The new expanded backyard at H010 in Bushwick/Ridgewood has been swinging since reopening. Photo by Christina Botero (courtesy of Mean Red).
So, what have we learned? What’s returned and stayed the same? What’s changed and feels new?
If you’ve been out here in the parks, backyards and block parties, the newly reopened clubs and bars — and even the newly opened ones — you know that over the course of the past month, New York’s music culture has been slowly but surely coming back to life, and the feeling has been...different. For all the column inches squandered on back-to-normal, or celebrating, I don’t know, Foo Fighters at Madison Square Garden or Springsteen on Broadway (or a new concert venue with a rooftop pool that only VIPs and artists can use), street-level reality is that the city’s musical re-opening is driven in the neighborhoods and by local culture. And that new reality has come with its own rules.
Yes, live music and dance-floors are booming! Free events are packed. Ticketed shows are selling-out. RSVPs fill-up in the blink of an eye. Your favorite touring band or superstar DJ may still not have a place to play, because many old-school clubs and all the corporate-owned venues have not reopened, continuing to have trouble figuring out the current moment’s rhythm, Covid protocols, and audience routines. But the local communities, “scenes” and street-corners are absolutely bumping — even (especially?) in the heatwave.
With this change of energy come learnings, insights and new truisms, practices that audiences and artists should consider adapting to (or maybe rebelling against) in order to push everyone’s re-engagement with the wonderful act of musicking into a better future. For those who’ve returned to live music, or are on the verge of, here are some subjective thoughts about where we are, how it’s going, and what you need to know one month in.
The first thing you need to do before you leave the house is -- check your destination’s vaccine protocols and policy. We’re not gonna debate getting vacc’d or not; just stating the fact that your live music options without a vaccine are much much slimmer, as my experience is that most venues expect you to have proof of vaccination for entry. So carry your card, or maybe think about downloading New York State’s Excelsior pass app (which is pretty easy). Also: Places are packed! This is especially true of dance venues, which have been leading the way with exceptional energy — June’s Pride events only added to that feeling. So please recognize that social distancing and masking protocols are, essentially, gone. If this is an issue for you, maybe it’s worth rethinking whether you really are ready to attend that club gig.
Buy tickets in advance or remember to RSVP to any event you want to attend, because experience has proved that anything with limited capacity is selling out. This especially applies to that mid-week performance at a small bar or club that you’ll often find in the Bklyn Sounds listings, which, pre-pandemic, may have always had one or two extra spaces, or willing to squeeze you in, but now has capacity issues. Take it from someone who’s already been burned multiple times by this inattentiveness to new norms, call ahead.
Be mindful of price-gouging, which is at times running rampant. Some of this is circumstantially understandable: musicians and independent venues have earned very little money the past year-plus, and want to make up for lost time. Meanwhile, the common, post-quarantine media narrative built around audiences with a year of unused disposable income (rather than around those who’ve also lost their own livelihoods) only justifies the odd pricing structures. This includes venues setting up an absurd, standard ticket price regardless of artist, adding automatic gratuities on all food-drink buys, or, worst of all, adopting the “two drink minimum” policy that has made jazz clubs dens of economic inequality for years. Frankly, none of this is OK, or sustainable.
Conversely, there are more and more shows being played in venues not charging admission, but expecting the gathered audiences to pay/tip at the end of the set. (With $10 suggested donation being the norm.) Though this seems like a dangerous policy for the future of musicians earning a healthy keep, it also feels very much of the moment (even if the idea of tip-bucket/-hat is as old as live music itself). So should you find yourself in that situation, remember to tip your essential musickers generously, whether in the bucket or on Venmo. That’s the way to make the dollars circulate ethically.
Most importantly, keep supporting music culture hyper-locally — whether that means musicians, or the people who are putting them on — and remember to stay safe by setting a manageable long-distance pace for your attendance and consumption. Don’t burn out! The post-pandemic summer of live music in Brooklyn has kicked off safely and magnificently. The long July 4th weekend is packed with great musical options. Let’s keep the whole thing going.
