Who was the last headline act to appear on the stage at Pontchartrain Beach?
About this time of year, things would kick into high gear at Pontchartrain Beach, the amusement park and swimming spot that entertained many New Orleanians every summer. Though that area of the lakefront was home to an amusement area since the 1920s, the park fondly remembered by my generation opened 76 years ago on June 18, 1939. Pontchartrain Beach was owned and operated by the Batt family, which today includes actor Bryan Batt and businessman and former City Councilman Jay Batt.
While the amusement park was best known as home to rides such as the Zephyr, Ragin' Cajun and Wild Maus, it also hosted entertainers who performed on the Pontchartrain Beach stage — or above it, in the case of the first headliners. They were The Three Milos, an act described in The Times-Picayune as "two girls and a man who play on ladders and do stunts on pieces of wire and rope." Many other daredevil acts appeared at the park over the years, as well as animal acts and circus performers.
When it comes to musical acts, they don't get much bigger than Elvis Presley, though when he performed at the lakefront he wasn't yet "The King" of rock 'n' roll. Presley performed in 1955 as part of a "Hillbilly Jamboree" promoted by WBOK Radio, which at the time featured country music. Presley returned to the beach in 1956 for another performance. Other acts from the 1950s and '60s included Frankie Avalon, Fabian, the Everly Brothers, the Big Bopper and Eric Burdon and the Animals. In the closing years, 1980s headliners came from country music, including Hank Williams Jr. and Johnny Paycheck.
The park closed on Labor Day 1983, and its final show came three weeks later. A benefit for the Contemporary Arts Center called "The Last Ride" was held on Sept. 24, 1983. It featured an all-star lineup: Fats Domino, The Drifters, Irma Thomas, Frankie Ford and Bobby Cure.