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The Who Arrive Late, Beatles News Arrives Early, Central Park, August 1968

Posted: 07/ 1/11 11:29 AM ET

Well, I can't help myself. This is (mostly) about The Who... again!


The Who performed just once (well, twice ... there were early and late shows -- 8 and 10:30pm -- back then) in Central Park, August 7th, 1968 as part of what was called The Schaefer Festival (Yes, the one beer to have when you're having more than one). It was held at the Wollman (ice skating) Rink. The rink was built sunken into the ground, surrounded by tiny hills. Broke? You could sit on one of these hills and hear the whole show ... and from some vantage points, even see the show, free.

All together, all summer, from late June, 1968 through September, 1975, there were at least two or three shows a week. Some incredible bills. Just a tiny fraction list of the acts that performed over the years ... The Kinks, Led Zeppelin, Fats Domino, Frank Zappa, BB King, Miles Davis, Ray Charles, Bob Marley, Bruce Springsteen, Aerosmith, Muddy Waters, Tammy Wynette, Allman Bros, Dizzy Gillespie ... A crazy amount of legends.

Amazingly enough, this yearly festival was co-founded by Hilly Kristal!
Yes, about six years before he opened CBGB.


Anyway, a huge Schaefer Beer Presents sign was nailed along the bottom edge of the stage all summer, every summer. This slick professionally painted plank of wood, complete with Schaefer logos in full color on either end, was about 4 feet high by about 30 feet long. More on this sign in a minute...


That night, The Who got lost in Central Park for almost 45 minutes trying to find the rink, which is actually hard to miss, in dead east/west center of the park about an 1/8th of a mile north of the southern border, 59th St. Still, after dark, that park's twisting paths and one-lanes are confusing.

For The Who, it must've been like a cross between the end of The Shining and the trying-to-find-the-stage scene in Spinal Tap. By the time The Who did get onstage it was obvious they were furious. And not just ever-moody Pete. Even jolly Roger was fuming as they blasted into the New York debut of John Enwistle's masterpiece, "Heaven & Hell" (starting with a new unheard song... whatta band!).

Of course, with The Who, real anger just made for a better show.

I'd once read a Pete interview where he said that whenever The Who were suffering through an awful show, they'd play "Daddy Rolling Stone" (the import-only B-side of their second single, "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere"... a great, but, to even most Who fans, unknown R&B song). The Who's theory: that particular song would bring the audience's excitement down to the same low level of the band's. Then, they'd plunge into "My Generation" being sure to wreck enough equipment to totally negate any possible encore. August 7th, 1968, was the only time I ever saw them do "Daddy Rolling Stone." Of course, I was thrilled!


Anyway, the next song was, indeed, "My Generation."

As they hit the nihilistic coda, Pete very deliberately walked to the edge of the stage and with great purpose, systematically started whacking the top of the Schaefer Beer sign with a nice old sunburst Fender Stratocaster ... clear across the length of the stage while the guitar was still plugged in, groaning and screaming.

The entire sign eventually fell about 12 feet and broke in the photographer's pit. No, the guitar didn't survive either. Not remotely. Worth about $20,000 now if he'd just put it back in it's case...

I am ashamed/proud to say that I got singled out by the singer of The Mandala, who were the opening act for both shows. I was with a few friends. We'd seen and dug the Mandala when they were on the Murray the K show bill with The Who a little over a year earlier. But we were dismayed by their new singer. The guy looked like a poodle. He was proficient in that ersatz-soul Three Dog Night-style singing, heavy on the vibrato and empty-calorie histrionics. He'd ruined the band. We ignored them.

But, when they walked out on stage for the second show, it hit us that we had 30 minutes of this garbage to plow through again. Now, in 1968, a year before Tommy, Who fans, for the most part, were there because The Who's sound and act best expressed their (the fans) general teenage angst/anger/confusion/hatred of the world and authority.

The exhortation, "SMASHYERGUITARPETE!" was commonplace at Who shows.

I was wildly in love with their songwriting, words, music, their incredibly innovative musicianship. But, the excitement and outrage of the last 30 seconds of a Who show back then pretty much equaled the rest of the entire package.

With the second set by Mandala underway, I will confess, I started it. But within about 10 seconds of me shouting "Get off the stage! We want The Who!" from about the 6th row, I'd been joined by 100+ pissed off Who fans. The over-emoting poodle had seen me start the whole thing up (I was standing on my chair). He pointed straight at me and shouted...

"If this little punk'll just shut up..."

"FUCK YOU FUCK YOU FUCK YOU FUCK YOU FUCK YOU..." straight back at him, our eyes meeting.

Bedlam broke out. Two thirds of the audience was now out for blood. Chants of "Fuck You!" broke out. Other factions chanted "Who!" like hoodlum Hari Krishnas.

Mandala was off the stage after two and a half songs.

The Who were in a much better mood for the second show, so it was a bit of a letdown.
But, it was the show that Pete first used the Gibson SG Special model (like the one he threw me almost two years later ... that he'd be using exclusively for the next several years).

As they slammed into the coda of "My Generation," Pete threw the SG straight up 20 feet. When it landed, the neck flew away from the body that instantly split in half. Pete, used to the ruggedness of Fenders, glanced over at John Entwistle with a bemused "WTF?!" look. The Ox just shrugged.

Pete suddenly had nothing to do. Consequently, this show stands out for the way he trashed his Sound City amps with comic theatricality and real damage.

And, as my Dad once pointed out to Pete, his drummer was "very tympanic."



The cool Beatles addendum...

While we were waiting for the second show to begin, there was suddenly this burst of commotion a few rows ahead of me. Some girl about my age (15), or a year or two older, had just reunited with about six pals she obviously hadn't seen in awhile. Shrieks of delight, cheers, "Oh My God"s, etc. Everyone laughing and yelling at once.

I eavesdropped.

This girl had just gotten back from London that very day and had come straight to this Who concert from the airport. She started breathlessly (gasping!) telling this incredible story about how she'd been part of a promo film that The Beatles had just made for this amazing new song that they were gonna release that fall. Her friends were dazzled.
"Oh my God, it was so great. I was standing between Ringo's drum kit and George. And get this! The song is seven minutes long!!!" [What?!?]

My friend, Anthony rolled his eyes... "She's tripping!"

All her friends were flipping out, giddily congratulating her. Naturally, I was utterly intrigued, but, definitely "Yeah, sure!" skeptical about the whole thing ... although this girl and her friends all seemed sane and even kinda cool looking, actually. About a week later, I found out that my dear friend, David, who a few years later would be going to see Bowie at Radio City Music Hall with me (without tickets), knew this girl and all her friends.


A month later, on September 8th, 1968, the famous film clip of "Hey Jude" debuted on David Frost's show. I was sitting on my bed watching it with my sister and a few friends. About three minutes in, as The Beatles hit the beginning of the big "Na Na Na Nananana" coda, dozens of "civilians" ran up and surrounded The Beatles. And ... at exactly 4:00 on this Youtube clip... There she is!

The girl at The Who concert is exactly where she said she was ... Between Ringo and George. She's the sorta tall girl with short dark hair, a long nose, wearing a dark green jacket and an eggplant purple t-shirt. She shows up several times, but, at 6:38 - 6:41, she's onscreen with just one other person ... Ringo Starr and they are swaying in unison!

Oh, Girl At The Who Concert In Central Park In 1968, you are truly immortal!