Thursday in the Park With Paul Simon

NEWSDAY

Douglas Armour had driven 14 hours from Charleston, S.C., in a red pickup to see Paul Simon perform in Central Park on Thursday. He found a spot just 600 feet away from the stage--but trees blocked his view.

Still, just being there was worth it to him.

" 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' came out . . . and I thought these guys were God," Armour, 26, said, referring to the 1970 hit Simon recorded with Art Garfunkel. "My dad . . . was the one who bought the album. It's like weird to have your old man turn you on to things like that."

Rich Snyder, 23, of Manhattan, who was with Armour, said he didn't mind not being able to see the show, because it was being simulcast on cable TV, and he was taping it at home on his VCR. The two were part of a crowd of 750,000 that filled the Great Lawn to overflowing as Simon--touring with a large, international band prominently featuring a Brazilian drum troupe--once again worked the kind of musical chemistry that has entranced the country since the '60s.

Although the grass was damp from rain earlier in the day, Simon fans did not seem to mind as thousands staked out their grassy spots with blankets and plastic tarps many hours before the free concert was set to start. Some arrived as early as 6 a.m., and by 3 p.m. people were pouring in by the thousands, police said.

"There are people as far as the eye can see," Simon said before the concert began.

Not everyone who came late had to settle for seats without a view.

The city Parks Department doled out 193 of 500 reserved VIP seats in bleachers on the side of the stage for public officials and their families, including 60 tickets for Mayor David N. Dinkins, his five deputy mayors and City Hall staffers.

Most of the remaining VIP seats went to Simon's friends and entourage, Deputy Mayor Barbara Fife said. But a few other private citizens also got the coveted tickets, including former Mayor Edward I. Koch.

Many of the fans had brought picnic baskets and bottles of wine and loaves of French bread were seen everywhere as the skies cleared and night descended.

T-shirt vendors--many featuring the '60s-style tie-dyed variety--did a brisk business outside the park's entrances.

Tom Fisher, 37, who was selling black-and-white T-shirts featuring a picture of Simon and a guitar, was enticing customers with a spiel that went like this: "$5. Come and get them while they last. Organically grown. Yuppies pay $10."

The last time Simon performed in Central Park was in '81, in a reunion concert with Garfunkel, with whom he grew up in Forest Hills, Queens. A crowd estimated at 500,000 showed up for that one. The pair had split a decade earlier.

But Thursday night's concert was not just a stroll down memory lane, as Simon featured the Brazilian drummers and music from his recent "The Rhythm of the Saints" album.

Simon's "Born at the Right Time" concert marks the first time since 1983 that a superstar has entertained on the Great Lawn. Free Central Park concerts by major stars were common until that time, when a Diana Ross concert abruptly ended in heavy rain. Dozens of concertgoers were mugged and had gold chains snatched from them as they left the park. Police arrested 49 people, and the parks commissioner banned future shows by big-name stars.

Thursday night, police reported two arrests after the concert, one for assault and another for drug possession. Details on the arrests were not immediately available.

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