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Coney Island signage

Coney Island signage in Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park with Luna Park’s Electro Spin, Air Race and Cyclone in background. March 21, 2014. Photo © Tricia Vita

Coney Island’s amusements officially open for the season in just one day–on Palm Sunday! Freebies abound at the People’s Playground for early birds who relish being among the first as well as for casual visitors all day long.

–The first 100 people on line at both the landmark Cyclone and Wonder Wheel will get a free ride. Rides open after the 11am Blessing of the Rides at Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park and the 11:45am Egg Cream Christening at the Cyclone. For the rest of the day, a ride on the Cyclone, which usually costs $9, will be discounted to $6. At Deno’s, over 200 Coney Island kids from the local Salt and Sea Mission will be treated to free rides, toys and Easter bags. In addition to face-painters and stiltwalkers, Ray Balloons will be on hand to make free balloon animals for visitors and DJ Joe will spin tunes on the Boardwalk.

face-painters, balloon artists, a DJ, and stilt-walkers

–The Coney Island History Project‘s exhibition center, where historic artifacts, photographs, maps, ephemera and films are on view, offers free admission from 1 till 6pm. Visitors are invited to take free souvenir photos with the Spook-A-Rama Cyclops or an original Steeplechase horse. Next door to the History Project are windows featuring the dancing doll “Miss Coney Island” and the miniature animated rides of “Coney Island Always.” “25 cents to laugh. 25 cents to smile.”

Coney Island Always

Coney Island Always. 25 cents To Laugh and Feel Good. West 12th St, Coney Island. April 8, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

–Coney Island USA’s Noisefest is a free event from 2 till 5pm featuring Rock ‘n’ Roll Karaoke with the band Mystical Children and a “Follow the Bouncing Ball Vintage Movie Singalong” by the Museum of Interesting Things.

Rita’s Italian Ice is celebrating the Grand Opening of its Coney Island store by offering free regular size ices to visitors all day Sunday as well as Monday.

The rides at Luna Park, Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, 12th Street Amusements and the Eldorado Bumper Cars will continue spinning daily through April 22nd during spring break for New York City’s public schools. For the rest of April and May, the rides will be open weekends until Memorial Day Weekend, when the daily schedule kicks off for the summer.

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Related posts on ATZ…

February 28, 2014: Photo Album: Wonder Wheel Park Preps for Coney Island’s Opening Day

September 13, 2013: Coney Island Always: Visiting the Big CI Year-Round

March 25, 2013: Photo of the Day: Palms on Palm Sunday in Coney Island

March 28, 2012: Photo Album: Looking Back at Coney Island’s Opening Day

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There’s a free music and culture festival today and on August 14 on the Boardwalk near the Parachute Jump. The Coney Island Reggae Beach Party gets underway at 2pm and the beat will go on till sundown. It’s the second season for the festival sponsored by WKCR Eastern Standard Time and the Sound Liberation Front:

Each event will feature an all-star lineup of music selectors and guest vocalists curated by WKCR host Carter Van Pelt. Some notable talents who performed at last year’s events include dancehall legends Johnny Osbourne, Carlton Livingston, and Mikey Jarrett; seminal NYC sound system Sir Tommy’s; and, legendary record producer Clive Chin.

Here’s a video clip from last summer’s event…

Related posts on ATZ…

June 23, 2011: Casting Call for Second Annual Coney Island Talent Show

May 11, 2011: Coney Island 2011: Summer Photography Workshop

April 27, 2011: Coney Island 2011: Free Movie Screenings on the Beach

June 17, 2010: Coney Island Fireworks Show: Every Friday Plus 5 Saturdays

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Wild ride avalanche 1

Wild Ride 2009 by Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millan. Performance Art/Multimedia Installation on Bay Street, Toronto at Nuit Blanche, October 3, 2009. Rides owned by Funland Outdoor Amusements. Photos courtesy of Scotiabank Nuit Blanche

Now that the summer is over in Coney, we have time to make good on our promise to cover not only Coney Island and the amusement business, but “fun places in between.” The category “Traveler” will include places we’ve been, places we’d like to go, and places that have something we’d love to see recreated in Coney Island. We’re kicking it off with free carnival rides!

