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Manhattan College: A Rock and Roll Retrospective (Part 2)

by  Joe LiggioAsst. News Editor

In its immediate wake, Manhattan College’s Summer ‘70 Scholarship Concert Series at Gaelic Park was avowed as a success by its organizers, having garnered positive public relations for the institution and scholarship money for students through top acts like the Guess Who, Chicago and Three Dog Night

Yet despite the overall appearance of a smash hit, some on campus began to raise questions as to the true outcomes of the series upon the return to school for the 1970-71 academic year.

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A Quadrangle editorial featured in the paper on Sept. 11, 1970 was quick to call to attention several issues regarding the use of the summer’s profits and future entertainment on campus.

“We cannot concur with the general approval and avowed success of the summer music series that seems to pervade the campus. Summer ‘70 should not have happened the way it did … The concerts were publicized under the guise of a scholarship series. There is a possibility that this was the intent of the directors, but to do it with no set plans for the allocation of funds causes us to doubt their sincerity,” read the editorial. “Another disappointing factor in the whole affair is the fact that there are no concerts slated for this fall.”

Manhattan student Louis Zayaz, who was hired to work on set-up for the series, was quick to point out other failures of the summer that occurred behind the scenes. These ranged from last-minute seating changes and lack of adequate security to uneven pay scales for the local youth and Manhattan students hired to arrange chairs during eight hour workdays at Gaelic Park.

“It seems that the promoters of the concert series had more concern for money than they did for the people working for them and the people attending the concerts,” wrote Zayas in a Quadrangle editorial from Sept. 29.

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Inquiries into missing money and the final allocation of scholarship funds went unanswered, and no official report detailing the financial proceeds of the Summer ‘70 Series was ever published by concert organizers.

On-campus concerts for the 1970-71 school year proved to be under whelming, featuring no major acts at any Manhappenings, which were marked by low attendance. It was obvious that Manhattan required better planning and outside assistance if there was to be any shot at a successful concert series for the summer of 1971.

Kevin Brenner, the same promoter who had worked with the college on the last two concert series’, approached Manhattan with the idea for a third in early 1971, promising no risk to the college and a guarantee of $2500 dollars regardless of the outcome of the summer. Initially hesitant, student government grudgingly agreed to give Brenner another chance after he promised to bring in additional help from National Campus Concerts (NCC), another concert production agency.

Things looked like they were finally on the right track, until NCC went bankrupt within days of signing a contract with Manhattan College and booking a June show with the Jefferson Airplane.

“Manhattan was left with no promoter, a contract … and a few pipe dreams about a hugely successful concert series and a handful of scholarships,” read one Quadrangle article from August of 1971.

Brenner managed to secure the assistance of a second agency, Premier Talent, led by president Frank Barcelona who quickly took the reins on the project. While discussing the possibility of bringing rock group Black Sabbath to Gaelic, Barcelona reached out to Howard Stein, owner of the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, N.Y. Stein already had Black Sabbath booked for his own venue that summer.

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“Barcelona indicated that conflicting shows would hurt the Capitol, given its size, and not Gaelic Park. He suggested contacting Stein to see if he might be interested in Manhattan’s concert plans. The idea caught fire and Barcelona offered to talk to Stein about the possibility of the Capitol producing the Gaelic series,” the editorial said.

Stein made his way to W. 240th St and Broadway to inspect Gaelic Park, saw potential, and jumped on the idea to host a concert series in conjunction with Manhattan. The third Summer Scholarship Concert Series was a go.

The series kicked off on July 7 1971 with a show headlined by Cat Stevens, Carly Simon, and Jonathan Edwards, with just over 5,500 in attendance.

They were followed by Yes, Humble Pie and Mountain on July 23, this time with a crowd of over 8,000. The show ended in a small frenzy after Mountain played past their 11:30 pm curfew, police cut power to the stage, and concert-goers began throwing empty bottles. However the commotion ended without major incident; no one was hurt and the series continued with Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper and Black Oak Arkansas on July 28.

At all three of these shows was a 14-year old Theresa Daly, a born and raised Riverdale resident who attended almost every concert hosted at Gaelic Park that summer.

“I remember hitting the corner of [West 240th Street] and Broadway and all you could see were people,” said Daly. “The place [was] covered in either tye dyed tees or plaid lumberjack shirts … the crowds filtered [through the] one little corridor at the ticket booth to get in.”

The July concerts were supposed to have closed out with the Grateful Dead, arguably the biggest name out of all the acts of the summer series, but rain would postpone the show to the following month. Thousands of fans, told that the Dead would play rain or shine, showed up to Gaelic Park on July 30 only to find out that the concert had been called off at the last minute.

