It started as a tent in a field just north of the Northern State Parkway. When they thrived to the point that the permanent building standing there now was built in 1966, it took Jack Benny to settle a union strike on opening night so he could do his act. He actually negotiated back and forth from workers to management in a golf cart.
How appropriate for the legendary suburban entertainment venue where real-life Mad Men could take their wives (or office secretaries) to see the giants of the cocktail music world like Johnny Mathis, Steve and Eydie or the brash new stand-up comics from the home screens such as Rickles, Cosby and Newhart. This was the legacy we know still affectionately as the Westbury Music Fair, now named the Theatre at Westbury.
I remember, back in the 70s when I was programming WLIR, Westbury was way too “middle of the road” for a progressive rock radio guy like me. However, heroes of my youth, the Four Seasons, were making a rare live concert appearance. You see, among my first precious vinyl 45s of the Beatles, Stones, Yardbirds, Temptations and Rascals were the Four Seasons. Their arrangements, drum sound, usage of bells and incredible angelic vocals still fascinate me. So, my wife and I went to the Music Fair. I had already heard of the circular stage, which I found disconcerting (as I did when both Cream and later Blind Faith used one when I saw them at the Garden). However, I was amazed at how close we were to the stage, that there really were no bad seats and that I was the only person in jeans in the joint! The Four Seasons were great. So, I left that bizarre concert world, a universe unlike what I was accustomed to, to go back to my live music life of coliseums and clubs like the great My Father’s Place.
Fast forward to earlier this year. I was invited to Westbury to see one of my all time favorite singer songwriters, Mr. Ray Davies. What an amazing show! Ray hit the stage and it was a singalong of the Kink’s greatest hits for an audience of young and old, long haired and balding, evenly split male and female, and devoted fans who knew the words to every song, some of which were quite obscure. The set up had changed—the stage didn’t move and every seat seemed better.
That night, I took a fast tour of the facility. In the basic, functional VIP room, I saw Mick Foley, the wrestler, hanging in the crowd and immediately determined he had good musical taste. In the lobby, the crowd mingled or shot through the express food lines, happy, friendly and talkative. So, I left that night realizing that this is a great venue that takes good care of the ticket buyer.
Westbury is a precious time capsule of the music of our lives. Johnny Mathis will be back soon and Ringo makes it a regular tour stop. (Even the Doors, the Who, Springsteen and the Monkees graced its stage). Suddenly, all kinds of music possibilities in live concert exist for all us Mad Men, from then and now. Jason Stone, the venue’s VP of booking, tells me that this is the direction he will continue to steer their entertainment offerings, saying, “we continue to look for artists that lean towards a young audience.”
May The Fair reign on for decades to come. I know I’ll be back to see shows there again soon.