Westbury Music Fair is turning 60 years old. In its current incarnation as the NYCB Theatre at Westbury, this historic 1,800-seat venue is still hosting roughly 120 shows annually across a broad spectrum of music and entertainment. In the next few months, acts ranging from storied crooner Johnny Mathis, influential doo-wopper Dion and ’90s teen idols O-Town to hip-hop duo Blackalicious, Americana icon Bonnie Raitt and kids’ music superstars The Wiggles will be hopping on Westbury’s iconic revolving stage.
Westbury has come quite a way since business partners Lee Guber, Frank Ford and Shelly Gross (above right) pitched a blue-and-beige-striped tent on the site of a sand pit and started selling tickets on June 18, 1956, for the very first Westbury show—a performance of The King and I starring Charles Korvin and Constance Carpenter. At a point when suburbia was blowing up, Westbury Music Fair couldn’t have come along at a better time.
“Westbury meant more to Long Island than it did to the rest of the country. There was nothing happening on Long Island at the time. This was an important venue for Long Island,” according to veteran music industry analyst Bob Grossweiner. “It was like the Supper Club of Long Island without the supper. Jack Benny, Johnny Mathis and Tony Bennett are the acts that have always played here. When The Who and The Doors were coming through back around 1968, there were no other places for them to play theoretically.”
A decade later, Ford was out of the picture and remaining partners Guber and Gross decided to build a 3,000-seat building in 1966, transforming it from being seasonally-run to open year-round. It was also around this time that bookings ventured beyond comedians, musicals and Vegas-affiliated acts (which continue to be a staple to this day) and started encompassing more contemporary acts including Steely Dan and Jethro Tull. At this point, Westbury Music Fair’s newness made it one of the area’s most sought after venues to play according to Westbury Marketing Director Dan Kellachan, who has plied his trade here for 33 years.
“Back in the day, between 1966 and 1972, when it became the hard-top and it became the state-of-the-art, brand-newest building in the area, all the big names were playing here,” he explained. “You had Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5, the Four Tops and the Temptations in their heyday. You had Diana Ross and the Supremes playing here. You had all these huge acts coming through here. The Doors. The Who came during The Magic Bus tour. It was one act after another.”
Fast forward to 2016. In the year of its sixtieth anniversary, Kellachan has been here for more than half that time. The building has kept up with the times, investing in the top-of-the-line lighting and sound systems, allowing acts to literally plug in and play in a space where the distance between the stage and the furthest seat is between 70 to 80 feet. The Carle Place native ticks off all the amenities that have kept this singular venue current and relevant.
“We added the party deck outside during the 1990s, and there was a replacement of all the seats inside at one point,” he said. “There was the renovation of the VIP Lounge. It’s been here since 1966, so it’s 50 years old and it does require constant upkeep, but it’s a jewel. It’s one of Long Island’s little treasures.”