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Brooklyn Comes Alive Successfully Recreates the Festival Vibe in a Concrete Jungle


Photo: Andrew Blackstein for Brooklyn Comes Alive

There’s a stark difference between all-day music programming and a proper festival vibe. This past Saturday, I started my day at 2pm with John Zorn’s Bagatelles marathon in Williamsburg’s National Sawdust. The prolific avant-garde musicians and composer had enlisted dozens of friends to play over the course of the day’s 10 hour program, amongst them were modern jazz titans like Julian Lage, John Medeski, Kenny Wolleson, Craig Taborn, etc.

Just a few doors down, at Music Hall of Williamsburg, they were preparing for more all-day music programming via Brooklyn Comes Alive, the three-venue jam exploration meant to imitate elements of New Orleans’ Jazzfest. While Zorn’s audience thrives on listening carefully to virtuosic performances of rather inaccessible compositions, Brooklyn Comes Alive focused on tribute projects and rare collaborations that would facilitate the party atmosphere one feels on the second or third day of a camping festival. Both models are great, and any opportunity to listen to music all day is one that should be cherished. The fact that they touched down on the same block on the same day is a blessing.

The venn diagram between John Zorn and a hippie festival probably doesn’t show as much overlap as I’d like it to, as someone who has seen String Cheese nearly 50 times but has also done 50-some-odd jazz shows this year, however, there is some similarity there. As I settled into the Zorn marathon I noticed the gentlemen next to me with a Brooklyn Comes Alive wristband on, peaking at a schedule. There’s also John Medeski, who performed twice for Zorn, and also at Brooklyn Bowl later that night with DRKWAV.

Both of these marathon concerts relied heavily on collaboration, exploration, and improvisation, no matter if they were playing to middle-aged bald heads or heady 20-somethings with pins on their flat-brims. As someone who deeply admires improvisation in music, I was cheerful to the idea that so much improv was taking place just a few blocks away from each other, essentially running the gambit on Williamsburg venues all day, and all night, on a Saturday. To me, that’s fucking cool.

At about 5.45 I made my way into Music Hall of Williamsburg where The Disco Biscuits’ Marc Brownstein was wrapping up a bass-heavy DJ set of house tempo music. After that, an incredible tribute to J Dilla hit the stage, lead by Adam Deitch on drums and Borahm Lee on keys – the duo known as Break Science – along with some friends. As they played and embellished upon J Dilla’s discography, beats to The Pharcyde’s “Runnin’,” Slum Village’s “Fantastic,” and Common/D’Angelo’s “So Far To Go” were familiar yet reimagined. Adam Smirnoff shredded the guitar, Nate Edgar held down the bass, Maurice Mo’Betta Brown crushed it on the trumpet (and dance moves), while Chauncey Yearwood held down the mic as a proper MC.

After that the options got thick. Brooklyn Comes Alive had The All Brothers Band, Breaking Biscuits, Metzger/Russo/Walter/Hess, Natalie Cressman’s jam, and more all poppin’ off within a few blocks of each other. Like a real festival, choosing between sets is never easy, but it’s a good problem to have. By the time the Nth Power took the stage for their Earth, Wind & Power set, the vibe had shifted to full-on festival mode. Immediately after meeting and talking to a stranger for 30 minutes about how LSD deconstructs the whole “don’t talk to strangers” stigma we grew up on, I walked up to the bar and overheard someone else say, “I feel like it’s so easy to meet people here.” It was.

DRKWAV ended things in a superb and completely strange fashion. The trio of Adam Deitch, Skerik, and John Medeski are all insanely talented and skilled in the art of improv and groove-creation. As they played into the morning (ending around 4am), they fused New Orleans’ grooves with dark, weird, experimental tendencies that are reminiscent of Medeski’s work with MMW or Skerik’s work with Les Claypool’s various projects.

The music was killer, and the crowd was amazing. The Live For Live Music crew did a phenomenal job at putting together a fun-filled day of meaningful musical collaborations that are not normally seen. For a city where music heads become quickly spoiled with slammed concert calendars, it’s no easy task.

#brooklynbowl #brooklyncomesalive #improvisation #nationalsawdust