Brooklyn Comes Alive Brings Artists and Fans Together to Share Once-in-a-Lifetime Musical Experiences
There’s no doubt that Brooklyn is a city rich with arts and culture. Music pours into the streets from bars, clubs and apartment windows all day into the night. It only seems natural that this city would be home to one of the most diverse festivals that the East Coast has seen. Last weekend, the third annual Brooklyn Comes Alive returned to Williamsburg for an epic two days of non-stop, one-of-a-kind performances.
The festival kicked off at noon on Saturday with Leslie Mendelson taking the stage at Schimanski. The New York-b noased singer and gifted pianist was followed by Midnight North playing the music of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. The highly-anticipated, folk-fueled set included brilliant renditions of classics like “Teach Your Children,” “Ohio” and “Carry On.”
Next up was Bitch!: Women of the ’90s headed by the amazing Hayley Jane of Hayley Jane and the Primates. She was joined by Tim Palmieri, Chris DeAngelis and Adrian Tramontano of Kung Fu along with Richard James from Pink Talking Fish. The supergroup played through nostalgic favorites like “I’m a Bitch,” “What’s Goin’ On,” “Just a Girl” and TLC’s “Waterfalls.” The entire venue was belting out every lyric for the entire set, and although the stage at Schimanski is a bit on the smaller side, that didn’t stop Hayley from putting her famous dancing into every track.
Man of steel Roosevelt Collier brought his second annual “Brooklyn Get Down” to North 11th Street and blew the roof off of Schimanski. This time he brought Snarky Puppy’s Michael League, Bob Lanzetti and Robert “Sput” Searight along for the ride. The high-energy set included a few Beatles covers, a soul-shaking trombone solo and the premiere of a brand new track. To the frenzied crowd’s delight, Collier announced the new song will be found on an upcoming album to be released on New Year’s Day.
We headed over to Brooklyn Bowl for a change of scenery (and some of their heavenly mac ‘n cheese and fried chicken). Future Folklore was onstage creating a cultural fusion that no one in the room could ignore.
A diverse group of musicians including Luke Quaranta of Toubab Krewe, Nate Werth of Snarky Puppy, Weedie Braimah, MonoNeon, Raja Kassis and Yacouba Sissoko brought the sounds of Mali and Senegal to Brooklyn and commanded the mesmerized crowd to move. Pure elation is the simplest way to describe what it feels like to witness Weedie Braimah’s passion on the djembe. Future Folklore undoubtedly played one of the most captivating sets of the weekend.
With all that Brooklyn Comes Alive had to offer, it was next to impossible to choose one set or another at times. We opted to hang around the Bowl a bit longer and check out Matador! Soul Sounds, a brand new group made up of Eddie Roberts, Alan Evans, Adryon de León, Kimberly Dawson, Chris Spies and Kevin Scott. This talented crew did not disappoint. Roberts announced early on that it was the group’s first live performance together, but they could’ve fooled me. Matador! brought the funk and the fun, pumping relentless energy into the crowd from start to finish.
Brooklyn Bowl hosted one brilliant set after another on Saturday, all culminating with “The Road Goes on Forever: Celebrating the Music of the Allman Brothers Band.” This extra-special tribute paid much-deserved respect to one of the most iconic bands in rock and roll history.
Bernard Purdie, moe.’s Al Schnier and Vinnie Amico, remaining Gregg Allman Band members Scott Sharrard and Brett Bass and Joey Porter of The Motet were joined by Eric Krasno, Rob Compa, Roosevelt Collier, Dave Harrington and Brandon “Taz” Niederauer, ensuring that this would be an exclusive and unforgettable supergroup performance.
Fourteen-year-old Brandon “Taz” Niederaurr had everyone’s jaws on the floor. He not only kept up with the well-seasoned musicians he was surrounded by onstage, but he shined among them. Taz, an admirer and student of both the late Gregg Allman and Butch Trucks, certainly did his mentors proud on the stage of Brooklyn Bowl. He joined the rest of the group for a fierce version of “Whipping Post” that seemed to go on forever, and we would have been perfectly happy if it did. It is plain to see from his blazing guitar solos to the intensity on his face as he shreds away, Taz is a true prodigy with a big future ahead of him.
