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Nassau Coliseum: 40 years of concerts

Frank Sinatra performs at the Nassau Veterans Memorial

Frank Sinatra performs at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in New York's Long Island. (April 9, 1974) Photo Credit: AP 1974

In its 40 years, Nassau Coliseum has hosted more than a thousand concerts -- from Lawrence Welk and Led Zeppelin (who headlined shows shortly after the building was formally dedicated on May 29, 1972) to Lady Gaga and LMFAO. And even though the Uniondale arena is showing its seams and its future is in question, there's no denying that these four decades have had their share of memorable concerts:

THE BEGINNING

The Coliseum unofficially opened in February 1972 with a New York Nets game. The first concert, on April 29, 1972, featured Three Dog Night, followed the next night by Johnny Cash. Both shows were sellouts of 16,500. More than 5,000 fans were so rabid for tickets to Jethro Tull's May 13-14 shows that they stormed the box office the second it opened on April 24.

ELVIS PRESLEY

Presley played twice (1973 and 1975) before his death on Aug. 16, 1977, six days before his third scheduled stop at the Coliseum. About 5,000 fans held a memorial for the King in the parking lot the night of the show.

Most people retained their tickets instead of collecting refunds. Fans felt that all the unclaimed refund money should go to installing a memorial to Presley at the Coliseum, but the funds went to New York State instead.

FRANK SINATRA

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When Sinatra came out of retirement in 1974, he headlined the Coliseum for three dates, April 9-11. Long Islanders clamored to see Ol' Blue Eyes, flooding the Coliseum with more than 13,000 mail-order ticket requests. However, 11,293 seats were held from the public and allegedly sold to friends and Nassau County political connections of Coliseum management. An investigation by the state attorney general led the arena to invoke a seven-point ticket reform limiting the numbers of tickets promoters and Coliseum management could withhold from public sale.

BOB DYLAN

After eight years off the road, Dylan returned to the concert scene in 1974, playing 40 shows in 42 days. He played Nassau Coliseum Jan. 28-29 -- his first area appearance since his legendary August 1965 show in Forest Hills.

GRATEFUL DEAD

The Dead holds the record for most Coliseum performances with 42, starting in 1973. Every time the band came to town, fans camped out in the parking lot for days.

PINK FLOYD

"Tear down the wall!" chanted angry fans outside the Coliseum on Feb. 24, 1980, when they couldn't get tickets for Pink Floyd's "The Wall" show. The Coliseum was one of two U.S. arenas to host the tour. Hundreds of ticketless fans used police barricades to shatter two windows and bolted into the Coliseum on opening night. No one was harmed -- or arrested.

RAP VIOLENCE

Rap concerts were temporarily discontinued at the Coliseum after a Bronx man was killed and 14 others stabbed, slashed or beaten at "Jam 88" on Sept. 10, 1988, featuring Kool Moe Dee, Big Daddy Kane, Erik B. & Rakim and Doug E. Fresh. Nine men from Bedford-Stuyvesant, who were targeting concertgoers with gold chains, were arrested. The situation made national news and put a bad mark on that music genre.

STONES REHEARSE

Although they never played the Coliseum, the Rolling Stones rented out the arena in August 1989 to rehearse their heavily anticipated "Steel Wheels" stadium tour. The huge, elaborate stage ran north to south, taking up most of the building, making a Stones performance nearly impossible.

GUNS N' ROSES

On June 17, 1991, Guns N' Roses hit the stage more than two hours late because of Axl Rose's behind-the-scenes shenanigans. Parents were circling the building, looking to pick up their kids at 11 p.m., but the band hadn't even begun to play. "Axl was fooling around in the city. We had to get a helicopter to fly him out," said former director of operations Lance Elder. "They met him at the Roosevelt Field heliport and brought him to the Coliseum. Then he disappeared into his dressing room with a hot tub. It was unbelievable."

BILLY JOEL

This is home field for Joel, who has packed the building 19 times, second only to the Grateful Dead. He sold out nine shows in 1998, setting the Coliseum record for the most sellouts in one year. A banner with his name was raised to the rafters in his honor. The record still stands.

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