Tag surfing for “amusement rides” on WordPress, photos of a Fun Slide and Avalanche ride set up in Toronto’s financial district for an all-night art fest caught our eye. Last weekend, the 4th annual Nuit Blanche (aka “Sleepless Night”) attracted an estimated one million festival-goers and featured over 150 contemporary art installations. On the Nuit Blanche website, we found this writeup by artists Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millan about their “Wild Ride 2009″:

Bay Street – emblem of Canada’s banking industry – is closed. The smell of cotton candy and raucous music fill the air. Two midway rides reflect the whirling, tilting exhilaration of the bull market and its less than thrilling collapse. Free to the public and staffed by recently downsized businesspeople, the rides invite audience members to kinetically contemplate the ups and downs of the recent economic crisis. Out of the darkened financial district, screams will be heard!

wild ride fun slide

ATZ enjoys seeing carnival rides transform the city streets at Little Italy’s San Gennaro and other Italian Feasts into a temporary People’s Playground. We’re taken with the democratic idea of rented carnival rides presented as a free public art project. Did we mention “Wild Ride 2009″ and the other interactive artwork was free to the public thanks to $2 million in funding from the City of Toronto, the Province of Ontario, and Scotiabank? We could use a few free rides in the newly rezoned Coney Island. Note to Creative Time, the non-profit which commissioned the Dreamland Artists Club sign painting project in 2005 and Steve Powers’ Guantanamo-themed “The Waterboard Thrill Ride” (not an amusement ride) in 2008. Here’s your next Coney project: Commission an artist to bring back the Whip and Zipper rides and spin a narrative around it.

Wild ride set up

“Wild Ride 2009″ creators Dempsey and Millan have collaborated on performances, film and public art projects since 1989, but for this project they teamed up with showmen from Ontario’s Funland Shows. How did it go? We did a quick Q & A with the artists via email to find out…

Q: How did you get the idea do this?

A: We received the commission in the fall of 2008. It was to do a 12-hour art piece on Bay Street in the business district of Toronto. In Canada, Bay Street is synonymous with the economy. It is the financial engine of the country. A couple of things struck us about the site. The area is a series of glass canyons: banking skyscrapers everywhere. Loads of reflective surfaces. There also aren’t any people on the street. There is an underground system called the PATH that is really a vast underground mall. It sucks all the life from pedestrian street traffic. The economic collapse had just happened so the lack of people on the street seemed more eerie. The financial centre of Canada seemed dead.

Q: Are you fans of carnivals and fairs?

A: We grew up going to the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto. It was the thing that you looked forward to every year, almost like Christmas. Midway carnivals meant freedom, abandon, risk, and possibility. There was also that “post” feeling afterwards when you realized you had spent all your money and had nothing to show for it. We though it might be a good metaphor for the financial meltdown. A wild ride. We could comment on the folly/absurdity of the speculative financial industry.

Plus we wanted to return Bay Street to the people – us – who paid for it. Make it useable, functional, joyful. Make it ours. What would be more democratic than free midway rides and cotton candy?

Wild Ride 1

Q: Can you tell me about carnival company from whom you rented the rides? What was it like working with them?

A: We rented two rides from Funland/Superior . They are a partnership with a long history in the Ontario midway business. They staffed the rides with their carnies who we dressed in business suits. Beforehand we told the public that the midway was being run by downsized business people but on the night we confessed that, really, those Bay Street types have few transferable skills, and that in the interest of safety we had hired skilled professionals and dressed them in business attire, as appropriate to the district.

We were afraid that the carnies would be resistant to wearing the suits but they were so into the spirit of the event. They looked super sharp, literally like they had just stepped off the trading floor of the stock market. And they kept the energy up all night, playing with the crowd, shaking their hands…very business-y! We were awed by their ability and enthusiasm. It made us think about how we valourize and reward some kinds of labour (like that of bankers and stock traders) but not others (like carnies). The guys working for us were just as capable, smart and charismatic.

