Their music first struck a chord in the 1960s, cutting through the chaos with poetic and penetrating commentaries on the times. So in 1983, when Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel played Laurel Park as part of an international reunion tour, nearly 40,000 people flocked to the folk-rock concert to look back on those turbulent years.
A racetrack may seem an odd venue for a stage show, but the site drew fans from both Baltimore and Washington and held nearly four times the crowd that could fit into Merriweather Post Pavilion. (Two years earlier, the duo with 10 Grammy Awards had drawn 500,000 for a free show in New York’s Central Park).
At Laurel, “the air carried the sweet aromas of marijuana and manure,” The Evening Sun reported. At $17.50 a ticket, the turnout was largely white-collar: “[People] came with lawn chairs and loungers. They had picnic baskets laden with French bread and warm brie, cold pasta and chopsticks, white wine and apricot sours,” The Sun reported. Some arrived three hours early, avoiding the five-mile traffic backup that delayed the concert by nearly an hour.
What they got was a two-hour show, 26 songs including Simon and Garfunkel’s greatest hits, from “I Am A Rock” and “The Boxer” to “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “Mrs. Robinson.”
At one point, while introducing the song “Slip Slidin’ Away,” Simon — an avid New York Yankees fan — made note of the seven-game losing streak by the Orioles, their division rivals. “Welcome to the American League East,” Simon wisecracked. (The Orioles recovered and won the 1983 World Series.)
They performed on a stage resembling a drive-in theater, with a 700-square-foot video screen and an 11-piece band. And while Simon and Garfunkel proved coldly distant side-by-side — they never spoke to each other, per their long-standing breakup — their voices merged for that peek at the past that the audience sought.
Fittingly, after two curtain calls, they ended with their signature hit from 1965, “The Sound of Silence,” after which the mostly middle-aged crowd filed out, homeward bound.