Talib Kweli

New York City Music Delights

How do people living in New York City find the time to work when the music and dance experiences on offer seem endless? That’s what I asked myself daily as I struggled to fit in the bare necessities of sleeping and eating while fulfilling my one and only New York commitment: soaking up as much live music and dance as possible. 

I rose to the challenge, managing to fit 50 music and dance events into four happy weeks. Some I wouldn’t choose again if I had my time over. But any disappointments at the time didn’t matter. Knowing that the next day in New York and every one after would bring many more, is a blessed thing and a heavenly feeling for any beaver on the beats.

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Choices Choices Choices

Getting on top of the live gigs and parties on offer and selectively choosing between them is key to finding yourself the most sublime of musical experiences in whatever time you have there. Of course if you’re actually living in New York City it’s a different story. Missing out on one act because you’ve chosen another on the same night, or because you have to work, isn’t a big deal ‘cause the one that got away this time will play another show soon enough.

In The Summer Time

If you are music-holidaying then it’s best to pick a Summer-time visit. Festivals, concerts, parties, dance comps and other music events happen all year round in New York City. But like most places in the world the warmer months bring a whole lot more. And lots are free. Checking out the programs for Summerstage, BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn, Northside Festival and Blue Note Jazz Festival is a great start.

Kamasi Washington live concert - Northside Festival 2017

Kamasi Washington & The Next Step at Northside Festival 2017

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Plan To Be Gluttonous

So many shows you want to get to, some of them the same night and only 24 hours in a day. Yep, it’s tough. But you can fit more into one day than you think. Lots of venues have early and late shows to choose from in a night. The same artist is often playing both. Short and long term artist residencies are common so you might have multiple nights to catch them. Parties and dance comps happen at all different times of the afternoon and evening. 

Know what’s on when, be organised and you can move from one event to the next with gluttonous ease.

Cross Its Boroughs

Geographically speaking New York City isn’t actually that big. But the cultural diversity found between and within its different neighbourhoods is incredibly rich and beautiful. Getting a feel for its many flavours and discovering your favourites by checking out music events all over the city is super-rewarding.

Higher end clubs might be your thing. You’ll find plenty in hoods like the Meatpacking District. Jazz heads will find lots of choices in West Village and Greenwich Village. You can place yourself in a more uptight environment at venues like Blue Note or the Village Vanguard; or go for a friendlier, freer, less pretentious vibe at venues like Smalls or its nearly sister club Mezzrow.

Happier in outdoor music spaces? Then head to a joyous weekend party on Coney Island Boardwalk. Or hang out in Central Park and wander between African drummers and dancers, Summerstage concerts, a men’s doo wop group and dance skaters.

Robert Glasper Experiment - SummerStage 2017

Robert Glasper Experiment at SummerStage 2017

To check out hip hop’s birth place get to The Bronx for a dance competition. Party an afternoon away with Puerto Ricans in a Spanish Harlem park. And get your skanking fix at a reggae gig in Jamaica, Queens. Dress up and cross city lines for a concert at New Jersey Performing Arts Centre. Or maybe you’re brave enough to make your way through the freaky of Times Square for a live show at BB King.

If you’re comfortable amongst a privileged, hipster crowd then choose gigs in the super-gentrified Williamsburg. To experience a broader reflection of Brooklyn’s diversity get to a family friendly, good vibes concert at BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn Festival.

Bilal live concert - New York 2017

Bilal at Celebrate Brooklyn 2017

Venues Matter

Consider venues when you make your event choices. A venue and the people it brings, no matter what the band sounds like, can make the difference between a good and a bad music experience.

If you don’t want to be in a crowd of people talking so much it’s hard to hear the performance; or trying to dance on a sticky floor with alcohol spilled across it, you’ll need to give some venues a miss. I went to three frustrating gigs like that at Brooklyn Bowl before I reluctantly had to cross it off my options list despite its great program of acts.

Son Little live concert - New York 2017

Son Little with Soulive at Brooklyn Bowl

If you’d rather be in a space where people around you are there to actually listen and appreciate the music; where it’s simply understood or you’re expressly asked not to use your phone, you’ll find joy at venues like Smalls, the Village Vanguard and Blue Note.  For a totally unique experience of that kind, check out regular open mic nights like All That Hip Hop Poetry & Jazz at Nuyorican Poets Cafe.