We were also struck by how removing a ride from a carnival and putting it in another context transformed it into a beautiful object. It was as if people were seeing the rides for the first time. They looked so beautiful (and so incongruous) on Bay Street. People were awed by the blinking lights reflected in the banking towers.

wild ride avalanche 2

Also, because everything was free, sometimes the carnies would let a ride go on for 20 minutes if the riders were willing. There was lots of teasing back and forth. It felt like there was plenty, that you could have all you wanted. Now that’s a rare feeling, especially on Bay Street!

We transformed the location in a couple of other ways, too. We made signs (“Wild Ride…Do You Want to Go Lower?”and “Absolutely Free and Worth Less All The Time”), and pumped out a soundtrack featuring songs about money and loss with a voice-over by a barker (“Lay your money down”). The free cotton candy (distributed by volunteers in business suits) had clown-headed garbage cans nearby. People danced to the music, some putting the clown heads on, some playing air guitar. We rocked them all night long. Even at 6 am there were still lineups and big smiles. It was a beautiful night, the way fairs and carnivals can be, outside of time and sense: magical.

wild ride clown head

Related posts on ATZ...

October 25, 2009: Traveler: Bryant Park’s Beguiling Carousel Is Awhirl for the Holidays

October 12, 2009: Moments in Time: Artist Eric March’s Coney Island

October 4, 2009: The Wonder of Artist Philomena Marano’s Wonder Wheel

June 13, 2009: June 13: Coney Island Hysterical Society Artists in Conversation at A.M. Richard Fine Art in Williamsburg

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Brooklyn Borough Prez Marty Markowitz and Borough Historian Ron Schweiger on the Cyclone’s Opening Day of the Season. After Labor Day, the Cyclone is open weekends through Sept 20. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Brooklyn Borough Prez Marty Markowitz, Borough Historian Ron Schweiger and Erik Knapp’s Tattoo on the Cyclone’s Opening Day of the Season. After Labor Day, the Cyclone is open weekends through Sept 20. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

UPDATE: This is a post from September 2009! Please see report from September 13, 2013: “Coney Island Always: Visiting the Big CI Year-Round” here.

After Labor Day, Coney Island’s beach “officially” closed for the summer, the Ringling Circus left for Europe and Thor Equities’ on-again, off-again “Dreamland Amusement Park” with its dozen rides became an empty lot again. Contrary to popular perception, the rest of Coney Island remains open. The amusement area still has over 40 operating rides including the City-owned Cyclone roller coaster, open weekends through September 20, McCullough’s Kiddie Park (12 rides), open weekends through September, and Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park (22 rides) and Eldorado Bumper Cars open weekends through October. Weather permitting of course. Call ahead for hours.

Eldorado Auto Skooter. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Eldorado Auto Skooter. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

What’s more, Coney’s quirky performers and cultural entrepreneurs have dreamed up some unique events to lure you to our sandy shore. This weekend’s calendar includes the 1st annual Coney Island Performance Festival, the 2nd annual Beard and Moustache Competition, and a Pat Benatar Tribute at the Dreamland Roller Rink. Check the Coney Island Fun Guide for details of upcoming events such as the Coney Island Tattoo & Motorcycle Show (Sept 20), Shakespeare’s The Tempest on the Beach (Sept 26-27) and the Coney Island Film Festival (Oct 2-4). True to the spirit of the People’s Playground, the events are free or reasonably priced, so come out to “the Island” and have some post-beach season fun!

SATURDAY & SUNDAY, SEPT 12-13
Meet me by the Jellyfish Tank in the Aquarium for Parachute: The Coney Island Performance Festival.
Poet and festival organizer Amanda Deutch has lined up a talented array of Brooklyn-based writers and performers for the first annual event. Africasso, Patricia Spears Jones, John Ventimiglia from The Sopranos reading Henry Miller, Eileen Myles (“the rock star of modern poetry”), former Brooklyn Poet Laureate Dennis Nurkse and Coney historian Charles Denson are among the scheduled readers. The free event begins at 6:30 pm. Prior to the performance, visitors can stop by the Coney Island History Project under the Cyclone from 2-6 pm to pick up a festival program, have a free cup of Stumptown coffee, view photos of Astroland circa 1964, and ring the century-old Dreamland Pier Bell.
Parachute: The Coney Island Performance Festival, New York Aquarium, 6:30 pm, FREE. Surf Ave @ West 8th Street, (718) 265-FISH.
Coney Island History Project, 2 – 6 pm, FREE. 824 Surf Ave under the Cyclone, (718) 266-0012

