Historic Central Park Concert Numbers Questioned

The historical memory of recent Central Park concerts has been called into question in a recent New York Times article. Apparently the great concerts of central park weren’t so great after all, at least in terms of attendence numbers.

Here is an official history of attendance at great public gatherings in Central Park: James Taylor played in Central Park’s Sheep Meadow in the summer of 1979, and officials announced that 250,000 people came. A year later, Elton John performed on the Great Lawn, and the authorities said he drew 300,000 people. Then Simon and Garfunkel performed in September 1981, and city officials and organizers reported that 400,000 people had packed into the park. Ten years later, it was announced that Paul Simon drew 600,000. The biggest concert of all, it seems, was by Garth Brooks, on Aug. 7, 1997, at the North Meadow, with a reported attendance of 750,000 people.

This month’s Bon Jovi concert was actually counted and seems to have put serious doubt in these numbers.

Bon Jovi played on the Great Lawn, and the city’s official head count came to 48,538 people — a number tallied by parks workers with clickers at the entryways to the lawn. This total includes only the people admitted to the 13-acre oval that makes up the Great Lawn, and not any of those gathered in the walkways and swaths of ground to the east and west of the lawn.

Still, the Bon Jovi crowd was a fraction of the colossal throngs that are part of the city’s collective mythic memory. If fewer than 50,000 people were able to fill the oval, how could a half million more people get anywhere near the Paul Simon concert held in the same space?

Apparently, they didn’t. Former city parks administrator Doug Blonsky explained the previous numbers like this: “You would get in a room with the producer, with a police official, and a person from parks, and someone would say, ‘What does it look like to you?’ The producer would say, ‘I need it to be higher than the last one.’ That’s the kind of science that went into it.”

The record corrected?

One thought on “Historic Central Park Concert Numbers Questioned

  • September 3, 2014 at 1:20 am

    I was at most of these concerts and can’t say for any certainty how many people showed up. I just know there were a lot. LOL.

    During the 70’s (New Riders of the Purple Sage, James Taylor), 80’s (Elton John, Simon and Garfunkel) and 90’s (Paul Simon) there were no limits on the crowd. At the Paul Simon concert there were so many people they couldn’t all fit into the Great Lawn area but were also scattered all along the periphery of the lawn. It was the most I’ve ever seen. And a great concert.

    But I believe with the restoration of the lawn they began limiting the numbers to under 50,000. For the Sheryl Crow concert (1999) and Sting concert (2000) they held the concert on the East Meadow, North of the Great Lawn.

    Gotta love New York. Great free concerts in the park.


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