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The Seasoned and The Fresh

Long-beloved artists who’ve been making and performing music for many decades won’t be around to do so much longer. You might want to prioritise their shows over those of younger acts while you still can. Sometimes those choices will pay off. Sometimes not.

Making the mission to Only In Queens Summer Festival to be amongst all corners of the world hearing George Clinton and the all-ages members of Parliament Funkadelic kill it on stage again, was the perfect choice.

George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic live concert

Paying dearly to sit through the tackiness and cheese of tassled, sparkly, bikini-clad dancers fawning over Ronald and Ernie Isley as they performed at The Isley Brothers concert was not.

The Isley Brothers live concert New York 

It’s Your Thing by The Isley Brothers

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Turns out after all that my most rewarding New York event choices were to check out the fresh sounds, many of them improvised, being created by more contemporary acts – especially the ones playing in more informal, laid-back venues. Kris BowersJoel Ross Good VibesKeyon Harrold, Robert Glasper Experiment, Taylor McFerrin with Marcus Gilmore and revered Tiny Desk winners Tank and the Bangas were amongst them.

 

4 Am by Taylor McFerrinEarly Riser

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Tank and the Bangas live concert - New York

Tank and the Bangas at Blue Note

Party Picks

Parties put on in bars and clubs. Neighbourhood block parties. Rooftop parties. Parties on Coney Island Boardwalk. Parties in city parks. Vinyl Parties amongst the neon lights of Times Square. New York City is a music and dance lovers’ delight for its choices of dope parties. One of your best chances for finding them is to regularly check events posted on DanceDeets. And of course when you find a DJ you’re into, follow him or her to their next gig.

Visual arts lovers could wisely choose to start their Tuesday night at the Delancey for Collage NYC. There you can dance to killer DJs as New York City artists create musically-themed artworks before your eyes.

Collage NYC Live Art Tribute to 2Pac 2017

Inbox Full

Discover all your choices by keeping a check on social media sites for upcoming shows by your beloved artists; and subscribing to venue and event mailing lists until your inbox can’t take no more. 

These here sites will give music-holidayers a heap of choices to start filling their New York City Summer days and nights: Governors Ball FestivalNorthside FestivalSummerStageBlue Note Jazz FestivalBRIC Celebrate BrooklynHot 97 Summer JamBrooklyn Academy of MusicAfroPunkBrooklyn BasedNew York Live ArtsBrooklyn Bazaar –  Do NYCThe Joyce TheatreJazz at Lincoln Centre92yLe Poisson RougeSmoke Jazz ClubSmalls LiveMezzrowRed RoosterZinc BarThe McKittrick Hotel –  Fat Cat – 55 BarArlene’s GroceryBowery ElectricNuyorican Poets CafeThe KitchenBB King BluesMinton’sNational SawdustBirdland Jazz ClubSymphony Space –  Brooklyn Bowl Blue Note Jazz ClubHighline BallroomCielo – DanceDeets.

“The Music Capital of the World”

One time in Colombia a musicologist told me that Bogota is the music capital of the world. Now for sure Bogota has a rich and thriving music scene. But I had to doubt his statement in light of what New York City is famous for offering.

I’ve now been music-holidaying in both cities and am sure he was wrong. Even if there is such a thing as “the music capital of the world” New York City must trump Bogota and most, if not all world cities as being It, surely? Every scene, every music genres and every type of event is available for the taking in New York – seven days and nights. So I’ll never figure out how its music loving residents find the time to work. But I know it’s a heavenly-sublime city for any beaver on the beats to live in or visit.  

Breakdance battles - Brooklyn, New York 2017

 

Get your glimpse here of a tiny handful of the countless New York City music events that went down in Summer 2017.


Check out more videos by clicking on the artist/event name:

George Clinton & Parliament FunkadelicThe WhispersKamasi Washington – Keyon HarroldBen Williams bass soloTalib Kweli, Pharoahe Monch & The Soul Rebels  – Alice SmithBilalKris BowersSon Little with SouliveGriz with SouliveCover Story Doo WopThe Isley Brothers  – Taylor McFerrin & Marcus GilmoreRobert Glasper ExperimentKarl Denson with SouliveTank and the Bangas  – Joel Ross Good Vibes – Lesedi Ntsane  – Break 4 Justice Dance BattlesFinal Dance Battle – LGNDS: The Return

 

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