Halston & Donny Vomit. Photo © ci_moustache via flickr

Halston & Donny Vomit. Photo © ci_moustache via flickr

SATURDAY, SEPT 12
The hairiest event of the season at the Coney Island Circus Sideshow is undoubtedly the Coney Island Beard and Moustache Competition. Hosted by the sideshow’s moustachioed m.c. and performer extraordinaire Donny Vomit, the Variety and Awards show features Albert Cadabra the Great Deceiver and special guest performer Jennifer Miller the Bearded Lady. Prizes will be awarded for best natural and best styled beard or moustache, best in show, worst in show and best female fake beard or stache. The Coney Island Circus Sideshow remains open weekends through the end of September. Special events are scheduled in October.
The Second Annual Coney Island Beard and Moustache Competition, Sideshows By The Seashore Theater, 6 – 9 pm, $10. 12th Street @ Surf Ave, 718 372 5159

FRIDAY-SUNDAY, Sept 11-13
Shadows of the Night! Pat Benatar Roller Skating Tribute Party at Lola Staar’s Dreamland Roller Rink. $12 admission/$10 with “80s Rock n’ roll glam attire.” Skate rentals available for $5, Free skate rentals before 8:30 pm. The Dreamland Roller Rink in the terracotta palace known as the Childs Building on the Boardwalk will be open weekends through the end of September.
–Every Friday Night: Funk-Gospel-Soul Skate Party, 7 -11 pm, $10
–Weekly Family Skate on Saturdays, 2 – 6 pm, $10
–Every Sunday: Retro Disco Skate at Dreamland Roller Rink, 3- 7 pm, $10
Dreamland Roller Rink, 3053 W 21st St on the Boardwalk, 800-362-5116

Dreamland Roller Rink

Lola Staars Dreamland Roller Rink. Photo © Bruce Handy (Pablo57) via flickr

Here’s a quick rundown of what’s open year round…..Nathan’s, New York Aquarium, the Coney Island Museum (Sat-Sun), Williams Candy, Coney Island Beach Shop. Visitors may tour the area 365 days a year with the Coney Island History Project’s free audio/video tour of “The Amusement Area: Past and Present.” The tour is downloadable to iPods and other portable players and may be listened to live via iPhone. The free download and a map are available on the History Project’s website.

Cotton candy is a summer treat, but the NY Aquarium is open year round.  Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Cotton candy is a summer treat, but the NY Aquarium is open year round. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

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Visitors viewing Coney Island Icons at the History Projects exhibition center. Photo © Coney Island History Project via flickr

Visitors viewing "Coney Island Icons" at the History Project's exhibition center. Photo © Coney Island History Project via flickr

The History Project’s exhibition center under the Cyclone roller coaster is open on weekends from 1-6 p.m. and admission is free of charge!

The featured exhibition “Coney Island Icons” tells the story of Coney’s four city landmarks: the Cyclone, Wonder Wheel, Parachute Jump and Childs Building on the Boardwalk. Archival and contemporary photos, documents, anecdotes, interviews, souvenirs and artifacts, including a door from a Wonder Wheel car, are on display. The exhibition is curated by Charles Denson, CIHP Executive Director, noted historian and the author of the award-winning book Coney Island: Lost and Found.

The Coney History Projects exhibition center is on Surf Ave under the Cyclone Roller Coaster. Photo © Coney Island History Project via flickr

The Coney History Project's exhibition center is on Surf Ave under the Cyclone Roller Coaster. Photo © Coney Island History Project via flickr

Coney Island History Project, located under the Cyclone Roller Coaster at 824 Surf Ave just east of W 10th Street, Saturday and Sunday, 1-6 pm, Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day

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