Last Play At Shea

Over two nights in July, Billy Joel invited a few musician friends, including Garth Brooks, Roger Daltrey, Steven Tyler, Tony Bennett, John Mellencamp, Don Henley and — oh yeah — Paul McCartney, along with more than 100,000 fans to celebrate the last concert ever at New York's Shea Stadium. Home to the Mets since opening in 1964, Shea Stadium, the site of the historic “Amazin' Mets” 1969 World Series win, will be torn down at the end of this baseball season. Over the years, Shea has also been host to a Papal visit and concerts by some of the biggest names in rock music including Joplin, Hendrix, Springsteen, Clapton, and Elton John, as well as The Rolling Stones, The Who, and The Police. Of course, who can forget The Beatles' groundbreaking concert of August 15, 1965 that started it all, at a time when stadium shows for 60,000 fans didn't exist? Respecting the history of music at Shea, the Mets organization turned to New Yorker Joel for a musical farewell.

The choice of Joel made complete sense to Steve Cohen, production, lighting, set, and video designer, and creative director for Joel. “Billy is arguably the quintessential New York songwriter,” says Cohen. “He's written stories about this city, for the city, and the surrounding area for 30 years.” Cohen's design was a perfect reflection of Joel's connection to New York and honored Shea's place in the city. “The language of the design is really New York City, and what better backdrop than the majesty of the New York City skyline? Visually, it was about 220' of skyline; the profile of the buildings was created from all the high-res and low-res video screens.”

Cohen worked with Danny O'Bryen at Screenworks, a collaboration that resulted in using a combination of Toshiba, Panasonic, and Screenworks proprietary low-res video displays to create the skyline. “I wanted the stage to encompass the entire centerfield opening, so we had a stage that was 280' end to end,” says Cohen, who adds that sound designer Brian Ruggles' decision to use Clair Brothers S4s instead of line arrays created a huge footprint that called for “a massive over structure to support the PA.” Brown United created the structure, while Tait Towers did the actual stage.

The lighting rig — provided by Steve Cohen Productions using suppliers PRG, Syncrolite, and Christie Lites — comprised more than 400 automated lights including Martin MAC 2000 Wash and Profiles, Vari-Lite VL3000, VL1000 Arcs, and VL5 Arcs; Syncrolites ranging from 3kW to 7kW; multi-lamp floods, some of which were Chromlech Jarag-5 units; Strong and Robert Juliat followspots; Motion Labs 208V Racks; ETC Sensor Dimmer Racks; and PRG Series 400 Power and Data Distribution racks. Also required to make it work were 1,100' of trussing, not including the stage roof; 1,450' of PRG fiber-optic cable; 1.8 miles of PRG S400 trunk cable; and 3.8 miles of six-circuit Socapex multicable. The system drew 1.24MW of power.

Cohen and Mark Foffano, associate lighting designer and lighting director, developed the plot, a derivation of Joel's touring plot with another 600 lights added. Foffano notes that the compressed load-in time presented a logistical challenge, but having the team together while still touring helped. “All the players were looking at it from its birth,” he says. “That was a plus. We were under huge time restraints and had hurdles to overcome to make this happen, but it was a huge success.”

Cohen credits that success as a true team effort, befitting the home of the Mets. “It is a testament to Bobby Thrasher, the production manager. Bobby and his team are unsung heroes, the greatest group of guys in any touring organization. If you just list what this thing was, it's phenomenally huge.” That list includes a structure that had to be built in 40 hours, 22 musicians augmenting the band, eight special guest stars, and Paul McCartney on Friday night. “If you were to tell me this was all going to come off as well as it did, I would have thought you were crazy, but in fact, it came off flawlessly,” Cohen adds. “Billy considers it a crowning achievement in his career, as we all do.”

Foffano echoes the thought of all the fans, crew, and performers. “It was incredible when it all came full circle, when Billy Joel gave Paul McCartney the final song: McCartney singing ‘Let it Be,’ the last song to ever be heard live at Shea. History is a great thing!”

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