and Diana Ross also sang on the Great Lawn.

But perhaps the most popular concert of all was the one given by Garth Brooks in 1997—which brought in 750,000 fans.

[Bottom photo: via mrtopten.com]

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10 Responses to “Watching Simon and Garfunkel in Central Park”

  1. realeyezlife Says:

    i was there (15 years old) and remember that day very well..I also remember when diana ross was there and the troubles that happened during and after :(

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    I remember watching the Diana Ross concert fallout on the TV news, with everyone running around in the rain. That’s a topic for another post!

  3. Audrey Burtrum-Stanley Says:

    SHORT MEMORY. Barbra Streisand sang in Central Park in the late 1960s. The show evolved into an LP and a television special. She sang over 30 songs in the actual live concert / most of which were never included in the other productions. (I remember the liner notes from the record included a list of some of the more bizarre items found amongst the litter including a ‘black widow corset’ – HA!) She walked on stage down a plexiglass set of stairs, which – from a distance – could not be seen. It seemed she was walking on air. (Terrific effect.) It had rained and the property – poorly maintained during that era – was a mud pit. Many of the orchestra objected to having their valuable wooden instruments in the wet location. Streisand sounded and looked glorious. She appeared in Fortuny silk form-fitting gown (all those in-the-know, swoon here); atop this was the show-stopping apparel. It was a full-length, filmy, pleated cape that billowed ‘n fluttered perfectly in the evening breeze. When Streisand held her arms out like an art nouveau goddess, she resembled the magical Loie Fuller.

    I saw it all on TV as a teenager and wish I could have been there in person – squat in the Central Park mud, girded-in by my ‘black widow corset’ — HAHAHA!

  4. Ricky Says:

    I was at the S&G show. I went with a bunch of friends and on the way in the crowd separated our group in 2 and we never saw the others again that night. We also never “saw” the show. When we finally found a place to sit we couldn’t see the stage, but we could hear the music. That was it for me and free concerts in Central Park,

  5. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    So I take it you didn’t see Barbra or Diana Ross or Garth?

  6. Tom B Says:

    Your description of Central Park, first paragraph, is accurate. I hope we never go back to those days. I don’t understand why New Yorkers still bash Rudy for cleaning up the city.

  7. Of Gardens Says:

    I remember this.

  8. Audrey Burtrum-Stanley Says:

    I wrote my comment about this website entry on July 3rd. I mentioned the concert by Striesand. THEN – on July 16th I got an Email from AMAZON wanting to know if I would be interested in purchasing Barbra Striesand Concert recordings. I have never even typed the name Striesand in any email previously and certainly not to Amazon, where I have NEVER purchased any music.

    This is to let everyone know there is some kind of search engine AMAZON must be using without our knowing. They pick out names or subjects — from our correspondence here, that are connected to what they are selling. (They are so huge, what AREN’T they selling!)

    It is frightening to consider an innocent discourse, on this wonderful site, was used to try to bolster the sales of some massive business. It was done in a secretive manner and I do NOT like it. The activity makes me wonder if anyone else got a notice from them too?

  9. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Wow, that is very creepy–I’m sorry they were able to do that, and I hope it doesn’t dissuade you or other readers from leaving comments.

  10. Upstate Ellen Says:

    I remember going to the Simon & Garfunkel with friends. I was a college freshman at the time. Likes Ricky Says, we couldn’t see the stage from where we were sitting, but we could hear the music and that was all that mattered to us.

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