On a gorgeous September evening in 1981, a silent, enraptured audience suddenly broke into loud cheers as Art Garfunkel sang A Heart in New York, with its appropriate lyrics, "New York, lookin' down on Central Park."
Thirty-one years and 10 days later, some of the biggest names in music came to the Great Lawn for the Global Citizen Festival, including Neil Young with Crazy Horse, the Foo Fighters, and the Black Keys. The concert continued the glorious New York tradition of memorable performances set under a star-filled sky.
The list of artists who have performed is large and diverse: the New York Philharmonic, often led in the 1980's by the late, great Leonard Bernstein; the Metropolitan Opera with such musicians as the three tenors Luciano Pavarotti, Jose Carreras and Placidio Domingo; Andrea Bocelli in 2012; and rock stars Elton John (1980), Diana Ross (1983), Paul Simon (1991), Dave Matthews (2003), Bon Jovi (2009), and the Black Eyed Peas (2012).
But the Great Lawn was not always the luxurious green carpet that it is today, and Central Park was not always a well-maintained, safe sanctuary — as the complete lyrics sung by Art Garfunkel at that 1981 concert can attest: "New York, lookin' down on Central Park, where they say you should not wander after dark."
When those lyrics were written in 1977, Central Park had sadly become a derelict, deteriorated and dangerous place. The Central Park Conservancy was established three years later with a mission to restore, manage and enhance Central Park. With the help of supporters and volunteers over the last 30 years, the Conservancy has transformed the Park into the beautiful and beloved landmark it is today.
The Great Lawn — formerly known as the "Great Dust Bowl" — and its neighboring Turtle Pond were restored by the Conservancy in 1997. A two-year, $18.2 million project, the Lawn now features such innovations as planting the grass over a special soil mixture comprised of 90 percent sand, as well as designing a slight bowl-shaped landscape that helps to drain off storm water.
Today the area is cared for by the Conservancy staff of gardeners, tree and turf crews, a soil and water scientist, and a group of dedicated volunteers, ensuring that the Great Lawn stays as great as its name implies, and will continue to be an iconic venue for music in New York City.
Large concerts are not Conservancy events. For more information about Conservancy events, going on daily, visit the Central Park calendar.