A Secret Guide to Make Music NY 2012
Thursday is Make Music NY, the New York equivalent of the French Fete de la Musique, the all-day buskathon that started out back in the 70s and has since spread around the world. Make Music NY started out in 2007 with high hopes, got even better very fast and then quickly dissipated. One could say that perfectly capsulizes the state of music in New York at this point in time, but that’s too cynical. Music is thriving in this town, just not in a particularly visible way. Which, to shatter some romantic notions of how great it supposedly was in the punk era, or the early indie era, or the classic jazz era, is pretty much the way it’s always been. Duke Ellington played the big hotel bars, but so did a bunch of now-forgotten combos phoning in covers of showtunes. The Ramones played CBGB not because they wanted to but because no other venue would give them a gig. And Yo La Tengo still play their December residency at little Maxwell’s in Hoboken because when they started out, they had a hard time getting gigs too. A look at the Make Music NY calendars – by artist, and by venue, which, by the way, don’t share information – shows an increasingly smaller number of participants. A lot of these people pop up here every year and then disappear til June 21 rolls around again; many of the singer-songwriters are hopeless open mic types; but there’s also a surprising amount of potentially amazing shows here.
If the heat doesn’t stop everything in its tracks. It threatened to in 2010 and then did exactly that last year. Be aware that a lot of artists reserve daytime space in public parks, or at popular intersections, and then don’t show up til after the sun goes down. Who can blame them? However, there are a handful of spots that get completely booked from early afternoon to evening. From the point of view of a music blogger looking for diamonds in the dust, Make Music NY at its best will deliver that many times over. And it’ll disappoint just as much, if you choose unwisely. If you’re crazy enough to ditch work and spend a day being a music tourist, here’s the New York Music Daily game plan, a series of performances carefully chosen for A) the likelihood that they’ll happen at all, B) the likelihood that they’ll start on time and C) minimizing travel time between destinations. NYMD’s representative will be at some of these events, wearing a Mets hat and shades (yeah, so will a lot of people – just trying to add to the mystery factor) and will have a report for you on this page soon afterward. So here’s the plan!
Starting at 6 AM (yawn), a series of vibraphonists will be playing Erik Satie’s satirical (some would say interminable and annoying) magnum opus, Vexations at Broad and Water Streets in the financial district. Satie was a surrealist and this is a surreal piece of music, but it’s very rarely staged and since it literally goes all day, you have all day to see it. That’s going to be the first stop on this adventure. What time? You decide. NYMD’s professional witness will probably get there by 11 AM, in order to make it to the noon performance by torchy chanteuse Julia Haltigan, who’s playing at Astor Place west of the cube at noon. Haltigan is a force of nature and even crushing heat has no effect on her: she radiates charisma and lush oldtimey sultriness. Whether playing with a band or solo, she’s always on her game, as she was last year, playing in the middle of Central Park to no one in particular with the Dirty Urchins. If for some reason the show here is running behind, there’s also oudist Jeff Peretz and Abu Gara at half past noon at St. Mark’s Park, 10th St. and Second Ave.
At 1 PM, another jazz-influenced singer, Rachel Brotman, is scheduled to play Calvary Church at the corner of Gramercy Park North and Park Avenue. That’s barely a ten-minute ride north on the 6 train and offers a temporary respite from the heat. Then at 2 PM, Indian indie classical percussionist Somnath Khartal and his band play St. Mark’s Park (another quick train ride). His music seems eclectic, and he hasn’t showed up on the radar here before, meaning that this may be a rare opportunity to see him play.
3 PM is too hard a choice to make – if you’re coming along on this crazy trip, you have to choose on your own. The excellent, new wave-influenced two-keyboard band Changing Modes - sort of the teens equivalent of what Pulp was in the UK in the 90s – are playing the Prospect Park boathouse. Ostensibly this is in the park beyond the Lincoln Road/Ocean Avenue intersection, via the B or Q to Prospect Park. That’s a bit of a hike, and not knowing where the boathouse is, if you see somebody wearing a Mets hat and shades, it’s probably not somebody from this blog. But you never know. The faster option, travelwise, is the “metal under the BQE” bash just past Union Pool (484 Union St. in Williamsburg, L to Lorimer St, not listed on the Make Music NY calendar, but it’s definitely happening) which starts at 3 featuring Thinning the Herd, SOS and a bunch of other excellent Brooklyn and Queens metal bands. To throw a wild card into the mix, the excellent, hip-hop influenced PitchBlak Brass Band are playing Water St. Restaurant in Dumbo (66 Water St., on the river), but it’s not clear whether they’ll be indoors or out. If indoors, beware, that place is expensive!
At 4 PM the amazing 40-piece Chinese Music Ensemble of NY plays Chatham Square in Chinatown. Don’t let the prosaic name fool you – they play everything from plaintive folk tunes to ecstatic opera pieces. The closest train is actually the B or D to Grand St.; walk south and then take a right on Division and it’ll be straight ahead, otherwise take any train to Canal and take Mott all the way downhill to the intersection with Bowery and East Broadway. Sonics may be an issue here since East Broadway is on a bus route and there’s a stop out in front of the dumpling place just past the park. Another option is the excellent Alon Yavnai Big Band, who play original Middle Eastern flavored big band jazz; their show is also at 4 PM at Bryant Park, and again, sonics may be an issue since there are bus stops nearby.
At 6 PM, NYMD’s representative is going to the movies in midtown (which was a done deal before the decision to attend any Make Music NY event ever entered the picture; that’s how the Bryant Park show came up). In the approximately 90 minutes it’ll take for the movie to screen, you might be interested in haunting, historically rich songwriter Elisa Flynn, who’s scheduled to play at 5 at Bitter and Esters, 700 Washington Ave. between St. Marks Ave. and Prospect Pl. in Ft. Greene. Or you could see another New York treasure, the lush, epic, intense NY Arabic Orchestra, who’re playing outside the UN at First Ave. and 46th St. at 6 followed at 7 by a gathering of oud players which, if they know what they’re doing, could be heaven. The opposite is also possible.
At 8, NYMD’s rep is scheduled to see Daniel Stampfel, who back in the late 90s and early zeros fronted the Inevitable Breakups, a fantastic powerpop band who had the misfortune to sign with a major label and consequently got royally screwed. He’s playing at Fontana’s; there’s a cover charge. There’s also Empire Beats, fronted by soul chanteuse Camille Atkinson at the playground on W 46th St between 9th & 10th Aves.
At 9, the Old Rugged Sauce – Brooklyn legends who have been doing their own irreverent but strangely brilliant take on guitar-driven vocal jazz – are at Brooklyn Rod & Gun Club, 59 Kent Ave. between N 10th/11th. in Williamsburg. Knowing them, they’ll go til late, and they’re a short train ride away. There are two other excellent choices among the late-night acts: twin-trombone Afrobeat dub band Super Hi-Fi are scheduled for Hanson Dry, 925 Fulton St in Ft. Greene, C to Clinton/Washington. And haunting, intense Lebanese/French trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf is playing Drom at 10 for free, although you may need to RSVP to (212) 777-1157. It would be a memorable way to end a long day (just so you know, Drom has excellent air conditioning). Don’t count on anybody from here making it that far – but you never know.