Ray  "Shoob" Luisi  of Hicksville talks about attending 1974's Summersault rock festival at Roosevelt Raceway and how it changed his life.  Credit: Craig Ruttle

At the age of 13, Ray "Shoob" Luisi of Hicksville attended NY Summersault ’74 at Roosevelt Raceway in Westbury on Sept. 8, 1974 and experienced a revelation.

“Summersault changed my life and the way I look at music today,” says Luisi, who is now 61 and plays in the Shoobies, an acoustic duo. "This was the biggest multi-band show I had ever seen. It felt like the World’s Fair of Long Island.”

The concert, held a little over five years after the seminal Woodstock Music & Art Fair in Bethel, N.Y., featured a California dream bill of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Joni Mitchell, the Beach Boys and Jesse Colin Young. More than 77,000 people were in attendance paying only $10 a ticket, considered a high price in 1974.

Much like the Festival of Hope (1972) before it and the Woodstock Reunion (1979) after it (see sidebar), NY Summersault '74 was an opportunity for Long Islanders to get a taste of what they missed at 1969's Woodstock. Because video clips aren't readily available many of these shows are forgotten, but the memories live on in the hearts and minds of those who were there.

Teri Blasko of Nanuet, New York, claps along to the...

Teri Blasko of Nanuet, New York, claps along to the music at the CSNY and Friends concert at the "Summersault '74" festival at Roosevelt Raceway in Westbury on September 8, 1974. Credit: Newsday/Jim Peppler

“The day was a celebration with a joyous crowd that was groovin’ on the music. It was kind of like a Woodstock carry over,” says concert promoter Larry Vaughn of Bethpage, who coproduced the show with Bill Graham, Tony Ruffino and Ron Delsener. “The weather was absolutely perfect. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. It set the tone to put everybody in a good mood.”

Cliff Weinstein, 65, of Seaford notes, “I knew I was seeing something special. Looking back, it still feels that way. You don’t see concert bills like that anymore. Each artist was a headliner in their own right.”

CAMPING OUT

Rock music promoter Bill Graham (center, with hat), tells two...

Rock music promoter Bill Graham (center, with hat), tells two young men to leave the backstage area during a CSNY concert at Roosevelt Raceway in Westbury on September 8, 1974, during the "Summersault '74" festival. Credit: Newsday/Jim Peppler

People arrived on the evening of Sept. 7, packing the parking lot since the show was general admission with everyone vying for a good seat.

“We arrived at 2 a.m. the night before and slept in the car in order to be there when the gates opened,” said MaryJo Crabtree-Edney, 68, who grew up in Hicksville. “It was one of the best experiences of my life. This was my Woodstock.”

Putting the show together was no easy feat — the horse track had to be transformed into a rock stadium.

“We put the stage down at one end of the racetrack and brought in massive power plus port-a-potties and water stations to cool people off,” says Vaughn, 79. “Getting 77,000 people inside smoothly without trampling each other was a challenge, but we made it work.”

Vaughn was also in charge of building out the backstage area to make it comfortable for the artists. 

“We had to use trailers for the dressing rooms and tents. There was even a swimming pool backstage and volleyball courts,” says Vaughn. “The dressing rooms were set up like living rooms with foosball, shuffleboard and electronic Atari games, which helped to keep the musicians entertained.”

THEY WERE 77,000 STRONG

Overview of crowd at "Summersault '74", a rock festival held...

Overview of crowd at "Summersault '74", a rock festival held at Roosevelt Raceway in Westbury, New York, on September 8, 1974. Credit: Newsday/Jim Peppler

The festival, drew people from Long Island along with concertgoers from Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan.

“By 1974, the whole counterculture hippie thing had sort of spread out to the suburbs. It became mainstream,” says Steve Matteo, 63, of Smithtown. “Music was the center of our culture. It was all we talked about.”

Roosevelt Raceway was packed making it hard to move around throughout the concert, which ran from early afternoon into the night. 

“It was a sea of humanity,” says David Lawton, 69, who grew up in Nesconset. “I remember leaving my group to go to the bathroom and I had a hard time finding them again because the place was wall-to-wall with people.”

Graham, one of the era's foremost concert promoters, came out and made some announcements to the crowd including the news that President Gerald Ford had pardoned former President Richard M. Nixon for his role in the Watergate scandal.

“Everyone was really mad because it was a very anti-Nixon crowd. We wanted him to go to jail for what he had done,” says Richard Grayson, 71, of Brooklyn. “People were booing loudly. It brought the reality of the world into the show.”

