A hundred million YouTube views can’t be wrong. Ed Sheeran is a vernal sensation at the vanguard of a modern British Invasion. The millions of records he sells worldwide, the cutesy nickname for his fan army (they go by “Sheerios“), his massive stadium sing-alongs — all confirm his status as a sort of contemporary, red-moptopped Fab One. He’s already earned his NYC arena wings, packing Madison Square Garden for three nights back in the fall of 2013; now he’s solidified his reign with two nights in a Queens arena that carries a different cultural torch.
The Forest Hills Stadium is a historical landmark that’s hosted marquee acts (of both musical and athletic persuasions) since the last stone was set in 1923. Sheeran performed on a stage that’s hosted fellow English greats the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the Monkees, among others. (Yes, properly speaking the Monkees were an American band with an English frontman. But c’mon.) Though by no means gargantuan — its capacity topping out at 17,000 — Forest Hills Stadium is mighty in legend. This was where Dylan’s new electric avatar transcended a sea of boos in the summer of 1965. Where Jimi Hendrix (while opening for the Monkees) stormed off stage after the audience couldn’t dig the sonic boundaries he was smashing. By playing it, Sheeran participated in a legacy firmly established by those forebears.
Sheeran and his back-to-back dates (May 28 and May 29) kicked off 2015’s Forest Hills Stadium concert series. To prepare us for another musical summer in Queens, we’ve dipped into the Village Voice archives to take a quick look back at memorable performances from previous invaders. (Spoiler alert: A “Purple Haze” may or may not have settled on a very unlikely bill involving one enigmatic heartthrob of a British import.)
The Rolling Stones: Forest Hills Stadium, July 2, 1966
By Richard Goldstein
(From the Village Voice, July 7, 1966)
The jet landed amid a churning blast of mechanical thunder. The portable staircase was fixed in place. The stewardess and health officials departed. Finally, the Godheads. Charlie first — in brown. Then Bill and Keith. Then Brian, who removes his purple glasses to survey the scene, and wipes them on his candy-cane blazer. Finally, Mick, smiling lamely, somehow supported by his brass-button epaulets on his shoulders. The young gods descend and pose.
For those who have no children, whose radio dials are stuck on FM, or whose television sets are broken, their names are: Billy Wyman, Charlie Watts, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, and Mick Jagger. Their “appropriate” age is 21. Their gross for this year may exceed $8 million. Their hard-rock sound is a curry of straight sex, destruction, repulsion, and hip — all garnished with a pseudo-Harlem accent and spiced with Oriental chord progressions. We are not nice, but we are honest, says the image. We are not respectable, but we are popular. These five guys, and their manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, call themselves the Rolling Stones.
Brian is standing alone. He turns and catches me snapping a contraband picture. He removes his shades, and those great evil eyes begin to stare. It’s a put-down look. I know it from MacDougal Street. So, I stare back. But the expression on Brian’s face is puzzlement. He is saying to me: “What are you doing in dirty wheat-jeans and long hair taking a picture of me with a professional reporter’s certification?” And I’m staring back, saying: “Brian, why do they call you a god of destruction when you’re just a kid jumping around making money and trouble. And Brian, are you ever frightened when those tiny feminine nails begin to scratch on your hotel door? And what’s it like in those alone moments when the guitar is unplugged and the clothes come off and you’re standing there in naked mufti with a woman?”
So we stare at each other, and I snap my picture to break the spell and Brian puts his shades back on and scowls.
The Monkees: Forest Hills Stadium, July 14–16, 1967
By Richard Goldstein
(From the Village Voice, July 27, 1967)
Davy Jones pretended to dip his microphone in a goblet of water. And Micky Dolenz admitted he had bought a Moog synthesizer (“I’m fooling around with electronics”). Then he cautioned the scribes not to think too hard about what the Monkees meant. “It’s all love,” he beamed, and a bearded emissary from the Communication Company swallowed hard.
Then it was over. The Monkees departed, the press drained the remnants of the cocktails, and everyone agreed it was strange to watch Flower Tycoons in action. But love is money. All that hippy garb — clean and pressed down to the stockings — was a bizarre confirmation of the power the underground has over American adolescence.
That weekend, Forest Hills glowed with pubescent purple passion. There were the usual screams, and a constant strobe of flashlights as the Monkees emerged from the grassy wings. But nobody charged the stage. And posters strange to a teen-event — signs reading “Peace” and “Love Power” — dotted the grandstand. True, a hefty maiden disrupted some whining [Jimi] Hendrix electronics with a fervent plea: “Enough with the psychedelic, already,” but most screamed for the new music, even if what they got was only old noise.
Mumford & Sons: Forest Hills Stadium, August 28, 2013
By Silas Valentino
Ben Lovett donned a headband. The Mumford & Sons keyboardist must have been channeling his inner John McEnroe or Björn Borg when his band took over the Forest Hills Stadium, once home to over fifty U.S. Open Tennis Championships. Not since the summer of 1997 (when the forgotten gem “Naked Eye” by Luscious Jackson reigned supreme) had the Forest Hills Stadium offered live music, and this particular show was a suitable return.
“Yes, Forest Hills, Queens, New York. We just can’t believe you all came. This is amazing,” said Lovett to the crowd, as reported by Billboard. “We were like, ‘Are you sure you can invite 17,000 people to a tennis court? It hasn’t happened in a long time.'” This show was a test run of sorts, a way for the West Side Tennis Club (who own and operate the stadium) to examine and observe its ability to function. The show proved to be successful but not without hiccups. There were complications with getting concertgoers into certain areas of the stadium while other issues arose regarding the level of noise.
But the success of Forest Hills Stadium’s revival through Mumford & Sons gave way to last summer’s concert series, where the reunited Replacements performed, as well as this upcoming string of shows. West Side Tennis Club President Roland Meier says they’re taking it one step at a time and have plans to eventually bring tennis back to the courts. “I’m using music to get back to tennis,” he says.
Ed Sheeran played the Forest Hills Stadium on May 28 and May 29. For additional information, click here.