With little time to process all we had witnessed on Saturday, we returned Sunday afternoon to do it all again. It was back to Brooklyn Bowl for round two, beginning with Metropolitan Jam Grass Alliance. Members of Railroad Earth, The Infamous Stringdusters and Yonder Mountain String Band uniquely blend elements of bluegrass with the jam band experience to create their signature “jamgrass” sound. The lively show was the perfect way to revitalize and get right back into the festival spirit for day two.
Jennifer Hartswick & Friends took charge of the stage next. This set delivered some of the most powerful and soulful vocals of the weekend. Natalie Cressman joined in with her mighty trombone and took things up a notch. Louis Cato, Danny Mayer, Dezron Douglas, Akie Bermiss, Mike “Maz” Maher and Chris Bullock rounded out this robust crew.
No music festival is truly complete without some New Orleans influence. George Porter, Jr., Henry Butler and Johnny Vidacovich gave us exactly what we needed on the stage at Schimanski. How do we even begin to explain what it’s like to witness such legends of jazz and funk onstage together, no more than a few feet away from us? Surreal and unforgettable!
Moe.Queous, a collaboration consisting of moe.’s Al Schnier and Vinnie Amico with the boys of Aqueous, was something most fans could have only imagined…until it happened. Aqueous has honored moe. in the past, playing spot-on live tributes to the jam band vets. moe.Queous took on a life all its own, and members of both bands fit seamlessly together, visibly feeding off and encouraging one another. The set reached a pinnacle when the group played a moving tribute to Rob Dehak, bass player and founding member of moe. who was recently diagnosed with cancer. They chose to dedicate an outstanding performance of moe.’s “Plane Crash” to their absentee band mate.
It was about time we paid a visit to Music Hall of Williamsburg, where we would transport ourselves back to the ’90s for the remainder of the night. “A Tribute to Jamiroquai” had just begun before we arrived and an all-out dance party was in full swing. This incredibly fun tribute featured Joey Porter, Dave Watts, Garrett Sayers, Ryan Jalbert, and Lyle Divinsky from The Motet (who slayed on vocals), Todd Stoops, Jennifer Hartswick and Natalie Cressman. Wow. You’ve never heard Jamiroquai quite like this before; we can guarantee it. Music Hall of Williamsburg was packed wall-to-wall. Every corny dance move from the robot to the sprinkler seemed to make an appearance at one point or another.
Mike Gantzer of Aqueous was joined by Ryan Stasik and Kris Meyers of Umphrey’s McGee to close out Music Hall of Williamsburg with a tribute to Green Day entitled “Dookie.” This dynamic tribute also included some Ween, Weezer and Ramones. Moving from a weekend of lengthy jams to a set full of two-minute pop-punk tracks was a fun switching of gears. Quickly, this ultra-energetic set started to feel like something more. I was reminded of a time when life felt simpler, people seemed happier and my immature mind was free of the stresses and worries that most of us get bogged down with these days. For an hour or so, I felt like I did when I first heard Dookie. Those vibes were reflected in the rest of the crowd who were flailing their bodies around, leaping up and down, and scream-singing along to every word without a care. Gantzer, Stasik and Meyers were able to recreate not only the songs we all know and love, but the mood that those songs inspire. It was 1994 last Sunday night!
Brooklyn Comes Alive provided us with an extraordinary weekend. There was a sense of kinship among fans and artists knowing that the moments we were all sharing would only be experienced by us, right then and there. The entire set up of the festival allows the city to play such a large role in the experience. Each venue was within short walking distance of one another, but the ability to move freely through the streets of Brooklyn and reenter reality for a moment or two between shows brought a unique kind of authenticity to the festival. Instead of being isolated a ferry’s ride away on Randall’s Island or Governor’s Island, a New York neighborhood was truly the backdrop for this magical weekend. We can’t wait to see what Brooklyn Comes Alive has in store for fans next year!