Jerry Agate, 68, who grew up in North Babylon, adds, “We would not let that news bring us down.”

JESSE COLIN YOUNG'S HOMECOMING

A concert-goer passes time in between musical acts at the...

A concert-goer passes time in between musical acts at the Festival of Hope at Roosevelt Raceway in Westbury by reading "MAD's Dave Berg Looks at Modern Thinking" on August 13, 1972. Credit: David Pokress

Opening the show was Jesse Colin Young, flying solo after his years in the Youngbloods ("Get Together"). This was a homecoming for Young, who spent his formative years as a child in Garden City.

“I always loved coming back to New York,” says Young, 80. “I was born and raised there so I felt those roots.”

Young was asked to go on tour with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young when singer/guitarist David Crosby heard his 1973 album, “Song For Juli” on his honeymoon and fell in love with the music.

“I really like opening shows because the audience is fresh. Long Island was wonderfully receptive,” says Young. “I couldn’t get over the size of the crowd. That was the biggest audience I’ve ever played before.”

Despite the massive size of the audience Nassau County Police Chief Edward F. Curran noted there were no serious incidents, telling New York Times reporter John Rockwell that “It’s been a very well-behaved, orderly crowd.”

Weinstein adds, “Everyone seemed rather sedate. The crowd was very mellow, which was like the music itself.”

Perhaps the relaxed vibe had a lot to do with the amount of marijuana being smoked.

“Everybody was high,” says Janet Murphy, 67, who grew up in Syosset and was a longtime resident of Patchogue. “You walked in and there was a cloud above the bleachers.”

THE BEACH BOYS WOWED THE AUDIENCE

Tom Bradley of Middle Island saved his ticket stub from...

Tom Bradley of Middle Island saved his ticket stub from the NY Summersault '74 concert, which took place on Sept. 8, 1974 at Roosevelt Raceway in Westbury. Credit: Tom Bradley

The Beach Boys easily won over the crowd with a set that included hits like “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “Little Deuce Coupe,” “I Get Around,” “Fun, Fun, Fun” and “Good Vibrations.”

“The Beach Boys were the perfect act for that kind of atmosphere being in the sunshine,” says Alan Seltzer, 67, who grew up in Elmhurst. “You can’t get better than that.”

Tom Bradley, 65, of Middle Island adds, “The Beach Boys are iconic. They were playing all the songs we grew up listening to when we were kids, therefore the band easily connected with the crowd.”

One complaint was the long lulls in between acts.

“People were getting restless,” says Grayson, who attended with his girlfriend. “The couple in front of us had the Sunday New York Times and they were giving us sections to read as we waited for the music to start back up.”

Another hurdle was viewing action on the stage, which was far away from most of the seats.

“I couldn’t really see the stage that well as it was off in the distance,” says Robert Bernstein, 68, of Baldwin. “The musicians looked really small. There were no Jumbotron screens back then, but the music was loud and clear.”

AND SO DID JONI MITCHELL 

Gina Horne-Bernbaum of Smithtown poses with her framed print ad...

Gina Horne-Bernbaum of Smithtown poses with her framed print ad of the NY Summersault '74 concert, which took place on Sept. 8, 1974 at Roosevelt Raceway in Westbury. Credit: Gina Horne-Bernbaum

Joni Mitchell took the stage backed by Tom Scott and the L.A. Express. She performed her classics “Big Yellow Taxi” and “Both Sides Now” as well as fan favorites “Jericho” and “Love or Money.” 

“Joni sounded even better live than on the radio,” says Seltzer. “At that point she was really coming into her own as a songwriter and performer.”

CSNY'S EMOTIONAL SET

Bill Scarnati of Bayside saved the Crosby, Stills, Nash &...

Bill Scarnati of Bayside saved the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young patch he got at the NY Summersault '74 concert, which took place on Sept. 8, 1974 at Roosevelt Raceway in Westbury. Credit: Bill Scarnati

The big moment came as the skies grew dark and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young took the stage. The band was wrapping up the U.S. leg of its 1974 stadium tour and wouldn’t play Long Island again untill April 2002 at Nassau Coliseum.

“CSNY was like no other band. Their talent was just above everyone else,” says Murphy. “Neil Young didn’t travel with them all the time. The fact that he was there made it all the more special.”

Bernstein adds, “CSNY was at the height of their powers. They started acoustically and asked everyone to quiet down because they were playing ‘wooden music.’ Later on they got into their electric stuff.”

The conclusion was moving as the band wrapped up the day with the anthem, “Ohio,” which referenced the four people killed by the Ohio Army National Guard at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio on May 4, 1970 during a protest against the invasion of Cambodia. 

