Why NY’s Summer Of 1977 Defined The Greatest Concert Season Ever

New York Summer of 1977

Historians and journalists often pinpoint the summer of 1977 in New York as the time of the great Blackout and Summer of Sam. Obviously, those two events had a significant impact on New York City residents. Anyone who endured the terror of living life while the Son of Sam killer was still on the lose will never forget the horrors of that situation. The New York City Blackout was another extraordinary event in which looting and pandemonium caused great fear for those living within the darkened streets and powerless apartments in the city. These are memories that most of us who lived through it care to forget more than remember.

Fortunately, this article’s focus is not on those grim memories but rather a summer filled with music. Not just music played on the radio or in the park, but rather music performed live by some of the greatest rock bands of all time. New York’s Summer of 1977 was the summer when the biggest rock bands of all time came to New York to perform. There has never been another summer like it. I was fifteen at the time and I experienced it all first hand. This is what it was like.

One must remember that in 1977, there was no MTV, no computers, no internet, no cell phones. The only form of media were newspapers, radios and a small amount of television channels. If one wanted to see their band perform in concert, the only opportunity was hoping they would make an appearance on television on shows such Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert or the Midnight Special. These were music shows that ran about sixty to ninety minutes and only appeared once a week on television usually late on Friday and Saturday nights. Of course the other opportunity to see your favorite bands was to buy a concert ticket to go see them in the flesh, The New York Summer of 1977 made them happen big time.

The two big concert arenas in New York were and still are, Long Island’s Nassau Coliseum and Manhattan’s Madison Square Garden. These were the two arenas in which most of the big time concerts occurred during the Summer of 1977. However, they weren’t the only ones. Long Island hosted the Calderone Concert Hall and Commack Arena for some pretty spectacular shows in 1977. Of course, Manhattan was filled with smaller venues than MSG that also hosted great concerts.

All these great concerts that occurred during the Summer of 1977 shared one very significant factor; affordable ticket prices. Most of the concerts that I attended during that summer had ticket prices ranging between five and ten dollars. Even with adjustments for inflation, concert ticket prices were incredibly affordable in the 1970s. To define just how affordable concert ticket prices were all we have to do is compare movie theater and concert ticket prices in 1977 to those in 2020. The average concert ticket price in 1977 was $7.50. I have a box full of ticket stubs from 1977 and that’s what they average out to be.

The average price for a movie ticket in 1977 was between $1.75 and $2.50 depending on the theater. When Star Wars opened in 1977, (yes we called it Star Wars, not a New Hope) the ticket prices were about $ 2.25.(1) So, in essence a concert ticket cost about two to three times more than a movie ticket. In 2020, Regal Cinemas charge between $10.00 and $13.50 for a movie ticket. Billy Joel’s MSG 2020 tickets range from around $105.00 to $475.00(2) and up before the secondary market. The Rolling Stones were charging $350.00 for upper deck stadium seats and around $1500.00 to $2500.00 for lower level seats. This is what the Stones were charging, not scalpers. So when comparing move tickets to concert tickets in 2020, concert tickets cost ten to two hundred and fifty times more than a movie theater ticket. A huge difference when compared to 1977 differences. That’s not inflation, that a complete change in culture among many other things

It was important to make those comparison because the affordably of concert ticket prices is what helped fuel the concert scene in 1977, which in turned catapulted record sales and helped pay for bands to afford more studio time in which they created more of those classic 1970 albums, It all worked perfectly.

Our New York Summer Of 1977 Concert list will start in May and end in September. I have listed as many as I can remember and researched. If I have left out a show that you attended, let me know and I will add it to the list. There were also many great shows during the rest of the year, but this article will just focus on that legendary summer of 77.

Even though we are starting in May, I have to mention the Boston concert at Madison Square Garden in April of 77. Boston was huge in 1977. Their debut album had been released in the Fall of 1976. Fans went nuts over Boston. However, the opening act for the show was a little known singer named Sammy Hagar. I had never heard of him before, only fans of the band Montrose may have known who he was. Nonetheless, the man blew Boston of the stage.(3) It was a fitting way to get ready for the MSG Summer of 1977. Oh, and one more, Queen played a series of amazing shows at The Garden in February with Thin Lizzy in 1977 that were simply killer.

May 1977

Commack Arena (Long Island Arena)

We open up our New York Summer of 1977 concert list on Long Island in the town of Commack. One of the great boogie rock blues bands of all time rocked the great Commack Arena (Long Island Arena). Long Island’s favorite band Foghat played the Arena on May 13th 1977. It was always general admission at the Commack Arena. If you got their early and ran as fast as you could through the arena, you could stand right up against the stage and watch the concert from about a foot away, which I did for Foghat that evening. The entire floor was standing room. Amazing experience.

