Tennis And Big Names Help Forest Hills Stadium Try To Top 2015

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The stage at Forest Hills Stadium
The stage at Forest Hills Stadium

In its 93rd year of existence, Forest Hills Stadium is experiencing a latter-day rebirth befitting its rich legacy as a venue that’s hosted its share of historic live music and sporting events.

It’s been home to the U.S. Open before it moved to Flushing Meadows in 1978. In addition, the names that have played live music from the stadium stage are a Who’s Who of legends that includes The Beatles, Who, Frank Sinatra, Jimi Hendrix, Barbra Streisand and Milton Berle. Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe both broke the professional tennis color barrier during the Grand Slam tournament when it was held in Forest Hills Stadium and this was also where prize money equity for male and female tennis pros was achieved for the first time. It’s a very special site that’s provided lasting memories for thousands of people.

Althea Gibson playing Karol Fageros at Forest Hills Tennis Stadium in 1957
Althea Gibson playing Karol Fageros at Forest Hills Tennis Stadium in 1957

And while the old girl lay silent for nearly 15 years, Madison House Presents music promoter/booking agent Mike Luba got things back on track by bringing in national acts, starting with a Mumford and Sons concert he promoted in 2013. He also got much-needed major renovations going while maintaining peace with residents of this exclusive neighborhood.

Fast forward three years and Luba and Forest Hills Stadium general manager Jon McMillan are easing into the second season of promoting shows here. Not unlike last year, when the roster of legendary names that came through this part of Queens included Santana, The Who and D’Angelo, the lineup this year is no less impressive. Dolly Parton has already played here and Bob Dylan, Chris Stapleton and Flight of the Conchords are also on the schedule. The feedback Luba has gotten is a testament to how well things went in 2015.

ForestHillsSchedule2016“The [artists] love it. There is a real circuit, which tends to be an endless tour and then you get to a place like this that tends to be unique and I think it’s a really nice change of pace for everyone,” he said. “And then the fact that the stadium itself is so intimate and the crowd is so immediate and intense that the gigs, so far, have all been great. We feel like we’ve been charmed and lucky. We’re due for a big rainstorm. We’re due for something to make it not great and that’s when we’ll see how everyone really does.”

ForestHillsStadium2016_063016While the West Side Tennis Club has owned the stadium since it was erected in 1923, Luba arranged to have benefactors pour between $4 to $5 million into renovating the space and wound up putting another $1 million into the infrastructure as a means of making this a more upscale concert-going experience.

Among the improvements are repaved surfaces, a doubling of the main entrance and concourse and electrical rewiring. There’s also been a significant upgrade with the Porta-Potty situation as well, something Luba was quick to point out while giving a tour of the stadium about a week before the season started.

“We have a new bathroom situation—AC, running water, flushable toilets and sinks in the bathroom. These are like the Rolls Royces of Porta-Potties,” the Albertson native explained “We also did a lot of different technical boring stuff with power and things like that. The goal here it to make it more permanent, so we don’t have to start from scratch every year, which not only makes it easier on everyone show-wise, but also reduces the impact on the neighborhood. Less trucks, less deliveries and less craziness every time. We’re trying to get it set at the beginning and let it sit forever.”

Dolly Parton
Dolly Parton

With Parton having recently played her biggest show in New York in quite some time, Luba’s major coups include getting Van Morrison to return to perform in October (“Van coming back was shocking. He specifically went to his team and told them to get him back here, which was flattering”) and most impressive, getting Forest Hills native Paul Simon to come back and play a pair of homecoming shows, who wound up being a major get for Luba and his crew.

Paul Simon

“[Getting Paul Simon] was specifically a dream for us since we started the project. [Paul] was the very first guy we went to when we even started talking about [promoting shows at Forest Hills Stadium]. We do a ton of work with Paul all over the country when he tours around. This is the first time it lined up with his global schedule,” Luba said. “And I think it’s going to be pretty emotional for people, hopefully including Paul, to come back and to see that the music is meaningful, if not more meaningful years later.”

Louie CK
Louie CK

In addition to having the cache of getting Simon to come play, Luba admits the stadium wound up getting an additional unexpected booking in the process.

“We’re super-psyched that Louie CK is coming. And that seed was one hundred percent directly planted in Louie’s head by Paul,” Luba said. “I think they were somewhere shooting the shit and Paul talked Louie into thinking about it and we give Paul Simon the full credit for getting Louie on board.”

In keeping with the stadium’s sports legacy, a team tennis season is slated to play here throughout the month of August. A lifelong lover of the game, it’s something Luba is keenly looking forward to and hopes will capture the attention of people gearing up for the U.S Open over at nearby Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

ForestHillsStadium_063016.WorldTeamTennis“Professional tennis is coming back to Forest Hills for the first time in a long time. It’s world team tennis. Patrick McEnroe is the coach and Andy Roddick is the captain,” he explained. “Over the course of two weeks, they’re going to play six matches here, and then the actual finals for the whole league will be held here on Aug. 27. It’s a little more of a work in progress, but it’s tons of fun and everyone is hopeful that people will come out to see some great tennis.”

With everything seemingly into place, Luba is rightfully proud of the caliber of shows he’s booked. He’s also keenly aware that his venue is now having to fight over acts with other live music spaces.”

“We worked pretty hard to curate this season. We’re in a spot now where we have to actively fight it out with the Garden, Jones Beach, Barkley’s and the Prudential Center to get shows,” he said. “[It’s a good problem to have] when it works. This was the first year where it wasn’t us cashing in personal favors with bands that had slept on our couches.”

Visit www.foresthillsstadium.com to find out more about Forest Hills Stadium.


Take a stroll down memory lane with readers who share their Forest Hills Stadium Memories.

https://liweekly.wpengine.com/forest-hills-stadium-memories/

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