Ben E. King inaugurates a new, cooler Pier Six


All of the streaming searchlights in the downtown sky last night led to the grand opening of the "new" Pier Six Pavilion.

But before the crowd of about 2,500 was to enjoy the sounds of Ben E. King, the Pier staff was busy putting the finishing touches on the new facility.

"For a short time we were a little worried that we wouldn't get everything done, but it all came together nicely," said production manager Jason Wright, who was working his first show ever. "We had a great crew here and they wound up getting it all done with time to spare."

After 15 minutes of dedication ceremonies, King took the stage at 8:20 and performed an hour of contemporary standards like "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," "Save The Last Dance For Me," and his two most popular numbers, "Spanish Harlem" and "Stand By Me."

Although the $6 general admission ticket entitled the buyer to a brand new pavilion seat, many, like Brenda Conway of Baltimore, thought that the lush, green lawn in the rear and a cool bay breeze was the perfect place to spend opening night.

"It's just very nice to sit here next to the water and enjoy a show," said Conway. "I can't imagine a better setting to see a performance. It was very smart of Baltimore to do this."

Conway also insisted that the sound was better from the back, and it was hard to argue, with King's strong vocals and the tent's fine acoustics making a "cheap seat" a wonderful place to be.

Two of the facility's senior ushers -- Estelle Flowers and Phyllis Waters, who have more than 20 years of combined volunteer service at the Pier -- were particularly impressed with the new design.

"The best part is how they have raised the tent allowing the breeze to come through," said Waters, who said she was earning her first paycheck last night because the ushers are now being paid. "It used to get a little hot under here, but now I think we'll be in for some cool nights."

In the spirit of the new facility, Pier Six sponsor WJZ-TV has abandoned its old white-light "Harborlights" stage sign for a new script sign in bold pink neon.

"We've had that old one for 10 years and we figured it was the right time for a change," said WJZ Vice President and General Manager Marcellus Alexander.

The Pier returns to action tonight with a double bill of Hall and Oates and Pat Benatar.

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