Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Robert Plant & Roger Daltrey Rock Forest Hills Stadium

By Michael Perlman

Robert Plant on left with members of the Sensational Space Shifters, Photo by Michael Perlman
Roger Daltrey, Photo by Michael Perlman

For the sixth year, the iconic Forest Hills Stadium has attracted a diverse mix of legendary artists and a full house. Classics never die, as proven by two of the season’s earliest concerts. Robert Plant & The Sensational Space Shifters performed with special guest singer, humanitarian, and nine-time Grammy recipient Sheryl Crow and folk singer, songwriter, instrumentalist Seth Lakeman on June 13, followed by Roger Daltrey performing The Who’s “Tommy” with The New York Pops on June 17. 

Full house at Forest Hills Stadium's Roger Daltrey & NY Pops concert, Photo by Michael Perlman
Seth Lakeman, Photo by Michael Perlman
Sheryl Crow, Photo by Michael Perlman
For over 50 years, Robert Plant, the lead singer and lyricist of Led Zeppelin, has never lost his wide and powerful vocal range, and is known as one of the greatest singers in the history of rock ‘n’ roll. His charismatic performance features gestures include dancing, jumping, and clapping, making the audience feel energized. His dynamic band, the Sensational Space Shifters, as of 2012, is as sensational as the title implies. His “Carry Fire” tour featured classics such as “The Lemon Song,” “Going To California,” and “Whole Lotta Love,” making the audience go wild, and included newer numbers such as the “The May Queen.” 

Robert Plant, Photo by Michael Perlman
Robert Plant & the Sensational Space Shifters, Photo by  Michael Perlman
Forest Hills native Glenn Lurie called it a thrill to attend big name concerts in his hometown. “We must all do what we can to keep the terrific music of the sixties and early seventies alive,” he said. For him, “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” was a showstopper. He explained, “When Robert Plant performs Led Zeppelin tunes, it brings me back to reliving my high school days, when Zep's music was just part of the growing up experience of music, playing such a major role in my life. His voice sounds as clear and moving as it did in 1969.”

Sofia Monge, co-owner of Continental Photo, felt it was one of the best concerts ever. She said, “When I heard Robert Plant was performing, I was excited and curious. His voice is powerful as ever, just like in the old Led Zeppelin days, and the man is almost 70 years old. I’ve become an instant fan! It’s nice that he seeks out music from all over the world and has been influenced by it, and he has garnished the amazing Sensational Space Shifters band to create some incredible music.”

Kew Gardens resident Eric Schreiber, a child of the 1970s, considers Led Zeppelin a favorite band of all-time. He said, “Robert Plant and Jimmy Page were one of the most prolific songwriting tandems in the history of rock ‘n’ roll, comparable in magnitude to John Lennon and Paul McCartney. As a solo artist, Plant has really done the delta bluesmen proud.”

Schreiber felt “The Lemon Song” was a great opener, setting the show’s tone. He continued, “’Going To California’ and ‘Gallows Pole’ were tracks from albums I wore out the grooves on while coming of age. ‘In The Mood’ from The Principle of Moments, was a prime selection from his early solo career, which didn't push his vocal cords beyond their comfort zone and sounded good. ‘Bring It On Home’ and ‘Whole Lotta Love’ were the perfect note to close on. I left wanting more, and as we filed towards the exit, the last encore was still playing in my head.”

As for opener Sheryl Crow, Schreiber said, “It was interesting that she had spoken with tennis legend John McEnroe who told her he first played at Forest Hills Stadium when he was nine, but meanwhile, Robert Plant mentioned he had to ask his friends if he had ever played here, since he couldn't remember.” He compared her to Linda Ronstadt and praised her set and band. “She still has the pipes that established her as a multi-platinum act 25 years ago.” 

Roger Daltrey & The Who band members, Photo by Michael Perlman

Roger Daltrey, Photo by Michael Perlman

Roger Daltrey, Photo by Michael Perlman
Spanning over 50 years, singer, musician, and actor Roger Daltrey continues to be a shining rock star, highly regarded for his charisma, powerful vocals, and energetic stage presence. His signature move is swinging a mic by its cord, as evident in the opening. In the mid-1960s, he founded the rock band, The Who, and became the lead singer. The Who took the stadium stage for two nights in 1971, and in 2015 for “The Who Hits 50!” tour. Considered the largest independent pops orchestra countrywide and the sole professional symphonic orchestra specializing in popular music, The New York Pops played Forest Hills for the past 4 years. Daltrey and some regulars of The Who band and The New York Pops united for a Father’s Day engagement of The Who’s “Tommy,” the rock opera about a deaf, dumb, and blind boy and his life experiences. 

