Simon & Garfunkel Reunite For Central Park Concert On This Date In 1981

Simon & Garfunkel’s landmark Central Park reunion concert took place 40 years ago today. The September 19, 1981 show at New York City’s iconic park was one of the largest and most anticipated concerts in the history of popular music. The massive event reportedly saw half a million people gathering on the Great Lawn and marked the legendary folk rock duo’s first proper reunion concert since breaking up in 1970. JamBase takes a look at the performance for this installment of Sunday Cinema.

The Concert In Central Park, as the subsequent album and concert film would be named, was conceived by New York City parks commissioner Gordon Davis and promoter Ron Delsener as a benefit for Central Park, which had fallen into disrepair due to lack of funds. Davis, Delsener and HBO, who would carry the concert, decided on Simon & Garfunkel as they felt the Queens natives represented the city well and their reunion would also draw a large crowd. Delsener pitched the idea to Paul Simon in the summer of 1981 and although trepidacious, Paul contacted Art Garfunkel in Switzerland who was enthusiastic about the project and returned to the U.S. Although old tensions sometimes ran high during the whirlwind rehearsals, the show commenced on September 19, 1981.

Simon & Garfunkel were backed by an experienced group of session musicians including Billy Joel guitarist David Brown, Muscle Shoals guitarist Pete Carr, bassist Anthony Jackson, Rob Mounsey on synthesizer, pianist Richard Tee drummers Steve Gadd and Grady Tate along with a horn section consisting of trumpeters John Eckert and John Gatchell as well as saxophonists Dave Tofaniand and Gerry Niewood. Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel kicked things off by leading the band through their 1968 hit “Mrs. Robinson.” The duo continued with beloved Simon & Garfunkel tunes “Homeward Bound” and “America.”

The set also included classics from Simon’s solo career like “Me & Julio Down By The Schoolyard,” “Still Crazy After All These Years,” “Late In The Evening,” “American Tune” and “Slip Slidin’ Away” along with another beautiful Simon & Garfunkel tune, “April Come She Will,” led by Art. Garfunkel also delivered a fitting rendition of Gallagher and Lyle’s “A Heart In New York” which references Central Park and would later appear on his album Scissors Cut. Simon & Garfunkel also included a cover from the highly influential duo The Every Brothers with “Wake Up Little Susie.” A poignant moment came when Paul Simon debuted his new song “The Late Great Johnny Ace,” a tribute to those who had died of gun violence, most notably John Lennon, who had been shot just outside the park less than a year earlier.

After a “Kodochorme” (Paul Simon) and “Maybelline” (Chuck Berry) medley, Art Garfunkel sang one of his signature songs penned by Simon as well as the title track to the duo’s final album, “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” The Simon classic “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover” would follow ahead of set closer, “The Boxer,” which included a new verse. The first encore continued with a trio of Simon & Garfunkel classics in “Old Friends/Bookends,” “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” and the 60s anthem “The Sound Of Silence.” A “Late In The Evening” reprise served as the second encore and the final song of the show.

Watch highlights from The Concert In Central Park via the JamBase Live Video Archive below including “Mrs. Robinson,” “America,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “The Boxer” and “The Sound Of Silence”:


Simon & Garfunkel at Central Park

  • Mrs. Robinson
  • Homeward Bound
  • America
  • Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard  
  • Scarborough Fair  
  • April Come She Will  
  • Wake Up Little Susie  
  • Still Crazy After All These Years  
  • American Tune  
  • Late in the Evening  
  • Slip Slidin’ Away  
  • Heart in New York  
  • The Late Great Johnny Ace  
  • Kodachrome / Maybellene
  • Bridge Over Troubled Water
  • 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover  
  • The Boxer
  • Old Friends / Bookends
  • The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)
  • The Sound of Silence
  • Late in the Evening
  • Paul Simon
  • Unknown Song