NEW YORK – The venue for great New York sports teams like basketball’s Knicks and ice hockey’s Rangers, Madison Square Garden in the heart of the Big Apple is firmly ensconced in the popular imagination as the place where great events take place, whether they be in sports or in the cultural realm, and it reveals its secrets when one strolls through the cavernous building.
The stadium has become a symbol of success for artists, who dream of putting on concerts here, and it’s also a tourist attraction with more than three million visitors for the roughly 240 events scheduled each year.
Knowing that it is a site where Michael Jackson, Queen, The Rolling Stones and Janis Joplin, to name only a few, have performed, MSG organizes regular tours during which tourists have the opportunity to go up on stage and visit the private suites and boxes set aside for personalities who visit the stadium, and even venture into the athletes’ locker rooms.
To put it all into context, Madison Square Garden is an essential part of New York just like the Statue of Liberty and is the first of the four stadiums bearing that name that have been built since 1879, seven years before the iron statue was erected.
The current building, located just two blocks from the Empire State Building between 7th and 8th Avenues, was opened in 1968, but it’s the heir to the aura and history of the three prior structures.
Its legacy includes being the site for Marilyn Monroe’s well-known rendition of “Happy Birthday” to then-President John F. Kennedy on his May 19, 1962, birthday, the blond bombshell outfitted in a form-fitting sequined gown.
On that occasion, there were 15,000 guests attending the president’s “private” birthday bash, although the venue could hold between 20,000 and 23,000 for a concert and up to around 38,000 for a basketball game.
A tour of MSG will also take one through the private boxes that some companies use for their party celebrations or for concerts, as well as into the dressing rooms used by stars such as Jennifer Lopez, or the modern-day Queen with Adam Lambert as lead singer.
The public part of the stadium – with access to the main hall along a passage filled with “stadium food” kiosks and other more elaborate fare – is also a gigantic museum that gathers together memorabilia from MSG’s almost 150 years of existence.
On the “Garden 366” wall, for instance, a list of the most important events hosted at the arena can be reviewed, such as the fact that on Sept. 10, 2001, the day before the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers, Michael Jackson gave his last public show celebrating the 30 years of his performing career.
The artist who has performed most often at the venue, however, is pop singer Billy Joel, who has given 112 concerts there, 66 of them consecutive, and still provides a monthly performance that is always “sold out.”
The behind-the-scenes tours last 75 minutes and cost $35 per person, a little less than it would cost to see a basketball game there, quite a bit below what even the least expensive concert tickets go for and altogether a fabulous value for anyone wanting to get a good look at what makes MSG tick.