New York City — often accused of being an unaffordable, priced-out real estate scam full of multi-million dollar pied-a-terres the super-rich who own them visit three times a year — briefly becomes a socialist utopia every summer. The wealthy among us abscond to the Hamptons or down the shore, or to their cottages upstate, or fly to some sun-dappled stretch of Mediterranean coast, and return the city to us for another season blessedly, largely free of lines and crowds. Reservations and standing-room Yankee tickets are plentiful, the bars are chill, Tom Cruise is on an IMAX screen somewhere. Either the assholes leave, or become slightly less assholish during that brief stretch of July when it’s hovering somewhere in the 80s and you haven’t gotten sick of two showers a day yet. There are summer Fridays, free Shakespeare, free movies, and free music. There are beaches and ample green space to hang out and day drink in. New York has been described as an adult playground, and that’s never more true than in June and July.
Every year BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! hosts a beloved summer long offering of free entertainment for those who live in the vicinity of Prospect Park’s Lena Horne Bandshell. The festival is more of a rotating residency, presenting two or three shows a week from June through August, and is diverse, featuring artists across genres, appealing to all demographics and drawing crowds that look and feel wildly different from one night to the next (This year you can see Kelela, Marcia Griffiths, and the Wallflowers, all in one month, on one stage).
Foot traffic along Prospect Park West leading to the bandshell. Photo Credit: Dervon Dixon.
Nxworries outside the park
Last Saturday, Nxworries, an appropriately named and spelled collaboration between the producer Knxwledge and the insufferably mellow Cali rap-singer Anderson .Paak headlined a “benefit show” there. Tickets were $102 before taxes and fees — an absurd hike. It’s of course fair to expect the organization to be able to support itself and its artists, but in 2018, a benefit show for the festival was half that, a disturbing vision of a priced-out future for the casual attendee.
I could’ve gotten in as press, but I’m on the record as no great fan of Anderson .Paak, so I pitched my editor on an experience many who don’t want to deal with the expense or crush of certain bandshell shows have opted into for at least as long as the nearly 20 years I’ve lived near the park. The bandshell is an intimate outdoor venue just off the 3.35 mile concrete loop, roughly the width of a two lane road, that circles the park. If you post up on the other side of that road, it’s easy to take in a free show being amplified by the bandshell’s massive sound system. I thought it would be a good way to spotlight the no-cover cheat code, and probably the best way to enjoy Anderson .Paak’s brand of stoned blandness live: Several hundred feet away, and out of sight.
Soaking up the “vibes”
I arrive at the patch of grass across from the bandshell and dismount from my bike, looking for a good space to declare. It’s a breezy 74 degrees. Rain threatens the forecast, and the slightly overcast sky, but never falls. The jazz musician and one time mentee of J Dilla, Robert Glasper, an artist I absolutely would, and have paid money to see in the past, is on stage, I think. The bandshell has made a half-hearted attempt over the years to discourage this commune of people that gather to steal the live music experience, with a blackout screen that runs to the top of the diamond chain link fence cordoning off the performance space, but it does little to dampen the sound and you can still glimpse through cracks in the screen, should you want to. I preferred to stand with my back to the bandshell and survey the crowd as what sounded like Bilal was accompanying Glasper’s playing.
Robert Glasper performs at Prospect Park Bandshell.Photo Credit: Dervon Dixon.
As I’ve said, BRIC always delivers a random crowd. This one was performatively displaying their splayed open copies of bell hooks. They were kettle chip and cheese from a dedicated cheese shop equipped, a bra-less and open-toed crowd you’d imagine hip hop-influenced jazz would attract on an early Saturday evening in Prospect Park. They huddled around open assortment packs of White Claw like early settlers around horns of fire.
I inevitably ran into a friend of a friend who was there meeting some friends of friends, practically a guarantee at an event like this if you’ve lived in Brooklyn for any length of time. I sat with them, listening to the show and passing assorted joints and bottles around in a circle as we made congenial small talk. As Glasper gave way to .Paak, a quarter moon showed through a translucent cloud cover and a gentle breeze picked up in the makeshift, egalitarian lounge.
My initial suspicion proved correct. I experienced .Paak in his ideal form, detached and drifting on the air that you only quarter commit to while you’re soaking up “vibes,” talking to people who are actually interesting, as families and bikers and joggers and life in a small park in a small borough courses around you. There’s a certain type of guy who sings along with Anderson .Paak songs, standing across a road outside an actual Anderson .Paak concert in Prospect Park, and they were all there, 30-somethings in sleeveless t-shirts baring their tattoo-covered sleeves, with brandless snapbacks and pairs of shorts that used to be jeans they tailored themselves. And the group of people I was with, and kind of knew, would look at whichever of them happened to be closest and loudest, and we laughed. They were about as entertaining as the show itself.
At one point, out of journalistic duty, I walked up to a gap in the blackout screen being pulled by a young woman and saw a glimpse of .Paak performing, a silhouette in a Jamiroquai hat in a “Hotline Bling” lightbox, and shuddered, turning back to my patch of grass, reaffirmed of my decision to sit outside.
Anderson .Paak performs with Knxwledge as NxWorries at Prospect Park Bandshell. Photo Credit: Dervon Dixon.
The crowd thinned long before the headliner finished, the thrown-together crew that composed my low-stakes hang would drift in, certain people showed up late, or happened to run into similarly loose acquaintances coincidentally, talk for a bit, comment on the weather, then shuffle off. It was hard to know what was actually happening on stage, in the venue, and it was hard to care. To .Paak’s credit, he kind of played to his hard cut-off at 10:30, and by the end, again out of my pure dedication to craft, I was one of the last people out on the road. Sitting in the grass, it was hard to feel like anyone had a better view of the show.
I sent a text to some friends gathered in a bar down Flatbush, got on my bike and pushed into the night, all downhill on the park’s Western edge. I threw on the new Thug and breathed in the scent of both grass and leaf coated in perspiration, as I rode on my single speed, carving through this morass of disinterred hipsters who wanted to be in the vicinity of free live music on a pleasant summer evening.
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