Remembrances of the Winter Garden

by Eric Lindblade

In October, 1972 my brother Carl got married in Manasquan, NJ. As an added enticement for me to attend, he gave me a ticket to one of Neil Diamond's Winter Garden concerts. Having arrived early, I went around to the back of the Theater, one of the most famous on Broadway. I hoped to catch a glimpse of the Star. I was the only one waiting for him; I believe it is a little more crowded these days when he arrives at a concert venue.

Finally, his limousine pulled up, and out he stepped, smoking a cigar and wearing yellow sunglasses. He and a body guard sailed by me and ascended the stairway which led from the sidewalk to the dressing room. I followed him up the stairs, his bodyguard evidently not being the most vigilent in the world. When the bodyguard noticed me he told me to stop. Neil asked, ‘What do you want?’

I replied that I just wanted to meet him, at which he seemed geuinely pleased. He asked me if I needed a ticket, I replied I had one. I detected in him a pleasing sort of shyness and sense that behind the rock star persona was a genuine person. We chatted for a few moments and then it was time for him to prepare for the show.

The Winter Garden was a strange sort of place for a rock concert, with speakers rising to the roof among the ornate chandeliers and weathered carpeting of a Broadway theatre. People were dressed in different ways, the Rock crowd with blue jeans and bellbottoms (!) and beads; the theatre crowd was dressed in suits and long dresses. Even then, Neil attracted an eclectic audience, from children to white-haired society folk.

The music of this concert was similar to Hot August Night. Neil was at the top of his form, but looking lean, gaunt, and exhausted from his grueling tour. A full orchestra toured with him (conducted by Lee Holdridge) along with the Band. At that time, in the early 1970’s, I remember that his songs seemed to speak especially to my sense of loneliness and rootlessness. Now in my early 40’s, I still enjoy these songs. At the Winter Garden, he radiated an intense electric energy, which has now been transformed into a gentler style with the passing years. I remember his poise, his sense of humor, and finally a spiritual sense that seems to be just behind almost everything he has written. By the time the Sooliamon/Brother Love medley closed the show, I was not alone in thinking that the audience had become a congregation, celebrating hope, love, and life in the midst of a rather troubled time for our nation.

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