Weekend Column: If I Produced NYC’s ‘Mega Concert’ Here’s Who Would Play

Everyone’s entitled to their fantasies. Photograph via NYCMayor.

By Bobby Panza

On June 7th, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a ‘mega concert’ to take place on Central Park’s Great Lawn, celebrating the reopening of New York City. Tentatively scheduled for August 21st, the event is expected to attract 60,000 live attendees and a worldwide television audience.

Rock-and-Roll-Hall-of-Fame record producer and five-time Grammy winner Clive Davis, a Brooklyn native, was tapped by the mayor to help produce this bonanza. It is currently being billed as, “The Official NYC Homecoming Concert in Central Park.”

I started thinking, what if I could put on the ‘mega’ NYC reopening event? Eight iconic stars and some surprise guests, bringing people near and far together while showing the world that this city is back in business.

Spoiler alert: I took the words, ‘mega concert’ about as far as they can go here. Babe Ruth said, “I swing big. I swing with everything I’ve got. I hit big or I miss big.” On that note, batter up!

1. Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble

Born in Paris, Yo-Yo Ma immigrated to NYC at the age of seven. A graduate of the Juilliard School and Harvard University, Ma was recognized as a cello prodigy by age four-and-a-half. He has recorded over 90 albums and won 18 Grammys. On July 5, 1986, he joined in the New York Philharmonic’s tribute to the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty, also on the Great Lawn. 800,000 people were reported to have attended, which makes it the largest concert ever in Central Park. Mega.

Yo-Yo Ma created the Silk Road Ensemble (formerly the Silk Road Project) in 1998 to promote multicultural artistic exchange. It has over 40 performing members, hailing from more than 20 countries, and instruments ranging from the Chinese pipa (lute), sheng (mouth organ), and Japanese shakuhachi (bamboo flute), to the Galician gaita (bagpipe), Indian tabla (paired drums), and Persian kamancheh (spike fiddle), as well as various horns, vocalists and more. I felt this would be the perfect group to stay on stage and accompany the following seven artists, as a kind of bonus backup band.

2. Alicia Keys

Born in Hell’s Kitchen, Keys loved music and singing from a young age. On Sunday mornings, her mother would play her jazz records of artists like Thelonious Monk, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong. This was the kindling in Keys’ emotional connection to music. Keys began composing songs by age 12 and was signed to Columbia Records at 15.

With 15 Grammy awards and over 50 million albums sold worldwide, Keys’ accolades include being named the top R&B artist of the 2000s by Billboard. Keys’ philanthropy and activism make her a powerhouse; she co-founded and serves as Global Ambassador of the nonprofit HIV/AIDS-fighting organization, Keep a Child Alive. Imagine Keys walking on stage to her piano, posting up with Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble behind her as she starts tickling the ivories to Empire State of Mind (Part II).

3. Jay-Z

Raised in the Marcy Projects of Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, Jay-Z, a.k.a. Jazzy, Jigga, Hova and more, was the first rapper to be named into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2017. Having sold over 75 million singles worldwide, Jay-Z holds the record for most number-one albums by a solo artist on the Billboard 200. Pair that with a knack for business — Jay-Z is the first billionaire to emerge from the hip-hop genre — making him one of the wealthiest musicians of all time. But he’ll tell you, “I’m not a businessman! I’m a business… man!”

Alicia Keys with Yo Yo-Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble set up the classic Empire State of Mind (Part I) with Jay-Z and Mix Master Mike, best known for his work with the Beastie Boys (Brooklyn), handling the turn tables. Paul McCartney comes out midway to take over Kanye West’s verse in the song with his own rendition of lyrics. Rihanna joins the party for her feature on this iconic track as well.

4. Mariah Carey

Carey’s name was derived from the song, “They Call the Wind Maria.” Beloved for her five-octave vocal range, melismatic singing style, and one-of-a-kind use of the whistle register, Mariah has more #1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 than any solo artist in history (18), which puts her right behind the Beatles (20). Born in Huntington, New York, Carey eventually moved to Manhattan to pursue a career in music, while working part-time jobs and taking beauty-school classes. She wound up getting her break as a backup singer.

