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David Bowie
Credit: Devon Watson Photography

As New Yorkers, we all have something to complain about.  The high cost of living, the embarrassment that is the MTA, the sweltering summer heat.  But after living here for over a decade, then spending the past year back home in the Bay Area, I came to truly appreciate all that New Yorkers get in exchange for these minor sacrifices.

San Francisco might claim to be the more expensive city, but what do the citizens actually have to show for it?  Shitty transit, a worsening homeless problem, and no social services to speak of.  In New York, we pay a lot, and we reap the benefits.

Credit: Devon Watson Photography

There is no greater example than the City Parks SummerStage program, which launched over 20 years ago with a performance by Sun Ra Arkestra, and yearly offers up over 100 free concerts in 16 different parks across all 5 boroughs.

The 2017 season officially kicked off with the June 19th City Parks Foundation Gala, featuring a starry tribute to the late David Bowie, who performed on the SummerStage back in 2005.  The original plan was to see the night begin with an outdoor cocktail reception, followed by concert in Central Park.  With treacherous thunderstorms in the forecast, the ever-resourceful producers completely revamped the Gala with hours to spare, moving the entire event to the gorgeous indoor space at Terminal 5.  The show would go on.

With the bar flowing and patrons seated for dinner, the evening began with a series of speeches celebrating the program.  City Parks Commissioner Mitchell T. Silver spoke passionately about his job: “I’m enjoying working with Parks. People come up to me and hug me for parks and programming.  Being a planner all my life, no one has ever hugged me for zoning codes!”  He continued by mentioning that the next day was his 25th wedding anniversary and, with wife Mary standing, asked to her “to renew the contract and marry me again.  The spirit of David Bowie is watching, so ya gotta say yes!”

Before the concert officially began, the Foundation presented the People and Parks Award to leading music industry legal representative Michael L. Reinert, a lifelong New Yorker whose grandfather Harry Maze has a park in Brooklyn named after him.

David Bowie
Credit: Devon Watson Photography

For the next 80 minutes, it was all Bowie.  Special guests included stage and screen actress Cristin Milioti – who stopped the show with a haunting rendition of “Changes” – plus Latin Grammy Award winner Gaby Moreno, singer/songwriter Jonathan Brooke and Stevie Wonder collaborator Raul Midón.

They were backed by an all-star cast of musicians who were part of David Bowie’s legendary family of collaborators. Among them were Bowie’s longtime Musical Director Mark Plati, bassist Gail Ann Dorsey, Blackstar saxophonist and flutist Donny McCaslin, guitarist Earl Slick, vocalist and guitarist Catherine Russell and longtime Rolling Stones backup singer Bernard Fowler.

Credit: Devon Watson Photography

Highlights necessarily included a dozen or so of Bowie’s greatest hits including “Rebel Rebel,” “Under Pressure” and “Starman.”  It was a fitting tribute to the great rocker who called New York his home.  As the happy crowd filed out into the soggy June evening, there was little doubt that this will be another triumphant season of SummerStage.

With a seemingly endless variety of music, film, dance and theatre to pick from, I’m personally looking the most forward to KRS-One, Ginuwine, Slick Rick and Regina Spektor.

Find a full schedule of events at www.cityparksfoundation.org.

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Matt Blank is a multidisciplinary theatre professional who has most recently come off of a 10-year run as one of the Editors of Playbill.com and Editor-in-Chief of PlaybillArts.com. His work as an arts journalist, designer, educator and lecturer has taken him across the United States, as well as Madrid, Manila, Mumbai and Seoul. Matt handled social media for the Playbill brand for nearly two years, and published over 7,000 articles on their platform. He sits on the Advisory Board for Ripple Effect Artists, serves as a Theatre Bay Area Awards Adjudicator, handles PR for We So Hapa and provided live on-site media coverage at 5 Tony Awards ceremonies.

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