By Raanan Geberer
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Continuing a tradition he started more than 30 years ago when he was a state senator, Borough President Marty Markowitz plans to kick off his two well-known outdoor concert series — Seaside Summer Concerts in Coney Island and the Martin Luther King Jr. Concert Series in East Flatbush.
These free series have consistently attracted chart-topping artists, although they tend to be artists whose hit streaks are behind them.
Among the artists who have played at the venues over the years have been Blondie, Aretha Franklin, Brian Wilson, John Legend, Neil Sedaka, Frankie Valli, Parliament-Funkadelic, the B-52s and Curtis Mayfield.
The Seaside series have that name because for many years, they were held at Asser Levy/Seaside Park. This year, they will be held in a lot at West 21st Street and Surf Avenue because last year, two local synagogues successfully sued to stop the concerts at Asser Levy on the grounds that a city ordinance forbid amplified noise within 500 feet of religious institutions — even though the concerts had been held there since 1991 with no objections from the synagogues.
The suit was linked to a campaign by local residents who opposed Markowitz’s plan for a large, enclosed amphitheater within the park. The opponents believed that such a facility would host highly audible concerts several times a week, all year long; that it would take away needed space within the park; and that it would inevitably lead to high prices and the end of free concerts.
John Paul Lupo, a spokesman for Markowitz, said, “The borough president remains optimistic that there will be a seasonal amphitheater built in Coney Island.”
At its current location, the Seaside series can accommodate 10,000 people per concert, while the Martin Luther King series, at Wingate Field can accommodate 12,000.
Highlights of this year's Seaside series, which began 34 years ago, will include:
- A 1970s disco extravaganza on July 12 featuring Gloria Gaynor (best known for “I Will Survive”), the Village People (“YMCA”), the Trammps (“Disco Inferno”) and Rose Royce (the theme for the movie “Car Wash”).
- Eighties New Wave bands Squeeze (“Pulling Mussels From the Shell,” “Black Coffee in Bed”) and the Romantics (“What I Like About You.”) Unlike most concerts in the series, which take place on Thursday night, this will take place on Friday night, July 20.
- Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, one of the first female-headed hard rock groups, famed for “I Love Rock and Roll,” on Aug. 9.
- R&B superstar Gladys Knight, whose string of hits with the Pips lasted from the early 1960s through the mid-1970s, and the 1970s funk-soul band the Commodores, which was led by Lionel Richie, on Aug. 16.
Highlights of this year's Martin Luther King Jr. Concert Series, which began 30 years ago, include:
- Funk pioneer Bootsy Collins, who rose to fame with James Brown before founding his own band in the 1970s, and the SOS band, on July 16.
- The Mighty Sparrow, one of the world’s leading calypso singers, on July 23. He is a regular at the West Indian Day parade and carnival in Brooklyn.
- Public Enemy and Salt-N-Pepa, early rappers, on July 30. Public Enemy was known for its controversial social commentary.
- Soul and gospel singer Cissy Houston, whose group backed up Aretha Franklin, Elvis Presley and many others, on Aug. 20. At least part of her show is expected to be a tribute to her daughter, the late superstar Whitney Houston.
At the Asser Levy/Seaside series, chairs are available to rent for $5, although many people choose to stand. Chairs are not available at Wingate Field.
While one could say that the Seaside concerts are geared mainly to a white audience and the Martin Luther King concerts are geared to a black audience, that would be an oversimplification. Well-known African-American artists, like Gladys Knight, regularly play the Seaside series, and until recently the series had an annual Latin night.
The two concert series are not organized by the borough president’s office as such but by a non-profit known as Brooklyn Concerts. The group’s executive director and producer, Debra Garcia, also heads Camp Brooklyn, Markowitz’s charity that sends impoverished kids to camp for two weeks.