The New York Pops, Photo by Michael Perlman
Roger Daltrey & The Who band members, Photo by Michael Perlman

His set opened with “Overture” and brought everyone to their feet with classics such as “Pinball Wizard,” “See Me, Feel Me,” and “Tommy Can You Hear Me?” His encore consisted of “Who Are You” and The Who’s signature number, “Baba O’Riley,” which featured a violin solo by virtuoso Katie Jacoby, and a suitable conclusion, “Always Heading Home.” One of Daltrey’s most memorable statements was “’Tommy’ is all of us, and all the characters in ‘Tommy’ are different people in all of us.’ We all have the potential to come out if we are careful. It’s all in there somewhere in the human mix.”

Commuting from Manhattan, Stuart Haber felt the collaboration between Roger Daltrey and The New York Pops initiated an additional depth to the score. He said, “You didn’t need videos above the stage. I saw Roger do the Tommy tour at Nassau Coliseum about six years ago and I saw The Who do it last year at Royal Albert Hall, but the orchestra made so much of the difference, and it felt closer to a Broadway musical than a rock concert.” While the score was outstanding, he considered “Go to The Mirror Boy,” “I’m Free,” and “We’re Not Gonna Take It” as best. “For all the times I heard ‘Baba O’Riley’ live, this was the only time the violin was used, and it was transcendent!” he continued.

Jane Schulyer Carucci of Forest Hills has seen The Who for over 30 years including their 2015 stadium appearance. “The New York Pops added to their music a classical component, which is timeless for the ages. All generations can enjoy this, as I've seen youngins really enjoying the show.”

Robert Schnell wearing The Who coat commutes in style
Forest Hills Gardens concertgoer Robert Schnell proved just that. “The highlight was bringing my 5-year-old daughter Ishanika Gabriele Schnell to her first concert and watching her dance to daddy’s music.” Reminiscing his own childhood, he added, “My brother Rich turned me on to Tommy when I was 10 through the Woodstock album, and finally The Who’s first ‘rock opera’ is performed by an orchestra with the band, which is 49 years in the making!” 

Ivy Hammer and her husband Steve made New York Pops concerts their summer tradition. She extended additional praise to Daltrey. “He’s now 74 and terrific. He moved around the stage easily and sounded the same as in his younger days with his clear and strong voice.” 

Arriving early to the Roger Daltrey & NY Pops concert, ready to rock the night away, Photo by Michael Perlman

Thursday, June 14, 2018

For Sale: Ben’s Best Deli Seeks New Owner ASAP!!!

By Michael Perlman

For parties interested in acquiring Ben’s Best, email unlockthevault@hotmail.com

Jay Parker, the longtime owner of Ben’s Best Delicatessen at 96-40 Queens Boulevard in Rego Park, announced that it may soon be history, if a buyer is not found for one of the last mom and pop kosher delis citywide. On June 7, a notice stated, “Regretfully, after 73 wonderful years, Ben’s Best will be closing its doors on June 30th. We are very grateful to everyone who has supported us, and we hope to see you one last time.”

In response, this columnist, as Chair of Rego-Forest Preservation Council, submitted a preservation proposal to the owner. It explained that time is of the essence to find an individual who will acquire this historic business. Parker was receptive and responded, “I had every desire to continue the business through other hands. If you find an interested party, we can reconstitute the business. My staff would love to continue working here.” Parker is open to meetings with prospective owners, and if a contract is negotiated, the staff members and ambiance would be retained.

Parker attributed his business’ recent decline to bike lanes and the loss of approximately 200 parking spots since last summer. “Bike lanes are murdering us,” he said. A banner across the façade now announces “curbside service,” and a petition calling for its removal has been placed inside. 

Staff posing alongside Harry Glaubach's Ben's Best wooden art piece & wall of fame
Painting of Ben's Best founder Benjamin Parker & his son Jay Parker, Photo by Michael Perlman
Ben’s Best was opened by Benjamin Parker in 1945 and was purchased by his son Jay Parker in 1984. “There was an approximate 1,500 kosher delis in the 5 boroughs in 1938, but today there’s about 12 remaining,” said Parker. In an average week, Parker would serve an estimated 900 pounds of pastrami, nearly the same for corned beef, and around 250 pounds of white meat turkey. 

Benjamin Parker circa 1940s, Courtesy of Jay Parker 
Ben’s Best scored a Zagat excellent rating of 4.3, while there are not many Zagat-rated delis. Ben’s Best caters private and corporate events, has a national air freight business, and has enticed the palates of numerous notables including Israeli President Shimon Peres, actor and comedian Jerry Lewis, Senator Jacob Javits, Governor Nelson Rockefeller, Mayor Ed Koch, and Mayor Rudy Giuliani. 

