Brooklyn Really Comes Alive!
Celebrating its fourth year, Brooklyn Comes Alive once again took over the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn for a day full of musical collaborations from some the music world’s biggest and brightest names as well as a special comedy hour performance. This festival gives musicians a chance to take a step away from their day-to-day and play with friends and legends, creating a day of exploration and musical bliss for both themselves and the fans lucky enough to be in attendance. The music took place in three distinct venues mere blocks apart, allowing fans to travel back and forth from venue to venue while soaking in all that Brooklyn has to offer, from food and drink to the local street art and shops.
The festivities kicked off at the first of the three venues, which also happens to be one of the area’s top record shops, Rough Trade, an added bonus for vinyl lovers and collectors in attendance. The day, unlike most festivals, didn’t start with music but with an hour-long comedy set called Wokes With Jokes. This in hindsight was a fantastic idea, giving us all a chance to come together and share a laugh before dancing the night away. The set featuring Richie Alfson, Walker Berry, Ariella Wallen, Pamela Mahler and Brett Siddell was kicked off by SiriusXM’s Ari Fink, who took the time to thank Live For Live Music for putting the festival together before attempting a little bit of his own comedy. The Wokes with Jokes all brought their A games, delivering an hour full of laughs, leaving me wondering why more festivals don’t find a way to add this concept to their lineups.
The music started at the second of the three venues, The Music Hall of Williamsburg, with a recently formed side project/super group with Dave Watts, Todd Stoops, Chuck Jones and Marcus Rezak. The band, going by Katharsis, first debuted in Denver last May and has an album on the horizon; they came out of the gate firing on all cylinders, delivering a powerful set of music including a wonderful take on “No Quarter” that made their first show on the East Coast one to remember.
Next up was the first set of the day at the festival’s third venue, Brooklyn Bowl, with Shira Elias Soul Tracks which saw Elias joined by Nikki Glaspie, Nick Cassarino, Nate Edgar, James Casey, Steve Swatkins, Lyle Divinsky and Joel Gonzaléz. This was a set all about soul, and it covered everything from Luther Vandross and Aretha Franklin to Michael Jackson and Chaka Khan. This was easily one of the best sets of the day for me, showcasing why Shira is one of the most loved and respected vocalists in the scene today and highlighting the overall talent of the individual band members, easily keeping me glued to the stage until the very last note.
After getting lost in the music over at Brooklyn Bowl and with all three venues offering up sets of music that would get you out of the house in a snow storm, it became almost like a game trying to see as much music as possible while also not wanting to walk away from any of it. I was able to catch The Adam Deitch Quartet, who showcased us how good strictly improvisational music can really be, followed by one of my most anticipated sets of the day, the trio of Michelangelo Carubba, Rob Compa and Eli Winderman,bringing back to life the origins of the much loved Dopapod who have spent this last year on hiatus. This was everything I could have hoped it would be, from bringing out Chuck Jones, Dopapod’s bassist, to play what the band said was his first song ever played with them, “Off The Cuff,” to a killer set-closing “Freight Train” that clocked in at almost 20 minutes. These guys truly seemed to give this set their all, leaving a room full of happy fans in their wake.
Next up was a trip back over to the Brooklyn Bowl for a set that featured the legendary George Porter, Jr., paired up with the festival’s youngest musician and a legend in the making, Brandon “Taz” Niederauer, joined by Adam Smirnoff, Jeff Sipe, Peter Levin and Elise Testone, all joining forces to pay tribute to Col. Bruce Hampton (Ret.), Butch Trucks, Gregg Allman, and many other greats that we have lost. This was truly a special set, as the band treated the packed house to everything from Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire” to Robert Palmer’s “Sneaking Sally Through the Alley,” as well as a stirring tribute to the Allman Brothers that saw some of the best interplay of the day taking place between Taz and Smirnoff.
Feeling like I had already had seen a weekend’s worth of music both in substance and quality, I decided to head outside and take advantage of the local taco truck that had been calling my name from the start of the day, leading to some great conversation and a new group of friends to stroll across town with. This was a fantastic reminder of the freedom of having three distinct venues spread across six city blocks. Allowing fans to not only soak in three distinctly different environments but also the amazing city they call home.
From there it was a mini-marathon of acts taking me on a musical journey from the groove-driven jazz of the trio of Johnny Vidacovich, Robert Walter and Eric “Benny” Bloom to the funked-out set that was a Steely Dan tribute. The band made up of Joey Porter, Nick Cassarino, Nate Edgar, Michelangelo Carubba, Tim Palmieri, Nate Worth, Chris Bullock, Mike “Maz” Maher, Lyle Divinsky, Haley Jane and Sammi Garett was one of the more impressively stacked lineups of the festival. Each member had a chance to shine while managing to continually push the others to a higher level throughout the set, delivering a two-hour sing-along dance party.
The marathon continued with another change of pace with a trip to the unknown with the Baby Jesus Peasant Party, a five-piece made up of brothers Erick “Jesus” Coomes and Tyler Coomes as well as Borahm Lee, Ryan Zoidis and Khris Royal. This was truly organic, nothing pre-planned set of music where neither the band nor the fans knew exactly what to expect or where the music would ultimately take them.
The evening, still going strong, saw Purple Party: A Tribute to Prince take over the Brooklyn Bowl for the venue’s final set of the evening. The band, with Mononeon, Robert “Sput” Searight, Nate Werth, Ryan Jalbert, Lyle Divinsky, Steve Swatkins, Mike “Maz” Maher, Chris Bullock, Cassey Russell, Shira Elias, Sammi Garett and Megan Letts, really let loose, bringing the music of Prince to life. This was a great chance for those of us not fortunate enough to have caught this project’s initial performance during last year’s Jazz Fest in New Orleans. Russell kicked the set off with a killer job on “Let’s Go Crazy,” and from there it was an all-out party. From a “Soft and Wet” which saw Garett and Elias, both of Turkuaz, on vocals to a “1999” that reminded me exactly how much I love live music.
While all this was going on, there was a first-ever Jam Cruise Presents: Jam Room, taking a page from one of the cruise’s go-to attractions, allowing for a relaxed set of completely improvised music with any musicians willing to jump up on stage. The first of two sets saw legendary bassist George Porter, Jr., leading a host of musicians through a series of grooves, ending with The Meters’ classic “Fire on The Bayou,” which was a stretched-out masterpiece. As the song came to an end, Karina Rykman and Craig Brodhead took over the reins for their own Jam Room Experience. The stage seemed like a revolving door of talent as Broadhead directed the music on the fly, capturing the true essence of what this festival was truly all about.
Being able to spend a day in Brooklyn surrounded by friends and musicians all gathering for the unknown was truly a treat. As promised, this festival delivered, allowing musicians to gather together and form one-time-only groups, some paying respect to those who came before them while other created new music on they fly with friends and contemporaries alike. This formula gives fans a chance to experience a different side of live music while creating lasting memories for everyone involved, making this relatively new festival a force to be reckoned with and a must-catch for years to come.