17 Times Entertainment History Was Made at Nassau Coliseum

New Nassau Coliseum
Inside the new Nassau Coliseum, which boasts 13,900 seats and cost $165 million to refurbish. Rashed Mian/Long Island Press)

Not until the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum closed for more than a year to undergo extensive renovations did many Long Islanders realize how much they had taken the Uniondale arena for granted.

Like lovers in an unanticipated breakup, we reminisced at the good times had at the beloved Old Barn. Heck, even the bad times seemed like fun in hindsight, but it wasn’t all rose-colored glasses. The trip down coliseum memory lane is paved with notable moments in sports and entertainment history.

In honor of LI rekindling their old flame with the region’s biggest concert venue upon its reopening, what follows is 17 times history was made at Nassau Coliseum.

17. Billy Joel’s First TV Special
Numerous music videos have been shot at the coliseum. The Piano Man, the hometown hero who played the coliseum’s closing concert and is playing its reopening, recorded his first TV special, Billy Joel: Live From Long Island, at the coliseum on Dec. 30, 2982. It aired on HBO.

16. Go To Nassau
Plenty of live albums were recorded at the coliseum, including two by The Grateful Dead. Wake Up to Find Out was recorded there during their 1990 performance and released in 2014 while Go To Nassau was recorded in ’80 and released in ’02. Although a Billy Joel jersey may hang from the arena rafters, The Grateful Dead hold the record for playing the most concerts there: 42.

15. The Dynasty
Sure, the New York Islanders moved to Brooklyn in ’15. But their four consecutive Stanley Cup wins in the early ’80s still ranks among the most impressive championship streaks in all of sports, according to ESPN.

14. Tricky Dick Rally
Nine months after the arena opened, then-President Richard Nixon headlined a Republican Party rally at the coliseum while running for re-election on Oct. 23, 1972, two years before the Watergate scandal made him become the only president in American history to resign.

13. The Man In Black
Johnny Cash, who was the coliseum’s second musical performer, recorded one of his later concerts there when he toured as a part of the outlaw country rock super group, the Highwaymen, which included Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson. Highwaymen Live! was filmed in ’90 and released the following year on VHS.

12. Allman Bros. FTW
The first (non-bootleg) live album made at Nassau Coliseum was by The Allman Brothers Band, the southern-blues rockers who recorded their May 1, 1973 concert there the same year they released their fourth studio album, Brothers and Sisters.

11. When The Doctor Was In
The Isles aren’t the only pro sports team to have brought championship titles to the coliseum. In the early ‘70s, the New York Nets called the arena home. Julius “Dr. J.” Erving, the Roosevelt native who popularized the slam dunk, led the team to their first American Basketball Association title in ’74 and another in ’76, the year the team moved to New Jersey and Erving was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers. What’s more, before the team called the coliseum home, a Feb. 11, 1972 Nets game was the very first event ever held at the arena.


10. LI Goes to Bollywood
The Bollywood Movie Awards held its annual ceremony at the coliseum for about a decade. Award winners included some folks not typically associated with South Asian musical cinema. Michael Jackson won the Humanitarian Award in ’99, the first time it was held at the arena, and Donald Trump won the Global Leadership Award in ’07.

9. Pink Floyd’s First Live Album and Video
Although known for their epic live performances, the influential British prog-rock band didn’t release a live album or video of their concerts until the last five shows on their A Momentary Lapse of Reason tour, which were held at the coliseum in ’88, more than 20 years after the band formed. Recordings were made into Delicate Sound of Thunder, which dropped later that year. Video footage was released the following year.

8. The Marshal Tucker Band’s First Live Album
More than 30 years after this southern rock band formed, they released their first live album, Live from Long Island, in ’06. The recording was from an April 18, 1980 performance was the last with founding bassist Tommy Caldwell, who died 10 days later in a crash.

7. Music and Lyrics
The coliseum was enshrined in cinematic history when scenes from this ’07 romcom were shot at the coliseum. The movie, starring Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore, follows a washed up pop star and the undiscovered songwriting prodigy that saves his career as the two fall in love.

6. Metallica’s First Live Video
After the metal band’s bassist, Cliff Burton, died in a tour bus crash, Metallica released their first video, dubbed Cliff ‘Em All—an ode to their first studio album, I—compiled from footage of various concerts. The venue used for one of their fan favorites, “Master of Puppets”, was an ’86 show at the coliseum when they opened for Ozzy Osborne.

5. Frank Zappa’s Last US Concert
The legendary innovative rocker played his very last show in Europe two years before his death in ’93 at age 52, but his last show in the US was at the coliseum in ’88. His son, Dweezil, joined him on stage for an encore.

4. Brawl Game
The Isles’ title run isn’t the only record they set. In an ’11 game vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins, they set a record for most penalty minutes for both teams—346 combined. The Islanders home was still the coliseum at the time and the game seemed to be more fistfights than actual hockey.

3. When Elvis Left The Building
The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll left a big impact on the arena, although he didn’t exactly make history there. His four sold out concerts in ’73 were subject of a book, Elvis Pressley: Rock ‘n’ Nassau Summer of ’73, released in ’03. His last concert there was in ’75. He died six days before he was scheduled to return in July of ’77, prompting thousands of mourners to gather in the coliseum parking lot on the night of the canceled concert.


2. Rap Ban
When stabbings left one dead and 12 injured following a Run DMC show at the coliseum in ‘88, the arena management banned rap concerts, although that ban was later lifted. The pre-concert preparations were mentioned in a segment on Yo MTV Raps!

  1. End of An Era
    Shortly after the coliseum reopens, it will make history once more when Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus host their final run of the nearly 150-year-old traveling circus with a month of performances at the arena. The last performance is May 21.


-With additional reporting by Russo Millien