Twenty year-old Jeffrey Glenn Miller of Plainview was one of the four who died. 

“When Neil Young sang ‘Ohio’ it was chilling. It meant so much because just about everyone knew someone who knew Jeffrey Miller,” says Murphy. “That song was personal for most of Long Island. The moment was etched into the air. You could feel the emotion in the crowd as everyone sang along.”

TWO OTHER LI FESTIVALS

FESTIVAL OF HOPE

Before NY Summersault ’74, Roosevelt Raceway hosted the two-day Festival of Hope” which served as a fundraiser for Nassau Easter Seal Society on Aug. 12 and 13, 1972. These back-to-back 12-hour concerts featured a first-day bill of Jefferson Airplane, Chuck Berry, James Brown, Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, James Gang, Elephant’s Memory, McKendree Spring and Manassas starring Stephen Stills. The second day’s bill showcased Bo Diddley, Looking Glass, Dr. Hook, Lighthouse, Billy Preston, Sha Na Na, the Shirelles, Sly & the Family Stone plus Ike & Tina Turner.

“Back then you could put any acts together that would normally seem like they would not fit and everybody thought it was great,” says Donald Davidson, 65, of North Merrick.

Joanne Phillips, 69, of Long Beach adds, “Every band was completely different but they were all extraordinary. There was a great feeling of peace and love with no violence. The whole event was magical.”

The Nassau Easter Seal Society hoped to raise $300,000, according to Newsday reports from 1972. The two-day event drew approximately 40,000 people with tickets at $10 apiece. The stage was positioned on the racetrack facing the seats in the grandstand.

Many cited Berry as the crowd favorite. At the time the late rock-n-roll legend was enjoying a resurgence in popularity with his No. 1 single, “My Ding-a-Ling.”

“Chuck Berry lit the place up,” says Jerry Agate, 68, who grew up in North Babylon. “Everyone was on their feet singing and dancing. It was incredible.”

Barry Geller, 71, of Bellerose Terrace played trumpet in Charlie Frazer’s New Day, which was the band that backed up Berry.

“It was an experience any young musician dreamed of,” recalls Geller. “When you’re on stage playing in front of so many people and trying to make sure you’re doing your best, the adrenaline rush just keeps going up and up. Chuck was and still is a larger than life figure and getting to play with him was a larger than life experience.”   

WOODSTOCK REUNION 

In celebration of the 10th anniversary of Woodstock Music & Art Fair, which was held in Bethel, NY in August 1969, Long Island hosted the Woodstock Reunion at the Parr Meadows racetrack in Yaphank on Sept. 8, 1979. The artists who performed, and were also at the original Woodstock, included Paul Butterfield (The Paul Butterfield Blues Band), Rick Danko (The Band), Canned Heat, Richie Havens, Jorma Kaukonen (Jefferson Airplane), Country Joe McDonald (Country Joe and the Fish), John Sebastian, Michael Shrieve (Santana), Stephen Stills (Crosby Stills Nash & Young), Leslie West (Mountain) and Johnny Winter.

“We got there early and people were camping out on the side of William Floyd Parkway like hippies,” says Tom Bradley, 65, of Middle Island, who attended the show. “It seemed like everyone was trying to get the feel for what happened in 1969. We were all expecting something big.”

There was a lot of excitement for the event, which was produced by Richard Nader, with WBAB (102.3 FM) broadcasting the 12-hour event on the radio. However, Newsday’s former music critic Wayne Robins was less than impressed, describing it as “a concert consisting primarily of rather dull blues.”

Bradley recalls Sebastian’s performance coming off somewhat flat.

“John Sebastian played his hit, ‘Welcome Back.’ But we didn’t want that,” says Bradley. “ ‘Welcome Back’ was an AM station song. We wanted some cool hippy trippy music!”

In his review, Robins wrote that Sebastian urged “people to block the building of the Shoreham nuclear power plant before playing his anti-nuke song, ‘Link in the Chain.’ The response was apathetic.” 

Newsday reporter Bob Wacker noted, “At one point, singer Country Joe McDonald scolded the audience for being too decorous: ‘You’re not making any noise at all … I can’t hear a thing.’ ”

Despite drawing approximately 18,000 people at $15 per ticket, the concert didn’t seem to evoke the same spirit from 1969.

“I was 13 at the time of Woodstock so I missed it,” says Bradley. “We were trying to get a little bit ourselves but I wasn’t feeling it.”    — DAVID J. CRIBLEZ

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