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Jun 15, 2018

Happy 50th Anniversary to the PNC Bank Arts Center

By Joanne Colella

This summer, the PNC Bank Arts Center, formerly known as the Garden State Arts Center, reaches a significant milestone, marking a half century of providing outstanding entertainment to countless fans of every genre of music, plus comedy shows, trade shows, cultural and music festivals, and more. The amphitheater, located at Garden State Parkway exit 116 in Holmdel, can accommodate about 17,500 guests, with 7,000 seats and a lawn area that holds about 10,500 people. Ranked among the top five most successful amphitheaters in the country and now managed by Live Nation, the Arts Center comes alive during the summer season, with a lineup of diverse performances scheduled from May through September.

Way back in 1954, when the Garden State Parkway was created, plans were also included to establish recreational facilities along its route. In 1964, the area of Holmdel known as Telegraph Hill was selected as the site for a center for music and the performing arts. The venue was managed (and is still owned) by the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, which also operated the Garden State Parkway. The structure was designed by the modernist architect Edward Durell Stone, with open sides and a saucer-like roof supported by huge concrete pillars. Originally, the center offered seating for just 5,197 people, with room for another 5,000 on the lawn area.

Opening day was June 12, 1968, featuring a performance by pianist Van Cliburn, conductor Eugene Ormandy, and the Philadelphia Orchestra. The beloved Judy Garland gave two performances there shortly after, on June 25 and 26. In the years that followed, much of the Garden State Arts Center programming included classical music, and free daytime programs were presented for students, senior citizens, and special needs audiences. There were also a number of international heritage festivals, held before the start and after the end of the regular season, that were established in 1971 by the center’s nonprofit foundation. The Garden State Arts Foundation continues to provide free shows to this day; for more information, visit gsafoundation.njta.com/events.html.

During the 1990s, the Arts Center went through a series of significant, and sometimes controversial, changes. Classical music performances diminished and the venue took on a major expansion in 1996, adding 2,000 seats and removing trees in the surrounding area to double the capacity of the lawn seating. That same year, PNC Bank purchased the naming rights, eliminated the “Garden State” wording, and it became the PNC Bank Arts Center.

Enhancements in recent years have seen the emergence of VIP seating, parking, and hospitality areas, as well as an expanded assortment of food and beverage offerings throughout the venue, with items to appeal to a diverse range of tastes.

Performers over the decades have included James Taylor, Ringo Starr, Bruce Springsteen, The Beach Boys, The Spice Girls, Glen Campbell, Dionne Warwick, Jackson Browne, the Allman Brothers Band, Barry Manilow, The Osmonds, Aerosmith, Blondie, Ozzy Osbourne, and Sting, as well as Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Sheryl Crow, John Mayer, Alice Cooper, The Goo Goo Dolls, Rod Stewart, The Zac Brown Band, Sam Hunt, Third Eye Blind, Dave Matthews, Joan Jett, Black Sabbath, Def Leppard, Marilyn Manson, Steely Dan, Carlos Santana, Van Halen, Motley Crue, Luke Bryan, Backstreet Boys, Tim McGraw, Toby Keith, Trace Adkins, Miranda Lambert, Barenaked Ladies, Pitbull, Meatloaf, Journey, Foreigner, Chicago, Peter Frampton, Crosby, Stills, & Nash, Kenny Chesney – and too many more to mention.

Last month, the summer concert schedule kicked off on May 19 with country star Dierks Bentley and John Fogerty, with ZZ Top on May 26. Upcoming shows this season will include Slayer, Imagine Dragons, Thirty Seconds to Mars, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Poison with Cheap Trick, Rascal Flatts, Foreigner, Steely Dan with The Doobie Brothers, Gov’t Mule, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts with Styx, Dave Matthews Band, Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson, Chicago with REO Speedwagon, Avenged Sevenfold, Lady Antebellum and Darius Rucker, Lauryn Hill, Lindsey Stirling and Evanescence, 3 Doors Down, Counting Crows, Pentatonix, Breaking Benjamin, Brad Paisley, Deep Purple and Judas Priest, Ozzy Osbourne, Willie Nelson, Kevin Hart, and more.

For the complete list and to purchase tickets, visit livenation.com/venues/14235/pnc-bank-arts-center.