New York Country

August 8, 1997 -- Brad Berson

Depending on whose numbers you trust, country music mega-star Garth Brooks and a couple of surprise guests at Thursday night's free Central Park concert attracted between 200,000 and 800,000 people. That's not bad in a city that can barely sustain a single country music radio station. Who'd have thought! Either there's a lot of country music fans in the NYC Metro area, or people will go to any event that's free.

I had the great fortune to be next to a couple of rednecks who showed up drunk and stupid, and who became more thoroughly stupid as they finished smoking their joints. Their non-stop yelling "wah-hoo" and "I love you man" really helped make this concert a special time for me, but I didn't fully realize my appreciation for these two men until one of them carelessly dropped the smoldering butt of his Marlboro on my blanket and burned a hole in it.

I'll thank my girlfriend now for convincing me not to set fire to these two drunken idiots. Very tempting, that was. I'm all for people being able to smoke in public places. In fact, I don't mind if they burn to a crisp. ...which reminds me... country fans seem to be highly over-represented for smoking. In spite of the open-air concert, I've been blowing my nose and seeing black for a full 18 hours since. I feel like I spent three hours snorting the exhaust of a diesel bus.

Not everyone was as obnoxious as my two neighboring fans, but a good number will still drunk and/or just plain inconsiderate. I should have known better than to think that a mere blanket would be enough to claim some personal space. As it gained footprints from latecomers stumbling their way hundreds of feet through the outfield for a better view, all I could do was cringe and maybe try to trip the most invasive offendors. By halfway through the concert anybody with common sense folded their blankets in resignation and stood for the rest of the concert, trying to keep people from trampling the folded remains of their belongings while still enjoying the show.

CopterThroughout the concert, helicopters buzzed above, partially drowning out the sound reinforcement system as it attempted to overcome the vast acreage of humanity and all the yelling and cheering. When we got home and saw the tape from HBO, it sure looked good. Seeminlgy the folks at HBO made a choice to increase the noise pollution at the park for the benefit of a few video clips of the concert -goers from above. As one of the thousands of concert attendees, I would have preferred to hear the music. Thanks anyway.

The concert was also viewable on huge television screens placed across the park. Strangely, the pre-concert show was not broadcast to the screens.

Billy Joel and Don Maclean made guest appearances, and the former seemed to have gotten more cheers than Garth Brooks himself! The guest appearances were brief but gave Garth a well-deserved break. The guests performed on their own as well as with Garth.

Garth Brooks has proved himself quite the showman. On what must have been the largest stage ever created - a stage that required remote controlled cameras on high-speed railways to cover the action - Garth made a fantastic effort to be visible to as many fans as possible. Lighting was fantastic, his presence was outstanding, and his voice held up well even in spite of running hundreds of feet back and forth trying to cover the audience on that immense stage. The sound system was decent, if a little too bassy or not enough midrange. Possibly if I were closer the sound would have been better. Or maybe it was those darn helicopters.

New Yorkers proved once again that they can generate more filth and garbage than anyone else in the country and leave it casually on the ground in their wake. Concert -goers left the park strewn with empty and not-so-empty bottles, cans, food and wrappings, and even their blankets as they all clamored for inadequate exit paths. Huge signs asking visitors to leave their trash in receptacles were conspicuously ignored.

Leaving the park proved to be almost as entertaining as being there in the first place. Police around West 96th closed many streets around that entrance but did not divert traffic from Central Park West. Police were then stuck with the task of managing pedestrian and vehicle traffic at the park exits. Imagine if you can, a few cops on horses holding back 100,000 people. If they hadn't all been tired and drunk there would have been a riot.

If there's anything good to say about the concert aftermath, it's only that there was no rioting or muggings or looting like after some other concerts. Local bars had windfalls of epic magnitude.

Next time I'll stay home and watch TV.

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