OUR PICKS 7/2 - 7/8
Kick your long weekend off with great dance-music options that work for any sense and sensibility. Friday evening/overnight (7/2), Bed-Stuy’s Sugar Hill Disco space hosts Fourth World, a now-fabled Independence Day weekend rave whose line-up is a who’s who of the borough’s techno community, which over the past half-decade has become an increasingly fortified safe space for queer and trans artists, many of whom are on the bill. This includes Gavilan Rayna Russom, Jasmine Infniti, and Russell EL Butler, among others. If you love techno, this long long night will soothe your soul. This year Fourth World is co-produced by Community Bread, a queer-owned and -operated streaming platform. (Advance tix sold out, but 100 will be held at the door, and resale has been activated.) (217 Nostrand Avenue, 6 pm-6 am, $60)
Also on the Friday (7/2) evening dance-card but less techno marathon and more disco-house shimmy, the Soul Summit DJs who’ve been throwing Fort Greene Park summertime’s free dance events of the same name for two decades, bring their magnificent vibes to the Elsewhere Rooftop in Bushwick. (599 Johnson Avenue, 6 pm-11 pm, $30)
Saturday (7/3) shapes to be a great evening of improvised music. Centered right between Williamsburg, Bed-Stuy and Bushwick, Cafe Erzulie is one of the local spots having a wonderful “re-opening” moment by hosting regular “jazz” sessions that feature the city’s great young musicians. Saturday’s is billed as “Haitian Jazz” (in keeping with the Erzulie name) and will include veteran Haitian expat musicians like saxophonist Buyu Ambroise and guitarist Eddy Bourjolly, cooking up a party swing. (894 Broadway, 5 pm, $15).
On the other end of the improvisation spectrum, Saturday (7/3) evening also finds much-heralded pianist Ethan Iverson, one-time co-founder of popular jazz trio The Bad Plus, playing duets with equally heralded trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, at the Soapbox Gallery in Prospect Heights. (636 Dean Street, 8 pm, $25)
Also Saturday (7/3) and certainly featuring rhythm improvisation, but more importantly, a good-time: 83 year-old Jamaican percussionist Larry McDonald, who’s played with everyone from Toots & the Maytals to Gil Scott-Heron, and tenor saxophonist Anant Pradhan bring their ten-piece rocksteady big-band of “Friends to continue their occasional residency at Wild Birds in Crown Heights. (951 Dean Street, 5pm, $10 suggested donation)
You can dance through the rest of the weekend though, listening to no one but great women DJs from Brooklyn, playing all kinds of music. The first full-fledged re-opening weekend at one of the city’s finest dance spaces, Nowadays in (we’ll call it) Bushwick, features a handful of the the borough’s best selectors. Saturday night (7/3) is “headlined” by UMFANG, a resident at a party called “Technofeminism” if you need a primer on her beats of choice; Nowadays’ globally renowned Mister Sunday (7/4) outdoor party will feature the deep grooves of Analog Soul; and Sunday evening’s late night party will be presided over by Cosmo & JADALAREIGN, two young DJs whose eclectic and soulful selections span eras. (58-06 Cooper Avenue, 10 pm evening parties / 3 pm daytime, $10-20)
Guitarist Binky Griptite first made his New York name playing with Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, as well as with other artists on Brooklyn’s classic-soul label Dap-Tone. With his own Orchestra he explores 1940s-50s jump-blues and swinging R&B. On Monday evening (7/5), they’ll be playing at Bed-Stuy’s Bar Lunatico. (486 Halsey Street, 9 pm, $10 suggested donation)
One of the city’s finest music and theater organizations, St. Ann’s Warehouse in Dumbo is re-starting its free outdoor concert series, each Thursday evening through July and August. On July 8th, they are presenting “Spiritual Uprising,” a show of Negro spiritual spiritual songbook, conceived and performed by vocalist Zonya Love, best known as the star of the Broadway production of The Color Purple. (Brooklyn Bridge Park, 7 pm, FREE)
Blaque Dynamite is the Dallas-based drummer Mike Mitchell. Blaque Dynamite is also the name of the incredible bands he leads, that effortlessly mix jazz, hip-hop, soul, funk, and all the good things in-between. Thursday (7/8) at Now & Then in East Williamsburg, he’ll have in tow, among others, the trumpeter Maurice “Mobetta” Brown and the guitarist Charles Altura; and his Dolfin Records cohort, the excellent producer/DJ Ben Hixon. Promises to be a good time. (290 Meserole Street, 8 pm & 10 pm, $TBD)
Reminder: If you are a Brooklyn (or greater New York) artist, label, venue or musicker organization that is releasing new music, or producing (Brooklyn) events, or just making noise that you want to spread through the community, please drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear it — and potentially put it on.