Jay-Z and Mariah perform their joint #1 hit, “Heartbreaker,” before Carey serenades us with some career spanning gems, then jumps into the classic #1 hit, “Honey,” which brings out special guest, Harlem’s own Sean Combs, a.k.a Diddy, a.k.a. Puff Daddy. Following “Honey,” we’re blessed with the reunion of Puff Daddy and Mase who perform “Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems.” The two bad boys set aside their personal business feud, because life is too short, and this NYC mega event is bigger than all of us.

Bigger than all of us, indeed. Out of nowhere Godzilla begins climbing the stage. Jimmy Page appears down below and joins Diddy for the 1998 Godzilla soundtrack hit, “Come With Me,” that uses Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” as the audio track. Yo-Yo Ma and The Silk Road Orchestra are already on stage crushing the strings section here. This leads us to our next iconic act.

5. Led Zeppelin Reunion

Sweet sassy molassy! It’s a Led Zeppelin reunion with John Bonham’s son, Jason Bonham on drums.

In the summer of 1973, English rockers, Led Zeppelin, performed 3 nights at Madison Square Garden. The shows were all recorded and packaged for their concert film The Song Remains the Same, which was released in 1976. Reuniting for this mega event is what this dream lineup is all about. If the crowd hasn’t pinched themselves by now I’ve failed. Sorry for the wasted bandwidth. Zeppelin launches into “Good Times, Bad Times” and plays a monster set before “No Quarter” draws to a close, making way for our next artist.

6. Lady Gaga

An icon of reinvention and musical versatility. Lady Gaga (Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta) was born in NYC and grew up just minutes from Central Park. She’s won an Oscar, a Golden Globe and 12 Grammy awards. Billboard named Gaga Artist of the Year in 2010 and Woman of the Year in 2015. Gaga broke her own Guinness World Record when she became the first female artist to achieve four, 10-million-selling singles. She founded the Born This Way Foundation, a non-profit aiming to empower youth, improve mental health and prevent bullying.

With Zeppelin’s “No Quarter” winding down, “Poker Face” fires up as Gaga comes onstage and airs out a set for the ages with “Bad Romance,” “The Edge of Glory,” “Paparazzi” and “Born this Way,” which she performs with special guest, Madonna. All bets are off with crowd smiles going gangbusters as the two superstars now share duties performing Madonna’s hit, “Express Yourself.”

7. Talking Heads Reunion

Art school dropout David Byrne and Talking Heads formed in New York City circa 1975. Cornerstones of the legendary CBGB’s music club, they performed with artists like the Ramones and Blondie. Regarded as the ‘artsy nerds’ of the Punk scene, Talking Heads wastes no time opening with fan favorite “Psycho Killer,” with the crowd singing along, enthusiastically. Lead singer David Byrne, ends their set welcoming our next iconic star on stage for a duet of “This Must Be The Place.”

8. Beyoncé

The first artist to debut at #1 on the Billboard 200 with her first six solo albums, Beyoncé has sold 118 million records worldwide. Married to Jay-Z, she gave birth to their daughter, Blue Ivy, at Lenox Hill Hospital on the — sorry — Upper East Side. Talent really runs in this family; Blue Ivy is just nine years old and already has a Grammy for her 2020 collaboration on the song “Brown Skin Girl.” A cultural icon, Beyonce has earned the nickname Queen Bey. New Yorker music critic, Jody Rosen, described her as “the most important and compelling popular musician of the twenty-first century. The result, the logical end point, of a century-plus of pop.”

I can’t think of a better closer for this one, ladies and gentleman. After finishing her duet with Talking Heads, Queen Bey takes us through her rich and diverse catalogue, including “Crazy in Love,” featuring Jay-Z.

9. Encore

Just when we think the show is over and people are gearing up to go, the lights come back on and there’s Billy Joel on piano, joined by all the evening’s stars for a mega rendition of “New York State of Mind.” Bob Dylan is on stage, too, but I don’t think he ever actually sings anything out loud.

So, there it is!  My dream concert. What do you think? What’s yours?

