There are plenty of outdoor concerts happening in the borough this summer, from classical music to noise rock, but no series draws the big names — and songs — of the Borough President’s “Seaside Summer Concert Series” and “Martin Luther King, Jr. Concert Series.”
The schedules for both were announced this week and the lineups are chock full of familiar names. The “Seaside Summer Concert Series” will open on Thursday, July 10 at Coney Island’s Asser Levy Park with a concert from Michael Bolton, the ’90s crooner who’s made his way back into the spotlight with an on-again off-again romance with “Desperate Housewives” star Nicolette Sheridan.
Four nights later, the “Martin Luther King, Jr. Concert Series” will open at Wingate Field in Crown Heights with a “Sweet Summertime Soul” concert featuring The O’Jays and The Manhattans.
“Each year that we do this, we constantly try to keep it at the highest level possible,” said Debra Garcia, the executive director and producer for both programs. “What’s always exciting about every year is that we manage to bring an amazing group of artists to Brooklyn to perform for [no charge to audience members]. It’s gratifying to be able to do that, and we were lucky to be able to book a lot of major artists. Each year, the excitement is being able to provide the experience we do.”
Indeed, over the course of the summer, both concert series will be featuring big-time performers. Marquee names like Erykah Badu (Aug. 4), Jill Scott (Aug. 11) and Patti LaBelle (Aug. 25) are scheduled to perform at Wingate, and former Beach Boy Brian Wilson (Ju ly 17), Liza Minnelli (Aug. 7) and Huey Lewis and the News (Aug. 21) will be taking the stage at Coney Island.
“The concert series has been going on for so long, that most bands know that we’re going to need acts in July and August, so they do come to us,” said Garcia. “Sometimes it’s the opposite, and we go to the acts we want to book. It goes both ways, but we’re very well known and respected within the music industry. We’re a place where people do want to play and also want to come back. For a promoter, that’s a major feather in your cap.”
Minnelli played to a roaring crowd in 2005, and after the show, she went to Astroland and rode the Cyclone! The “Cabaret” star returned to the Asser Levy Park stage in 2006 and this August show will be her third.
It isn’t just the performers that Garcia, and the Borough President, who is very hands-on with these events, want to see coming back, though. It’s the audiences. With “Martin Luther King, Jr. Concert Series” and “Seaside Summer Concert Series” celebrating their respective 26th and 30th birthdays, the concerts have become a mainstay of summertime in Brooklyn.
“We all know that Brooklyn is the epicenter of the arts in New York City, and when I started these shows 30 years ago, I decided to gradually work them up to a Las Vegas approach,” Borough President Markowitz told GO Brooklyn. “‘Celebrate Brooklyn’ started the same year we did, but their focus continues to be on new [talent]. Ours is a celebration of yesterday, as well as more focused on more traditional fare.
“We’ve got more hits! My greatest dream is that some day soon Aretha Franklin, Neil Diamond, Barry Manilow and Donna Summer will grace our stage. And, of course, Diana Ross. Some day soon.”
“These shows are my babies,” he added. “Just because our shows are free, though, doesn’t mean that the artists do it for free. It’s a mix of public and private money, and I think it’s a good spend.” Garcia said that the combined bill for both programs is close to $2 million.
The 100,000-plus people who attended the two series last year might agree with the beep that it’s a “good spend.”
“When you’re doing a free concert series, it’s a win-win. As long as you can raise the money to get it done, you just get to present the shows to the public, and it’s great for me to get to do that,” said Garcia. “For many people, if they had to [buy tickets], they wouldn’t get to see shows like this. I spend my year raising money to pay the performers and production costs. Putting on the show is very expensive.”
“I think it’s worth it,” maintained Garcia. “You can’t beat a night sitting outside in Brooklyn.”
“Seaside Summer Concert Series” will open with Michael Bolton in concert at 7:30 pm on July 10 at Asser Levy Park (Surf Avenue and West Fifth Street in Coney Island). “Martin Luther King, Jr. Concert Series” will open with The O’Jays at 7:30 pm on July 14 at Wingate Field (Brooklyn Road at Winthrop Street in Crown Heights). All concerts are free. For information and a complete schedule, call (718) 222-0600 or visit www.brooklynconcerts.com.