Ben's Best classic depiction on Lower East Side by famed artist Harry Glaubach
Ben's Best classic depiction on wood by famed artist Harry Glaubach
The classic ambiance features portraits of notables and plaques, and a 65-seat wood-paneled dining room with historic Rego Park scenes and a painting of Benjamin Parker. A map reads “You’ve been in our home. Where is yours?” and allows patrons to pin their residence. Designed by famed artist Harry Glaubach is a classic wooden work, which provides an illusion of Ben’s on the Lower East Side and memorializes the Marx Brothers, Abbott & Costello, and The Three Stooges. The famed logo on the façade sign and menu depicts a man on a bicycle riding by a deli window.

Danny DeVito & Jay Parker of "The Comedian," Courtesy of Jay Parker
Ben's Best 1980s staff photo with Jay Parker, 2nd from left
Ben's Best in late 1980s Vlasic pickles commercial, Courtesy of Jay Parker
Ben’s Best occasionally becomes a production set and is featured in written works. “The Comedian,” a Sony Pictures Classics film starring Robert De Niro, Danny DeVito, and Leslie Mann, had a wide release in theaters on February 3, 2017, and Ben’s Best was featured in four scenes, with Parker cast as counterman. It was featured in this columnist’s book “Legendary Locals of Forest Hills and Rego Park” and on The Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” in “From Crepes to Kreplach” (season 11, episode 9). The deli also appeared in “Deli Man,” a documentary which chronicles cross-country deli owners. 

Numerous patrons among deli fans immediately conveyed much support for Ben’s Best and shared memories and their hopes. Scott Aronofsky explained “What set Ben's Best apart from the other less memorable old school kosher delis in Queens is that everything was made the old-fashioned way, from recipes handed down and taught to Jay by his father. Nothing was frozen or canned. Even if Ben's is saved, and I hope so, there's a certain skill set for making chicken in the pot, Hungarian goulash, kreplach, mushroom barley soup, stuffed cabbage, and of course pastrami the old-school way. It takes just one spice added the wrong way, and it won't be Ben's.”

Last Thursday, Ari Silverstein was enjoying lunch and then was shocked for a couple of reasons. He was among the first to hear the news. “I ran into somebody I never thought I'd see in a kosher deli, jazz singer Vicki Burns who I rarely see her out of her natural habitat, a jazz club. I told her she was in a local legendary restaurant. Then Jay told her ‘you didn’t have the pastrami?!...who goes to a deli to have salad?’ Then he told us he will be closing. I listened to Jay and Marty tell stories about their most memorable times, and especially the one about creating an outdoor seating section for a large bus group, right on Queens Boulevard.”

Lori Rosen immediately thought, “Oh no, not another neighborhood icon gone.” She reminisced, “When Ben's turned 50, they sold hot dogs and matzah ball soup for only a nickel to commemorate it, and the mayor even came to honor them. Since my mother's passing, my brothers and I have sought comfort in their food, atmosphere, and great memories. My mom loved their rice pudding and we both loved their amazingly sweet kugel. We also catered on many occasions.”

“Where does the flavor of a community go without maintaining tradition?” asked longtime patron Miri Malach. “In the 1980s, my aunt, uncle, and their three sons came every week from Westchester. When my brother moved to L.A., dad would always pack him a sandwich for the plane.” “My eldest son launched a sports program in Forest Hills and teaches in preschools, so on our weekly meal, we get him corned beef till this day to keep him strong,” she chuckled.

Arthur Cohen, whose family has also patronized Ben’s since the late 1940s, called it the premier kosher deli. “In its heyday, it was always packed especially on weekends to either dine in or take out, and even Sid Caesar came here when he lived nearby in Walden Terrace. One of my favorite deli meats was rolled beef, which I’m not sure is even made today.” He offered an idea to attract a diverse clientele. “If a new owner is found, they can combine the kosher deli with a lighter menu to take in changes of tastes with a more modern twist.” 

Ben's Best owner Jay Parker outside his deli, Photo by Michael Perlman
“Ben’s Best represents a direct link to the end of WWII and is a landing zone to the American Jewish experience,” said Robert Rosner, who feels that the neighborhood that he was raised in has been in the “crosshairs of very destructive business practices and city government actions.” He continued, “Some things get lost to time in progress, but Ben’s Best should not be one of them. Katz‘s Delicatessen has been thriving in this environment of Jewish deli decline, and that key to success needs to be harnessed by the present or new owner.”

Third generation patron Ellen Chernick makes the commute from Woodside. “Closing Ben’s represents a demise of Queens Boulevard, and I’m still getting over the closing of Alexander’s.” 

Owner Jay Parker poses with memorabilia & pin-your-location map, Photo by Michael Perlman
You've been to our home. Where is yours? - Photo by Michael Perlman

A vintage hand-drawn Friday menu special, Photo by Michael Perlman

Ben's Best Delicatessen's classic menu cover, Photo by Michael Perlman