When Celebrate Brooklyn!, the free summer concert series produced by BRIC that takes place in the Prospect Park Bandshell, made an initial announcement of performers to preview its 2021 schedule, the lead was worrying to local music supporters.
Neither of the acts mentioned — singer Ari Lennox and rock band Glass Animals — were New Yorkers. Which, when you consider the hardships that local artists have endured the past 16 months, felt like another example of a city institution’s deaf ear to the people they serve.
Thankfully, the concerns regarding Celebrate Brooklyn!’s lack of hometown boosterism were mostly misplaced. When the full schedule dropped, more than half of all the performers announced were part of the city’s musical fabric. The calendar involves a few fantastic bills stacked with some of New York’s finest contemporary musicians, and others put together specifically to welcome the borough’s various immigrant and international communities to the festivities.
Yet, the programming did bring up an interesting question for organizations such as BRIC and the City Parks Foundation's popular Summerstage, whose events are produced in public spaces overseen by tax dollars, and serve primarily the surrounding communities. Do these organizations have a responsibility to book locally, before they book popularly?
It is a hard one to answer unequivocally, especially in a city as culturally diverse as New York — not simply because of the Big Apple’s deep talent pool, but due to its magnetism and history, which attract musicians from all over the world. There is no arguing the enormous value of bringing well-curated national and international artists to perform in the city’s grand open spaces, especially for free. It is a way to introduce and preserve sounds, to start and continue conversations about modern music’s meaning and direction, especially in one of its contemporary capitals.
Yet New York (and especially Brooklyn) is also defined by homegrown culture, because what happens here becomes global. Regularly! The argument about creating bigger stages for local musicians isn't just about nearsighted programming that might keep the richness of other cultures out, impeding the exchange that makes the artistic world go round. It is an argument publicizing the city's cultural wealth.
In this moment of needing to pay special heed in taking care of our own, but also staying open to global cultural evolutions, finding a balance between the two is just as crucial as understand how social circumstances need to impact the programming.
So go enjoy all the great artists that Celebrate Brooklyn! brings in from around the world, as recognition that Brooklyn is an integral part of that world. But remember that one main reason all those artists wanna play here, is because of the great creators who already are home here. Remember to enjoy them too, and to keep demanding that our cultural institutions put them on!
OUR PICKS FOR THIS WEEK: 6/11- 6/17
Singer Sweet Megg Farrell and saxophonist/clarinetist Ricky Alexander are fine purveyors of the hot jazz sound of New Orleans and pre-war Paris, wonderfully obsessing over Tin Pan Alley songwriting and ensemble swing. This Friday, they celebrate the release of their new album, I’m In Love Again, with a show at Littlefield in Gowanus. (635 Sackett Street, 7 pm, $12)
One can only imagine how hard quarantine has been for teenagers playing in their first bands (and their parents). For a whole bunch of these young rockers, Saturday’s Take The Turf mini-festival at Park Slope’s Old Stone House (presented by the wonderful Kids Rock For Kids organization) is their Lollapalooza. Nine teenage bands from around the country, playing a benefit for kids in need. (336 3rd Street, 5:30 pm, Free with suggested donation).
The Argentinean transplant Sofia Rei is one of the city’s great musical treasures: a massive singer (she teaches the practice at NYU), technologically astute sound experimentalist, and historian of South American folk music, writing forward-thinking, rhythmically exuberant, socially conscious songs. Rei is celebrating the release of her newest album, UMBRAL, with a Saturday night show at the Sultan Room in Bushwick. (234 Starr Street, 7 pm, $25)
The socially distant outdoor dance-parties that were a godsend for so many of us last summer are continuing unabated this weekend, often powered by the city’s Open Streets program. Sunday will see two great opportunities to move your body for free. (Though, please always remember to make a tip-jar/Venmo donation to the creators).
The wonderful St. James Joy party, a familial labor of love that began as a nightly Clinton Hill salute to essential workers and has turned into a Brooklyn house music institution, comes to the heart of Bed-Stuy, to Tompkins and Hancock. If you’ve never been, you should! (Sunday, 3 pm, Free). Another wonderful new tradition that sprouted over the past year has been dancing among the plants in the borough’s various gardening center and nursery locations. The Garden Party will take place at the Clinton Hill greenery on the corner of Waverly and Myrtle, and the suggested donation will go to the Feed The People Bed-Stuy free meals program (Sunday, 3 pm, Free).
As local clubs start opening one by one, filling up calendars with a myriad of great musicians who call the city home, there are opportunities to hear some legends in what is essentially your neighborhood joint. Tuesday’s appearance by Fred Thomas, bass-player of James Brown’s funk-defining JB’s, with a group of soul and blues veterans at Bar Lunatico, one of Bed-Stuy’s jewels, 100% fits the bill. Treat yourself, and wear something sweat-proof. (486 Halsey Street, 9 pm & 10:15 pm, $10 suggested donation)
Another type of live music event that gained popularity during our socially distant lost year was the rooftop concert. More of these please. The Brooklyn Rooftop Series presents a massive show on Thursday, featuring three jazz legends, pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Buster Williams, and drummer Lenny White, playing the Socceroof space in Brooklyn Army Terminal of Sunset Park. The mix of music and the incredible harbor view promises to be outrageous. (14 53rd Street, 7:30 pm, $35)
As always, if you have an event or a tip about great music happening in Brooklyn, a local artist or organization to shout-out, or any musicker culture the community may be interested in, please let us know by sending a note to firstname.lastname@example.org.