50 Years Ago: The Summer of 1971

Now that it’s hot and it feels like summer, it’s a good time of year to recall again the Summer of 1971, 50 years ago. Here are memories from an earlier Struming…

I learned a lot and enjoyed the summer of 1971, 50 years ago. Yes I am obviously showing my age, but proud of it. It was the summer between my freshman and sophomore years at Rutgers. I spent the majority of that summer, and the following one, working with one of my childhood buddies from Springfield, NJ, Chuck Sabo, who is now lives in Arizona.

Chuck’s dad was a big-wig at Restaurant Associates (RA), a big restaurant company which owned and operated major restaurants.

One of the lesser known restaurants in the RA family was a seasonal restaurant they operated in Central Park called the Fountain Café, located next to the lovely Bethesda Fountain (pictured above) in Central Park. Alas, that restaurant no longer exists. The Fountain Café operated from Memorial Day to Labor Day and was open from noon to 6pm daily. It was nestled between the steps coming down from the Band Shell and was located right next to the Bethesda Fountain, an exciting vibrant location within Central Park.

Chuck’s dad was able to get his son and his son’s buddy, Lonny, summer jobs waiting tables. It was a plumb job for a college kid. Here are the key things I remembered from that summer:

1. The two BIG items on the menu were Sangria and guacamole.

There were giant cans full of Sangria in the kitchen where you’d dip your pitcher full of Sangria and then ladle the guacamole out of giant vats. Although it was a relaxed kind of outdoor restaurant, I quickly learned it would be far more enjoyable to be on the receiving end than the serving end, a lesson I learned more strongly in the Summer of 1972 as a waiter at the more traditional Tavern on the Green—a tough place to work despite the tips.

2. Central Park was and still is a very cool place

Was then, still is today. Yes you wouldn’t walk there alone at night, but what a park! A zoo, grassy areas, bikes, restaurants, row boats, picnics. Immense. Nothing like it within an urban setting.

3. The Schaefer Music Festival at Wolman Skating rink was legendary

Schaefer Beer, a New York favorite, (“Schaefer is the one beer to have when you’re having more than one”) sponsored an outdoor summer concert series each year in Central Park from 1968-1976. In the summer of 1971, tickets were $2, and there were concerts almost every night. Given that Chuck and I worked until 6pm nearby at the Fountain area, we merely walked over to see virtually every show of interest that summer and next. The bands we saw those summers included:


The Byrds

The Allman Brothers Band (with Duane Allman who would die in the fall of 1971)

Delaney & Bonnie


Procol Harum

The Chambers Brothers

The Four Seasons

Jose Feliciano

Canned Heat

Loggins & Messina


Edgar Winter


Harry Chapin

Savoy Brown


The Kinks

Richie Havens

….and many others.

All for $2 each !

I have two other crisp musical memories from the Summer of 1971—the “hits” we heard on the drive in from New Jersey into Manhattan, and another concert my buddy Chuck and I saw that summer—but not in Central Park

First of all in terms of hit songs—some of the top 40 hits that were popular in the summer of 1971 included two of the most noteworthy “worst of all timers”, Me and You & A Dog Named Boo by Lobo and Chick-A-Boom by one-hit wonder Daddy Dewdrop. But if you are 50 or older I know you know the tunes well. I remember hearing them on 77 WABC, still the top 40 powerhouse in New York, but in the midst decline in the face of the growth of FM radio particularly the emerging album rock giant, 102.7 WNEW-FM.

Lastly there was one other phenomenal concert Chuck and I saw that summer. It was on July 31, 1971 in Queens at Forest Hills. It was the first time I saw The Who, who delivered an incredible, ear numbing concert primarily in support of their brand new album, Who’s Next. Though we’ve now heard Baba O’Riley and Won’t Get Fooled Again countless times over the years, I can’t describe how powerful and exciting it was to hear them live for the first time in an unbelievable outdoor venue in Forest Hills, then the home of the U.S. Tennis Open.

The summer of 1971. It was a good time for music, a good time to earn some money, a great life experience, and a wonderful summer. It reinforced to me what a great place New York City is and why I wanted to be there. After I graduated from Rutgers in 1974 I went to NYU for an MBA. No NY fear in me. I also had some of the best years of my business career in New York primarily at BBDO until 1989. I kind of regret not having lived there too at some point. New York City is a great place to live in your 20s or 30s, and later on in life as well (so long as you have the coin to afford the lifestyle, no small caveat). Through turmoil, tragedy, COVID and change, New York City remains the most exciting city in the world, and I felt fortunate to live nearby. In this COVID era it’s easy to put down big Northeast cities as “ghost towns”. Just wait a few months. They will rise again. Today I live in Southern NJ 90 miles from NY, but still close enough to go to Manhattan often, and also to the Bronx where my beloved team that wears pinstripes plays.

In the summer of 1971 I also learned about the dignity of service with a deeper appreciation of the hard work of being a waiter. I also learned the obvious lesson that it’s much more enjoyable to be on the receiving end.

Thanks for making the summer of 1971 special, Chuck. If not for you I would have been selling Fuller Brushes door-to-door as I did the previous summers. There was learning and life experiences in peddling Fuller Brushes as well, but boar bristle hair brushes don’t pack the memories that Central Park does.

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One Comment

  1. Chuck says:

    Great. Also remember Dom DeLuise, Don Meredith and Marlo Thomas, War (What is it good for?), cute little fella ” son e na bitz” (sp?) and hiding in the kitchen behind that thick wooden door while garbage cans rained down from the bridge. What a summer!

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