Castle Clinton was constructed at the southern tip of Manhattan for the defense of New York City. Designed as a near-twin to Castle William on Governor’s Island, the building stopped functioning as a military base after the War of 1812. The castle was converted to an opera house, then an immigration processing center, and finally an aquarium before being named a national monument in 1946.
Today this circular red sandstone building in Battery Park serves as the ticket office for ferries going to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. And, for a few magical summer evenings each year, it is transformed into an open air concert hall. A portable stage is erected, folding chairs are opened, a refreshment stand set up and tickets (first-come, first-serve) distributed to the crowd that waits outside in the sun for hours.
Why do they stand so patiently in the middle of a heat wave? Simple. Because the space is intimate (only 600 seats are available), the price is right (free), and the acts are first-rate.
Today, as day turned to night, this former military fortress became a Texas honky-tonk when Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock — also known as the Flatlanders — performed for those lucky enough to score tickets.
The sounds of these veteran country singer-songwriters had the New York City crowd clapping their hands, stomping their feet, and finally, up on their feet and happily dancing under the stars.