COLUMNS, OUTDOORS | 26 comments | permalink
    1. blacklikeu says:

      Good list – BUT –
      Get JZ & Beyonce out.
      Put instead Simon & Garfunkel,
      and Jerry Seinfeld.

      • AK says:

        Yeah love to jam out to my favorite Jerry Seinfeld song, “what’s the DEAL with this comment?!?”

        • blacklikeu says:

          Jerry brought out smiles and laughs.
          Jerry’s words are like fine wine & music.
          The crowd will relate to him more than to
          any of the singers/musicians.
          Ya wanna dance/jam to Jerry?
          Lets do a foxtrot together.

    2. ben says:

      This would be an absolute bonkers concert! Practicalities aside, I’d definitely be willing to go see it.

    3. The Grinch says:

      Music is such a subjective thing — with all due respect, I wouldn’t even turn on the television for any of that lineup except the encore.

      Particularly Beyonce. She’s kind of a 21st century Diana Ross — photogenic, a good dancer, and undoubtedly hard-working, but just not a very interesting singer or songwriter. Far more of an entertainer than a musician, imho, and her swing into Black Nationalist chic was distasteful to say the least.

      We are past the era, unfortunately, of overlap between universal pop appeal and artistic depth. There are a few old warhorses left but nobody to live up to the Central Park concerts of years past. Sad!

      • AL says:

        Really living up to your name 🙂

        • Rosella says:

          Too funny – agree. Jennifer Rush born in Astoria, lives on CPW – is one of many artists I know who wouldn’t do this gig and loads have turned it down – for the simple reason it’s not safe. Period. Too soon – dumb to say the least. Not to detract from Clive Davis’ amazing track record. Re: the comment about under 55 year olds…where do you think musicians learned what they did? As kids? By copying/improvising to “older” musicians…NYC will be fine Blessings to all stay safe!

    4. Teres says:

      would party with Bobby

    5. D.S says:

      Heck of a lineup

    6. NP says:

      Bobby 4 Mayor

    7. Leon says:

      Definitely lose Zeppelin – they have no clear NYC ties.

      Not a huge Talking Heads fan but I can work with you on that one.

      Add in Simon & Garfunkel.

      And how about the remaining members of Run DMC and/or the Beastie Boys?

      And maybe throw in a Hamilton song?

      Also, maybe kick it off with some Bernstein. He is obviously not alive but his music symbolizes the city – Rhapsody in Blue or something from West Side Story?

    8. Gaia Stern says:

      A bit of everything. I like that. We need a tad more of Rock n’ Roll though. 🙂

    9. Chaim Yankel says:

      It’s great to have “Bernstein” (sic) kick things off with Gershwin.

      But then Ralph Freed loved New York in June and a Bernstein tune.

    10. Sang Sang Sang! says:

      How about an all-New York lineup?

      Kick it off with Patti Austin. Then Lisa Fischer. Follow with Valerie Simpson. Cyndi Lauper. Nile Rogers. Carole King. Billy Joel. Roberta Flack.

      Bring on the Dap Kings with Saun & Starr, and a Sharon Jones-hits tribute playlist.

      Go from there.

    11. UWSDad says:

      This made me smile. Thanks!

    12. Mark Moore says:

      How about Phish? I’ve seen Trey Anastasio walking through the park before. And maybe what’s left of Steely Dan and the Allman Brothers, get them together.

    13. AK says:

      This concert is mega, man! Something for everyone, and would be so cool to potentially see crossover performances with the different artists.

    14. Jeffrey Silver says:

      Just put up a giant screen and play the movie

      “The Summer of Soul”

      • Westsider says:

        You need to consider Suzanne Vega, John Legend, Rosanne Cash and Steely Dan too. All NY-based. So over JZ and Maria Carey. Led Zepplin is a stretch. How about the remaining Beastie Boys, Debbie Harry, Phish (Trey)…

    15. Mark ritaccco says:

      BOBBY – You’re a genius with an ear to the streets. But you MUST have Beastie Boys on this list. Even your boy Brandon Stein agrees. Love you and your column so much. <3 Mark R.

    16. John says:

      Tony Bennett

    17. TM says:

      I wonder what the under 55 demographic would say