Part II - Liberty State Park
Thursday, July 11, 1996
In the interest of highlighting the positive
aspects of the Furthur Festival, let me say that the setting was magnificent,
the weather was perfect, and the sound was excellent. All the makings of
a perfect show - in theory.
Liberty State Park is a rectangular spit of land roughly a mile or so square that juts out into New York Harbor directly across from lower Manhattan, commanding one of the world's most famous views. Less than one half mile away, on the other side of a narrow channel, is the Statue of Liberty, and just to the north, Ellis Island. So close to New York, but in many ways so distant.
Normally, the park is used for picnics and family outings. There is also ferry service to the Statue of Liberty and a modern science museum, the Liberty Science Center. The park is not ordinarily known to be a prime tourist attraction. At the southeast corner of the park is a picnic ground with a great view of the Statue of Liberty - that's where the concert was held. At the northern end of the park is a large field which was used for parking. This field contains one road, leading from the park access road to the ferry dock. The New Jersey Turnpike exit nearest to the park is located at the southwest corner of the park. For those going to the show, getting there meant driving their car to the park, getting past a New Jersey State Police roadblock, traveling about a mile in one lane to the north parking area (again served by one lane), getting past another police roadblock, parking, walking to the northeast end of the parking area, boarding a schoolbus, and traveling more than a mile to the picnic area where the concert was held. Even those looking for shortcuts were out of luck, as most of the park is impenetrable marshland!
Needless to say, what ensued was a traffic planner's worst nightmare. The spur of the New Jersey Turnpike leading to the park exit was closed for hours during the late afternoon and reports of two hours to get to the show once concertgoers entered the park were the norm. Leaving the show was also a singular event - imagine 20,000 people leaving a field through one exit and having to line up to board schoolbuses shuttling them to their cars, then having to all exit out of one lane!
To maintain my health and sanity, I arrived late to the show and left early, so I cannot provide a full report. What I can say was that Mickey Hart's Mystery Box was the perfect band for the outdoor setting and that the New York area audience was much more in tune with the music than the crowd I saw at Saratoga. Mystery Box is working out new stuff as the tour progresses - new rhythm combinations, percussion breaks at different points - and the Mint Juleps are working on their presentation. Their vocals and harmonies are almost beyond improvement. It's very difficult for a band to have a full musical impact without a lead guitar (as RatDog has demonstrated), but Mickey's band seems to be the exception. It's also a band which could be popular anywhere in the world (maybe that's what "world music" means).
At dusk, after Mystery Box, Hot Tuna returned to the stage to do a nice acoustic set, which thanks to the sound system, sounded crystal clear throughout the field. The crowd was very appreciative. Shortly thereafter, RatDog appeared and proceeded to do a good job of dissipating the crowd's energy by way of one slow or mid-tempo blues/r&b tune after another. Now, RatDog is a very talented band, but their set, while perfectly suited to a smaller, indoor venue, was out of place at a stadium-sized field, especially their being the final act of an all-day concert. As my party and I headed onto the buses and back to the lot, things started to pick up, and tapes of the show reveal a hot jam - Playin' in the Band>Truckin'>Kansas City> Watchtower>back to Playin'. Keep in mind, though, with Bruce Hornsby and one or more lead guitarists!
Running a seven/eight hour extravaganza is not an easy job, especially when you have to keep a large crowd happy, comfortable, and interested. But part of that job is getting your audience to and from the show with as little difficulty as possible, and on that score, the show was a great disappointment. Let's hope that those who should have been doing their jobs properly have learned a lesson from the experience. If not, maybe a trip to Camden would be educational - but more on that in my next installment.
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