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RedHawks remember: Looking back on Simon and Garfunkel concert at Miami

In November 1969, Simon and Garfunkel performed in front of a soldout crowd at Millett Hall. This performance was the first time the duo performed their hit song "Bridge Over Troubled Water."

By Emily Williams, For The Miami Studnet

Looking out at a crowd of over 11,000 people, Art Garfunkel, clad in a red pullover sweater and sporting his signature mop of unruly blonde hair, introduced their next song to the audience, one none of them had heard before.

Even though the duo debuted the Grammy-winning tune "Bridge Over Troubled Water" at Millett Hall 45 years ago, Miami alumni who attended the concert can still remember the record-setting performance vividly.

Lynn Morgan Gnaegy ('73) knew she was witnessing something special when she went to the concert during the fall of her freshman year.

"When they sang 'Bridge Over Troubled Water,' all you could see was a beam of light that shone on Art's face," she said.

The song would not be released to the public until the following January as the title track of Simon and Garfunkel's last album together. It would go on to win five Grammy's, including Song of the Year and Record of the Year. Many consider the album to be their best work and their live performances that fall to be particularly exceptional, despite the tension of the duo's imminent split that followed soon after the album's release.

As he shared in the documentary "The Harmony Game," about the making of "Bridge of Troubled Water," Paul Simon, after writing the title tune, did not think it would be a hit, calling it a simple "little hymn." Garfunkel, however, knew the song was something special the first time he sang it.

"It worked in just about every room I ever sung it in, small or big," he said. "It's a killer song."

As the footage shows, it definitely worked in Millett's Assembly Hall. Gnaegy recalls the audience listening to Art's soaring tenor in complete silence.

"You could hear a pin drop in Millett," she said.

Over the years, Miami grad Nancy Shank Peltier ('73) recalls telling all of her children about the experience. Twenty-seven years after the concert, Nancy's daughter made a surprising discovery during her freshman year at Ohio University.

"She stopped to check a street vendor's merchandise one day and was amazed to find a cassette tape of the concert," she recalled. "As she bought it, she told the vendor her mother had been there."

Although the official recordings of the concert and the footage included in "The Harmony Game" label the date of the concert as Nov. 11, 1969, advertisements for the event from The Miami Student say that it was actually held on Sunday, Nov. 9. A photo from the concert also appeared on the front page of the Nov. 11 issue with a caption about the record-breaking performance.

"The largest crowd ever to gather in the Assembly Hall (over 11,000) witness the old and the new sounds of a popular Simon and Garfunkel guitar-vocal duo," it read.

As an article in the Sept. 20, 1969 issue of The Student described, the university hoped to attract large audiences with the concerts at the recently opened Millett Hall since ticket prices would be very low. Even at prices fifty cents higher than the usual fee, tickets to see the hit duo were only $3.50, $4.00 or $4.50.

For years after the S&G concert, Miami's Millett Hall continued to attract popular musicians from Elton John to Fleetwood Mac to 50 Cent, but something seemed particularly notable to the students who attended Simon and Garfunkel's concert there during the fall of '69.

Not only was it during the peak of Simon and Garfunkel's musical career, it also literally put a spotlight on two friends who were rapidly growing apart. Both hailing from Forest Hills, Queens, Paul and Art have been friends since grade school. They met acting in a performance of "Alice in Wonderland." Paul was the White Rabbit and Art was the Cheshire Cat. They recorded their first song together at age 15, a minor hit called "Hey, Schoolgirl" that they released under the names Tom and Jerry.

Speculation still clouds their on-again-off-again partnership, but, according to Garfunkel, the main reason behind their official split in 1970 was his temporary move to Mexico for a role in the film "Catch 22." Simon was originally cast in the film as well, but his role was cut from the script.

During their concert at Miami, the duo performed "So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright" a song believed to be a goodbye from Simon to Garfunkel who, before he decided to pursue music as his career, was an architecture major at Columbia University. Simon cleverly used the name of famous architect Wright to allude to his impending separation from Art. Ironically, Art sings the melody of this song alone.

"I remember the nights we'd harmonize 'til dawn. I'd never laughed so long, so long, so long," he sang.

The concert also fell during a time of social and political unrest. "Songs for America," a CBS special filmed in part at the Miami performance, prompted many families to turn off their television sets when they realized it was not just an entertainment special; it was an anti-war political statement.

"It was my freshman year," Peltier remembered. "What a year it turned out to be with the draft lottery, ROTC building sit-in, and the shootings at Kent; but that fall was still a time of innocence."

The lyrics of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" that thousands of Miami students had the privilege to hear live for the very first time 45 years ago, delivered a very relevant message of hope. Even though Simon had once called the lyrics too simple, after seeing the how live audiences all over the country reacted to his song, he realized that its power was in its simplicity.

"When darkness comes and pain is all around, like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down. Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down."