NY's Summer of 1977 Concerts

Concert stub from Foghat concert at the Commack Arena. Photo: Brian Kachejian.

Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum

On May 20th 1977, the much loved band Chicago played Long Island’s Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. They played many shows throughout the 1970’s with The Beach Boys that tended to be very special shows.

Calderone Concert Hall

The Calderone Concert Hall was a great venue to see concerts in the 1970s. It was like going to see a concert in a movie theater. It was originally called the Hempstead Theater and seated around 2500 people. Poco performed at the Calderone on May 6th. The great J.Geils Band brought their own brand of rock, blues and soul to the Calderone on May 7th 1977.

The Palladium

New York City’s Palladium was a great place to see a concert in the 1970s. Originally called the Academy of Music it was a concert theater that seated around 3000 people. The Grateful Dead opend up the Summer if 1977 at The Palladium with five shows on April 29, 30, May 1st, 2nd and 3rd. The Grateful Dead concerts were followed by two shows by Todd Rundgren’s Utopia on May 7th and 8th. The legendary jazz fusion band Return To Forever permed at the Palladium on My 20 and 21st. Joan Baez did a show on May 25th and June 1st.

June 1977

Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum

Southern Rock was huge on Long Island in the 1970s. Two of the Island’s favorite Southern Rock bands were The Outlaws and The Marshall Tucker Band. They both played a concert together at Long Island’s Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on June 14th 1977. However the most loved southern rock band of all time outside of The Allman Brothers Band will always be Lynyrd Skynyrd. I was fortunate to catch the original band at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on June 16th 1977. This was one the greatest shows of the Summer of 1977. It was a twin bill with Ted Nugent. The two bands alternated who went on first during the tour. When they played MSG, Lynyrd Skynyrd went on first, when they played the show at the Coliseum, Ted Nugent opened for Lynyrd Skynyrd. It made sense; as big as Ted Nugent was at the time, Long Island loved Lynyrd Skynyrd. The bands performance of “Free bird,” that evening stands as one of the greatest concert moments I have ever experienced.

Madison Square Garden

The month of June during the New York Summer of 1977 will always stand as one of the greatest months in concert history at Madison Square Garden for various reasons. First and foremost making that argument is the fact that the greatest rock band of all time named Led Zeppelin played Madison Square Garden for six historic nights on June, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14. It was one of the hardest concert tickets to ever get. I was lucky to get one and it cost me less than $10.00 to sit in the lower lodge red section. I wont go into the details of the show because I have written an extensive review of that experience on our sister site ClassicRockHistory.com, but I will say it was the greatest concert experience of my life, as it was for thousands of others who were lucky enough to attend one of their legendary shows in 1977.

Crosby, Stills and Nash played Madison Square Garden also during the month on June 21. Later in the month I caught another concert at Madison Square Garden by one more of rock most legendary bands. Fleetwood Mac performed two nights at MSG on June 29th and June 30th. The tour was supporting their new and brilliant album entitled Rumors. The album would become their biggest selling record of all time. Seeing them perform songs from that record which was still so new at the time, with such passion was jaw dropping. Steve Nicks mesmerized the entire audience all night long.

The Palladium

After Joan Baez’s June 1st show, the progressive rock band Nektar with opening act Flame performed on June 3rd.

July 1977

Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum

James Taylor played the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on July 16th. Alice Cooper and The Atlanta Rhythm Section played a show at the Coliseum on July 21st. A little bit of r&b filled the arena the following night with a concert by The Commodores and The Emotions on July 22nd.  Bad Company and the Climax Blues Band played the Long Island Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on July 28th 1977 closing out the month.

Calderone Concert Hall

The Jerry Garcia Band performed at the Calderon Concert Hall on July 8th. Two members of The Allman Brothers Band brought their solo acts to the hall at the end of the month. Dickey Betts & Great Southern played a show on July 30th. The Greg Allman Band closed out the month on July 31st.

Madison Square Garden

There are not many rock bands in classic rock history that you can put in the same sentence as Led Zeppelin. Madison Square Garden hosted one of them in early July when the great band Pink Floyd came to town. Pink Floyd played four straight nights at Madison Square Garden from July 1st to July 4th. I saw the July 3rd show and it was unbelievable. The band played the entire Animals and Wish You Were Here albums. They had flying pigs floating all around the Garden as they performed. Their encores consisted of music from their legendary Dark Side of The Moon album. Their last song of the night was played to a half empty arena as they took about twenty minutes before they came back for the final encore “Us and Them.”

