On a perfect Summer Solstice evening in Central Park Jon Bon Jovi crooned “Who Says You Can’t Go Home” and just about everybody in the crowd of benefit goers joined Peter Yarrow on “Blowin’ in the Wind.” It was all to raise funds for SummerStage – and to honor legendary rock impresdario Ron Delsener and the amazing array of music he brought to Central Park starting in the ’60s, when seats were $1 thanks to sponsor Rheingold Beer.
“They threw me out of Central Park 35 years ago; I’m back tonight,” Delsener reminisced while accepting his award. He also shared anecdotes including a backstage conversation with Ray Charles, encountering a guy dressed in plastic on Madison Avenue, and a hot-dog vendor who made off with most of the hot dogs. In an accompanying video, he walked around the park and shared memories of the night George Harrison showed up when Tina Turner was playing, Led Zeppelin agreeing to play for almost nothing, the crowds that came out for Simon & Garfunkel, Elton John’s costume changes, and building a stage on Sheep Meadow for Barbra Streisand in 1967.
While New York’s parks department takes care of physical maintenance, the City Parks Foundation focuses on programming. In addition to concerts, the charity brings the parks recreational programs like tennis or track and field.
Delsener himself assembled the line-up for a concert that followed the family-style dinner set up on the grounds of SummerStage. Paul Shaffer was the band leader, saxophonist David Sanborn joined for two tunes, and Idina Menzel sang Radiohead’s “Creep” after telling the crowd how Delsener discovered her, and made a “Long Island Jewish girl’s dreams come true.”
Father Guido Sarducci, an ’80s fixture of “Saturday Night Live,” provided a comic interlude by introducing his invention — small food plates designed to rest on one’s shoulder, which he demonstrated over his robes. One possible use at a party, he said: a place to rest the appetizer you took a bite of and didn’t like, warning others not to try it.