The Summer Concert Invasion: Celebrate Brooklyn! Week One
The heat is hot and the mosquitoes are thick, so there’s only one thing to do: hit up as many wild & free outdoor concerts as possible while the summer gets into stride. Besides ice cream and bikinis (better yet, bikinis made of ice cream), it’s the pretty much the greatest part of the season.
As all Brooklynites know, and all Manhattanites remain willfully blind to (but are growing increasingly self-conscious about staring at the one square inch of space in the room not occupied by the giant pink elephant), Brooklyn is now cooler than Manhattan. It is the Promised Land. Everything is not only better there, but cheaper—music, arts, food, drinking, dancing—and concerts.
The Celebrate Brooklyn! series (the name of which seems a little too try-hard small-town for what is now the Best Borough of the Greatest City, but whatever) has been a highlight of the Brooklyn summer lineup since its inception 33 years ago. This season’s first week rolled out a dizzying spectrum of performers in Prospect Park’s bandshell, for all and sundry to enjoy without paying anything and preferably while drinking smuggled booze.
Friday, June 10th: Andrew Bird
The opening night concert was packed beyond all reasonableness well before it even started, and about half the crowd not only couldn’t fit inside the gated compound, but couldn’t hear the music either owing to being across the main park road and over a hill, possibly even through the dale. That didn’t matter, though: this was a party.
Andrew Bird’s melodious croonings (and whistlings) drifted out across an enraptured hillside of largely hipsterish twenty-somethings, clad in the finest thrift shop couture, and fit the balmy summer evening just right. The crowd grooved between blankets and clouds of those delightful early-summer pheromones.
Key lessons: when it’s the first concert of the season and the weather’s good, get there real early. Preferably the day before.
Thursday, June 16th: Hal Willner’s Freedom Riders Project
Celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Freedom Rides, a series of creative protests that helped desegregate the interstate bus system (civil rights activists rode buses throughout the South, where Jim Crow laws were still prevalent, insisting on their rights under a recent Supreme Court decision rejecting the doctrine of separate-but-equal), this performance might have been the spiritual sibling of the Oh Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack. Except better.
Featuring a staggering array of musicians on a plethora of instruments, the show kicked off with Eric Mingus’ gravelly baritone steam train leading the full ensemble and only got better from there. The cast for any given piece shifted regularly but the tunes were consistently pitch-perfect, soulful, and executed with that restrained southern style.
The audience for this one—being a Thursday, and featuring artists not on the hipster radar—consisted largely of young (conspicuously white) families from neighboring Park Slope. Kids conquered much of the lawn territory for a variety of games, including at least one rousing round of Throw The Stick At the Other Kid Until He Cries. The referee had to break that one up.
Key lessons from this one: don’t discount it because you haven’t heard of it, and bring the kids on the weeknights.
Friday, June 17th: Doveman, Junip, The Books
The hipsters returned en masse for this one, despite an afternoon of ominous rain and a five-minute, torrential downpour not forty-five minutes before the show began. Doveman’s set played to an audience only half-filling the space—a shame, as Thomas Bartlett’s hovering voice and ethereal compositions were an unexpected delight, and included some of the best modern clarinet use I’ve seen—but by the time Junip took the stage things were packing out.
Jose Gonzales’ pre-solo career group, Junip yielded the familiarly haunting vocals of its lead singer, but coupled this time with the folk-rock engines of a full band, who didn’t shy from dipping occasionally into the folktronica trough, much to the audience’s delight. The rain continued to hold off and there seemed nothing more perfect for a pale blue summer evening in the park than Jose telling you as elegiacally as possible just how much it sucks to break up with someone.
By the time the Books hit the stage, those frightened off by the afternoon’s rain had resummoned their courage and the hillside was once more choc-a-bloc. The duo was a trio for the evening, and their characteristic video-screen madness and driving, interwoven guitar work ratcheted the energy up one more notch. Impromptu dance parties broke out between blankets. Those unfamiliar with the Books were awed. And for the encore, Jose Gonzales came out and did vocals for The Books’ cover of Nick Drake’s The Cello Song.
Key lessons: This is why summer concerts are freaking awesome.
Upcoming: Saturday, June 18—Larry Harlow Latin Legends Band: Battle of the Salsa Violins, La Excelencia; Friday, June 23—Ledisi, Anthony David; Friday, June 24—Roy Hargrove Quintet, The Badwagon featuring Jason Moran’s Bandwagon & The Bad Plus.
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