After having seen Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Ted Nugent and Pink Floyd within a span of thirty days, I could barely catch my breath when I found myself sitting once again at Madison Square Garden to witness the mighty Emerson Lake & Palmer band with an eighty piece orchestra. ELP performed at Madison Square Garden for three nights on July 7th, 8th and 9th. Seeing a powerhouse band of extraordinary legendary musicians such as Emerson Lake & Palmer being backed by a massive orchestra was almost surreal. And all it cost was nine dollars for the ticket. Closing out the month at Madison Square Garden was the fantastic band Bad Company on July 31st.

NY's Summer of 1977 Concerts

Concert stub from ELP concert at MSG. Look at the price. Photo: Brian Kachejian.

The Palladium

An odd triple header concert was staged on June 18th when Judas Priest, Starz and REO Speedwagon performed at the theater. The Doobie Brothers closed out the month on July 30th.

August 1977

After an incredible two months of concerts, the month of August did not let us down. However there was one exception. During the shows I attended at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the scoreboard would heavily promote future concerts before the night’s performance. One name that was constantly promoted was Elvis Presley. At the time he was no longer the huge star that he was in the 1950s and 1960s, However it was still Elvis Presley. I bought a ticket for the August 22 show. It cost me ten dollars. A week before the show on August 16th Elvis Presley died. I saw that scoreboard promote that show “Elvis Presley Aug 22,” over and over again. Its burned in my memory forever. Anyone who attended shows at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum that Spring of 1977 will remember it too.

Calderone Concert Hall

The band 38. Special debuted in 1977 with their first album and a concert at the Calderone on August 7th as the opening act for Johnny and Edgar Winter. What a show! The Commander Cody Band opened up for perhaps the biggest female star of the 1970s on August 13 and 14 when Linda Ronstadt performed at the Calderone. Closing out the Summer of 1977 at the Calderone was the band New Riders of the Purple Sage who performed on August 26th.

Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum

One of the biggest musical acts of the Summer of 1977 was the Steve Miller Band. His album Fly Like an Eagle was huge. The Steve Miller Band performed at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on August 12. His harp player Norton Buffalo opened the show. The band Heart who were another great band that debuted their first album in the fall of 1976 played the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on August 20 with the legendary Dave Mason.

Madison Square Garden

We turn to the New York Summer of 1977 month of August at Madison Square Garden with perhaps the greatest Progressive rock band of all time. Yes performed at MSG on August 5th while promoting their Going For The One album. Peter Frampton did three big nights in a row at the Garden on August 22, 23, and 24th. To close out the month, MSG went old school r&b with a performance by The Isley Brothers on August 26th. The final concert at the Garden during The Summer of 1977 occurred on September 19th when Parliament-Funkadelic came to town.

Yes Concert Ticket 1977

Concert stub from Yes concert at MSG. Look at the price. Photo: Brian Kachejian.

The Palladium

The Palladium was known for presenting three acts for many of their shows. On August 6, the theater presented the bands 38. Special, UFO and Johnny and Edgar Winter. The theater closed out the month of August with a bang as AC/DC performed on August 24 with The Dictators and the Michael Stanley Band.

Dr. Pepper Festival:

One can not also forget to mention the great Dr. Pepper Festival concert series in Central Park during the Summer of 1977. So many legends appeared at Central Park to perform that summer including Hall & Oates, Harry Chapin, Richie Havens, Dan Fogelberg, Firefall, John Sebastian, Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes, Ronnie Spector, The Little River Band, Garland Jeffreys, Kiki Dee, and so many more.

We also can’t forget the clubs like CBGB and Max’s Kansas City where the punk scene was thriving and bands like Television, The Ramones, Blondie were tearing the place apart.

Wrap Up:

The Incredible New York Summer of 1977 Concert Experience stands as one of the best summers in classic rock history. I was lucky to have been a fifteen year old growing up in New York at the time experiencing the greatest era of all time in rock and roll. Some may argue it was the 60s, but if your were there witnessing Robert Plant singing with a voice like no other, Jimmy Page playing a double neck guitar defining the term rock god, Stevie Nicks putting eighteen thousand people under a spell, Roger Waters cursing out a fan, David Gilmour playing electrifying guitars solos, ELP’s music being carried away by a grand orchestra and Ronnie Van Zant singing the words “If I leave here tomorrow,” then you would no doubt agree that the Summer of 1977 was the greatest of them all.

Feature Photo Credits:

Nassau Collisuem – TastyPoutine / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

Madison Square Garden – Rich Mitchell from New York, NY / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

(1) 1977 Movie Ticket Prices

(2) 2020 Ticket Prices (Forbes)

(3) Sammy Hagar brilliant opening performance in front of Boston in 1997

Special thanks to Thomas Neokleous for the idea behind the article.

 

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