At the northern tip of the Central Park Mall is the Naumberg Bandshell. This ornate concrete grandstand is wonderful performance space where singers, orchestras and all kinds of music acts entertain park goers almost all year round.
When construction of the bandshell was completed in 1923, park organizers wanted the first concert there to be special and memorable. The event became extra special when famed composer John Philip Sousa was signed on to headline the show.
On a warm Septembers evening in 1923, the inaugural concert at the Naumberg Bandshell, dubbed “Sousapalooza” by event planners started with a bang when Sousa began the show with a rousing rendition of his classic tune Semper Fidelis, complete with backup dancers dressed as Marines.
Sousa performed all of his greatest hits, including Manhattan Beach March, The Gladiator March, and Minnesota March. The crowd was on its feet when Sousa performed an all acoustic version of his 1899 song Hands Across The Sea while backed by a local children’s choir.
The four plus hour Sousapalooza show ended with a pyrotechnic filled version of Sousa’s biggest hit Stars and Stripes Forever. The bandshell erupted with fireworks when the final note was played. Sousa dove into the crowd and was carried out of the park by his screaming fans as his orchestra trashed the stage and set fire to their instruments.
The next day the New York Globe gave a glowing review of the concert, calling it “a spirited evening of music that proves once again that Sousa is the shit.”