“Despite the fact that the dead refused to play in the rain, the sound people refused to set up in the rain [and] Gaelic Park was a mudhole, Stein did not announce the cancellation until the last possible moment … the police had to close off 240th Street in accordance with the series permit and direct away the onrushing Dead fans who had been told all day that the concert was on,” read a Quadrangle article following the cancellation.

August saw concerts featuring Ten Years After, Edgar Winter’s White Trash and the Jefferson Airplane, who finally had the chance to perform after signing the initial contract with Manhattan College during the spring semester.

Daly described what the general atmosphere was like at a given show.

“Once inside you were on your own to find a seat. We always got somewhere in the front … towards the front of the middle of the pitch,” said Daly. “You had the field covered in people … On the left if you looked up people were just sitting on top of the fences … there wasn’t a free spot to be seen.”

She recalled marijuana and bottles of cheap wine being passed around the crowds at many of the shows.

“The scent of weed, as illegal as it was, permeated the air. There were no police on duty as far as I could tell or even thought to look for.”

Fifteen thousand concert-goers filed into Gaelic Park on Aug. 26, 1971 to see the re-scheduled Grateful Dead play. Carman Moore’s review of the show, featured in the Sept. 2 edition of the Village Voice, captured much of the feeling at the park that day.

“Last Thursday it happened in the drab little Riverdale soccer field Howard Stein has managed to turn into a summer rock mini-festival. It reminded me of a high school stadium I used to know – low stands, unfulfilled infield grass, mud holes here and there, beer sold at one end in some quantity. The formal shape of the concert was a general crescendo, light at the beginning and heavy-groovy at the end – not a shooting-star, call-the-law finale, just a heightened physical-emotional climate… the goods delivered as promised… sort of like good preaching in a church known to be a happy place.”

The Dead played for hours, performing roughly 30 songs by the time the local curfew ended things just before midnight.

“First they got the rhythm engaged and finally, courtesy of Jerry Garcia’s lead and interplays with [Phil] Lesh and [Bob] Weir, they went into the soloing and jamming which are the real magic music territory of this band,” wrote Moore. “In the middle of ‘St. Stephen’ there was a special coming together … it built; it quieted; Garcia started to play strange classical kind of lines; the drums dropped out; the audience got quiet; nothing at all could be predicted for a minute or so; then Lesh began to grope his way out with two chords and rhythms which began to regularize; audience began to jump and then to clap; guitars began to straighten out; the band came home to the cheers of the fans.”

The cost of a general admission ticket that night: four dollars.

English prog-rock supergroup Emerson, Lake and Palmer closed out the Manhattan-Stein concert series on Sept. 1, 1971. 20 percent of the summer’s profits went to the college, a total of $7,500.

Having arranged and produced the first successful concert series for Manhattan, Stein pushed for another to follow in 1972, but officials at the college were hesitant.

“Although enthusiasm seems high from Stein’s end, administration sentiment may not reach such heights due to strong consideration of neighborhood reaction to the concert series,” read one Quadrangle article from Dec. 8, 1971. “Even though no serious incidents were recorded last summer, the surrounding area appears very adverse to the idea of another concert series.”

In Jan. 1972, Jerome Cashman, vice president of student services at Manhattan, announced that the school would not sponsor another series, citing ‘unalterable opposition’ by the college community. This decision would ultimately signal the end of Manhattan’s involvement in future concerts at Gaelic Park.

Stein booked Summer ‘72 directly through the owners of Gaelic, arranging a seven concert series that would kick off with a return visit from the Irish Rovers, who had played at Summer ’69, on June 22, 1972.

The Allman Brothers headlined the next show on July 17, 1972, and were joined on stage by Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead for an impromptu rendition of “Mountain Jam” at the end of their set.

Jeff Beck, Blue Öyster Cult, Yes, the J. Geils Band, Jefferson Airplane, Humble Pie and Edgar Winter were just some of the acts featured the following month, before the series closed with a show featuring Deep Purple, Silverhead and Fleetwood Mac on Aug. 31.

With the end of Summer ‘72, Gaelic Park’s epoch as a venue for legendary rock concerts had essentially come to an end. While the athletic field would host shows sporadically afterwards, including Chuck Berry and Dave Mason who both played there in 1975, Gaelic would never again live up to its legendary performances of the late 60s and early 70s, some of which were, quite surprisingly, sponsored by the college.

While the razing of Gaelic’s original banquet hall and bar earlier this month further manifests the changing times, the memories still remain for many who made their way to West 240th Street to sit and listen to the music decades ago.

Looking back on the shows she attended, Theresa Daly fondly remembers the atmosphere and positivity that emanated from the park on all of those summer nights.

“Every concert was peaceful, the people came and were happy, I never saw a fight which is pretty surprising when you’re putting several thousand people into the park with drink in the Bronx,” said Daly. “It was a time of peace and love.”

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