Center Ring Concerts

Concert music warmed up the crowd before the circus and was a cultural highlight in rural America

Source: At the Circus, Practice Book Series by Rod Everhart, WJU#1351

A significant innovation of the circus was the creation of what were known as Center Ring Concerts.  These concerts were performed in the Big Top tent’s Center Ring while the audience was entering prior to the start of the circus, or sometimes as a pre-show event at an extra fee.

Ringling Bros. Merle Evans 1924 Windjammers mywju
Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Concert Band
Merle Evans, Band Master
1924 Season

While in many ways this was the “warm-up” act for what was to come later, it served the additional purpose of increasing the general population’s music appreciation and awareness, especially in rural towns.

Naturally, the 1890’s period was an era before the existence of recording devices, radios and television, or even touring orchestras.  Except for certain large cities on the East Coast, such as New York, Boston and Philadelphia, most Americans lived in rural areas where the then-current popular music of Europe and New York was completely unknown. 

The Center Ring Concerts might include traditional classical pieces as well as show tunes from Broadway musicals, or other works popular in London or Paris. The circus, therefore, could provide that educational opportunity via their Center Ring Concerts. 

In fact, the Center Ring Concert melodies were much more peaceful and relaxing, and  that was helpful in both settling the crowd into a sometimes hot and crowded tent, and creating a base from which excitement levels could rise with the start of the circus performance itself.

A Center Ring Concert of thirty to sixty minutes in length was typical, and sometimes the program was sufficiently appealing that circus management could charge a few pennies extra for the privilege of attending. 

Barnum and Bailey  Concert Band 1917 Windjammers Karl L. King mywju
Barnum & Bailey Circus Band
Karl L. King, Conductor
1917 Season
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