Move over, open field in Vermont: Williamsburg is flexing to become the newest jam band destination in America. Yep, you heard us. There’s a jam band festival coming to NYC this weekend, and it’s taking place in our very own North Brooklyn (which, admittedly, seems like a strange choice, since besides the brunch trend there’s nothing particularly languorous or “Woodstock” about Williamsburg).
Classic Brooklyn for you: Not Just a Borough, An Experience.
So about this festival. It’s called Brooklyn Comes Alive, and it’s a one-day indoor jam-tacular on Oct. 22 that brings together musicians from all around the world for one very long day of collaborative and improvisational sessions at The Brooklyn Bowl, The Hall at MP and the Music Hall of Williamsburg. Performers will play as individuals, in smaller groups and also in supergroups such as “The All Brothers Band” (with longtime Allman Brothers bassist Oteil Burbridge and his brother Kofi Burbidge, plus Neal and Alan Evans) and “J Dilla Tribute,” featuring members of NYC hip-hop group Break Science and Stu Brooks, among others.
The festival was founded by festival junkie (and erstwhile Brooklynite) Justin Charles and his buddy Kunj Shah, the 29-year-old owner of Live for Live Music. Brokelyn spoke to Charles, who told us that he and Shah were inspired to create BCA by the late night Jazz festival scene in New Orleans.
“Every bar and club has these incredible jam sessions all night long,” Charles, 29, told us. “You can pop into a small bar and see these world class musicians, some [of whom] may have played for tens of thousands earlier that week … all just jamming and having fun.”
Tickets for BCA range from $50 to $250 for a VIP ticket. The low end is pretty reasonable, considering the lineup boasts 58 instrumentalists (to say nothing of their groups and supergroups) jamming from the hours of 12pm to 3:30am. And you don’t risk falling victim to the traditional music festival “traps” that characterize festivals like Panorama and Governors’ Ball (endless food truck lineups, getting cheated out of bands’ full sets) since BCA takes place in the heart of food option-laden North Williamsburg, and makes no promises about what kind of music you’ll hear.
“Musically, we’re all about collaboration,” Charles told us. “We don’t really have any traditional bands like you’d see at a normal festival. Most of our bands are one-time only groups that were created specifically for this festival, or are unique concepts or side projects.”
So, will you like BCA? It’s hard to say. If you’re someone who likes to walk into a music festival knowing exactly what you’re going to get out of it, this is probably not the one for you. But if you’re someone who regularly hangs with friends to listen to old records or likes to get baked and watch Bob Ross, then BCA might just be the best way to spend your upcoming Saturday.
Look, it’s obvious I’m still not clear on the appeal of “jam bands.” Improvisational music is cool and all — like sure, Cecil Taylor all day — but something about the open-ended, shapeless grooves of those Woodstock sessions still confuses me.
Even with his passion for the collaborative nature of the music, Charles conceded that “jam” might be hard to pitch to prospective audiences who hadn’t been initiated to the form — or lack thereof — before.
“It’s hard to pinpoint the style of music we have because it’s so diverse,” he said. “But there is a ton of funk, jazz, soul and jam music. There’s something for everyone.”
BCA sold out in its first year, so they’ve added Brooklyn Bowl to their mix of venues this year in order to increase the event’s capacity.
A General Admission ticket to Saturday’s event gets you wristband access to all three of the festival venues, and you’re encouraged to hop around between them in order to get the full experience. As far as what your experience is going to be, who can say? The nature of jam band music certainly won’t dignify that question with an answer. This was Charles’ best attempt, borrowing again from his experience of the music scene in New Orleans :
“There’s this spirit of community and collaboration [in jam] that is unlike anywhere else,” he said, “and we’re trying to re-create that in Brooklyn.”
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