Simon and Garfunkel at SummerStage

Dar Williams - Stephen Kellogg

Dar Williams - Stephen Kellogg

Last night’s SummerStage Gala Benefit to raise funds for the Parks Foundation’s free music festival featured the songs of Simon and Garfunkel, and what better way to celebrate summer in the city than by enjoying the music of New York’s most legendary singing duo. The weather was perfect and after being introduce by Mayor Bloomberg, Art Garfunkel observed that he and Paul had always felt that some of the best interpretations of their music had been by others. On this night those words seemed especially apt – if not prescient.

The evening kicked off with a bouncing rendition of “We’ve Got A Groovy Thing Going Baby” by Dar Williams and Stephen Kellogg. This was followed by a smokingly soulful take on “Mrs. Robinson” by the Homes Brothers. With these first two songs the gauntlet was laid down and each successive act was challenged to keep up with the one before.

Aimee Mann

Aimee Mann

Next on the bill was “Baby Driver” featuring Jorma Kaukonen, one of several Simon & Garfunkel contemporaries to perform, and the multi-talented Larry Campbell. This was followed by a hauntingly evocative version of “Scarborough Fair” by Ollabelle, which also served brilliantly as the back-up band for the evening. Aimee Mann and John Roderick then took their turn with “The Only Living Boy In New York“, followed by Marc Cohn and Jonatha Brooke treating “Sounds of Silence” to their remarkably complementary vocal interpretation. As dusk turned to night, it seemed that each successive song built upon the last in a rising wave of good vibrations.

Loudon Wainright and Lucy Wainright Roche then sang “Bleecker Street“, which featured an impromptu dance by father and daughter. This was followed by another folk veteran, Livingston Taylor, combining with Jill Sobule on the “59th Street Bridge Song“, forever immortalized as “Feelin Groovy“. Corey Chisel and Brendan Benson then gave their take on the Andean flute classic “El Condor Pasa“, one of Paul Simon’s initial forays into rich oeuvre of international music. Veteran Ricky Skaggs then led Joan Osborne and Gordon Kennedy out onto the stage for a solid performance of that sixties anthem to adolescent angst (mine anyway) “I Am A Rock“. John Forté and the angelic Valerie June followed with Cecilia, Forté exhorting the crowd to clap along to the playful pop melody. Next “April, Come She Will” was given a beautiful interpretation by David Hines and Olivia Mori. The duo of Dean and Britta then leant their singular voices to “Homeward Bound

Shawn Colvin

Shawn Colvin

One of the high points of the evening was the combination of Shawn Colvin and Paula Cole giving a stirring rendition of “America“. Their brilliantly combined voices soaring into the Central Park night had the crowd on its collectively well-shod feet and was one of the most powerfully evocative performances of the evening.  Cole and Colvin made the song theirs in a way that few others had approached and took the night to an entire other level. The torch was then passed to Ben Gibbard and St. Vincent who answered with a suitably psychedelic version of “Fakin It” with St. Vincent’s distorted guitar wailing into the darkness.

Last on the menu, but by no means least, were songwriters Alejandro Escovedo and New York’s own Willie Nile giving a stirring rendition of “The Boxer” that had the crowd dancing in the aisles. This was followed by an ensemble encore with everyone on stage harmonizing to “Bridge Over Troubled Waters

Paul Simon

Paul Simon

The show’s production was flawlessly managed by City Winery’s Michael Dorf. The staff of SummerStage once again made the evening a complete success by their always attentive professionalism. The perfect evening with a good cause benefitting from brilliant performances as all the acts donated their time to the City Parks Foundation which makes the SummerStage free performances possible. Halfway through the evening Paul Simon joined the crowd and afterwards it seemed that everyone was reflecting his unassuming smile and charmingly unaffected good nature. A much more intimate night than the duo’s classic 1981 performance, but one that resonated through the Central Park night long after the lights had dimmed.

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