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Brooklyn Comes Alive: “All Killer, No Filler”

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This past Saturday, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, I can attest in fact that Brooklyn Came Alive. Allow me to explain, this year for the 4th year in a row Live For Live Music hosted this amazing single day event which sure felt a ton like Jam Cruise or New Orleans Jazz Fest. I say that because within about 8 square blocks in Williamsburg, musicians from the highest echelon of the jam scene got together, in formations they are not known to play in; like one-off supergroups, brand new band debuts and epic tribute sets. The three venues in Williamsburg chosen this year were Rough TradeMusic Hall of Williamsburg and Brooklyn Bowl. I can personally attest that the best part of the Brooklyn music scene revealed itself to me at each one of these unique venues over the 12-hour period I wandered around Williamsburg chasing the groove.

Prior to Brooklyn Comes Alive, last week I had the good fortune to do an interview with the founder, Kunj Shah, whose vision and vibe made Saturday the amazing event it was. Kunj promised me that this year would be “All Killer, No Filler” and boy he wasn’t lying.  Additionally, Kunj told me that this year’s vibe would be akin to what happens late night, on Frenchman Street during Jazz Fest in New Orleans; to serve NYC a truly unique live music experience.  This year, over 50 musicians came together to perform over 15 different sets of music throughout the course of a 12-hour period. While it is impossible to catch every single set, I was able to see an amazing amount of unique music and catch some once in a lifetime performances.

This year BCA kicked off at Rough Trade with the first-ever comedy set by a group called Wokes With Jokes. Spearheaded by Brett Siddell, this troupe of comedians is comprised of Walker BerryAriella WallenPamela Mahler and MC Richie Alfson.  This groups material is mostly rooted within the idiosyncrasies of the jam band scene, as well as, some of the distinct and unique characters who inhabit our krewe.  I saw this comedy troupe previously at the recently closed beloved venue, American Beauty, during Phish’s 2017 New Year’s Run at Madison Square Garden. I have to say all of the comics have gotten noticeably better since then. All the comedians were very funny, irreverent and super relevant to the trials and tribulations of living life as a live music superfan.

After the wooks were done telling wook jokes, I headed over a few blocks to The Music Hall of Williamsburg (MHOW) to check out my boy Todd Stoops in his new band Katharsis, who I have never seen live since this was their first stop in NYC. Katharsis is a Denver, Colorado-based psychedelic funk band featuring drummer of The Motet, Dave Watts, bassist Chuck Jones of Dopapod, keyboardist Todd Stoops of RAQ/Electric Beethoven and guitarist Marcus Rezak. Literally, as I walked into the door the opening notes of Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter” rang out and I thought ‘oh wow this is going to be a good day if this is the first song’ of my 12-hour musical odyssey.

I hustled over a few blocks to Brooklyn Bowl only to walk into a packed house with some of my favorite artists on stage for Shira Elias’ Soul Tracks. When I saw Shira (from Turkuaz) host the jam room on Jam Cruise this year, I got a taste of what this set was going to be like; however, with Nikki Glaspie from The Nth Power on drums, Lyle Divinsky the lead singer of The Motet and James Casey on saxophone from Trey Anastasio Band, I knew this was going to be a soul sangin’, epic moment. Shira and Lyle serenaded the crowd at The Bowl with covers from Aretha Franklin, Luther Vandross, Marvin Gaye, The Isley Brothers, Michael Jackson and D’Angelo. The Brooklyn Bowl was packed both with fans and family members of the band.  One of the main takeaways of Brooklyn Comes Alive this year was the sheer pleasure all of the artists had gigging with their friends, the other artists they see on tour and on festival grounds in passing around the country, yet never get to play with. If one thing was apparent looking at the artists this year, it was this, they were stoked.

I rolled back to the Music Hall of Williamsburg to catch the beginning of my favorite drummers set, The Adam Deitch Quartet.  Adam is the Lettuce and Break Science drummer and his quartet consisted of Wil Blades on keys, Ryan Zoidis on sax and Eric “Benny” Bloom on trumpet.  This was one of the sets that I was looking most forward to and it didn’t disappoint. The Adam Deitch Quartet recorded an album in 2017 called Egyptian Secrets, yet it has not been released yet and the group has only played together a handful of times since recording it.  The crowd got treated to a never before heard version of the title track Egyptian Secret (which you can check out a clip of below).  The jazz-fusion set also included a full sing along with the crowd on an instrumental cover of Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel.”

Adam Deitch Quartet footage courtesy of Adam Deitch

Adam Deitch Quartet footage courtesy of Bobby Deitch

After Adam Deitch’s set, I hustled over to Brooklyn Bowl to check out the set in honor of Col. Bruce HamptonButch Trucks & Gregg Allman which featured the iconic bass player from The Meters, George Porter Jr., 15-year-old teenage guitar prodigy Brandon “Taz” Niederauer, Lettuce guitar player Adam SmirnoffJeff Sipe from Col. Bruce’s Band and founding drummer of Aquarium Rescue UnitPeter Levin organist from Gregg Allman Band and American Idol standout Elise Testone.  From this supergroup, we got to hear covers from Allen Toussaint, Jimi Hendrix, a pair of Allman Brothers Band tunes “Don’t Keep Me Wonderin” and “Dreams” sang beautifully by Peter Levin. Elise Testone belted out ill renditions of “Rock Steady” and “Think” from the recently departed Aretha Franklin.  The group closed with a goose bump-inducing version of Cream’s “I’m So Glad.”

Full Show Live Stream Footage from Michael Buzzeo

I quickly cruised back over to Music Hall of Williamsburg to check out Switch Hitters featuring Nigel Hall from Lettuce on keys and vocals, Wil Blades on keys and the 2 founding members of Ghost Note and Snarky Puppy, percussion duo extraordinaire Nate Werth and Robert “Sput” Searight. The newly formed band gets its name because, as Nigel Hall explained on Facebook, “We like to commandeer each other’s instruments when the spirit moves us, hence Switch Hitters.”  This set turned out to be my favorite original set of the night and the most crowded set too!  Nigel’s voice was in good form and he sang the set away! This organ quartet The Switch Hitters made their North East debut and played mostly covers including Michael Jackson and a few of Nigel’s songs from his debut album including “Don’t Change For Me” with a Brandon “Taz” Niederauer guitar sit-in you can check out below.  Adam Deitch also sat in during The Switch Hitters set when Nigel requested he come out on stage for his original tunes.

Footage courtesy of Kunj Shah

Footage courtesy of Bobby Deitch

Next at Music Hall of Williamsburg was the Steely Dan Tribute.  I cannot say enough about the camaraderie, professionalism and acute attention to detail which the amazing artist displayed during this Steely Dan Tribute set. I did not intend to stay at this set the entire time; however, I was fully enthralled by the apparent love and reverence the musicians gave this timeless and iconic band.  Tim Palmieri, guitarist from Kung Fu and Nick Cassarino guitarist for The Nth Power did a stand out job and were the MVPs of the set because of the complex guitar work that makes up the ethos of Steely Dan.  Tim Palmieri would have made Denny Dias proud! Additionally, Nick Cassarino did an exceptional job on the difficult Michael McDonald vocals.  The band with Michelangelo Carruba from Turkuaz on drums drove the band which consisted of Joey Porter (also the music director of the set) and Lyle Divinsky from The Motet on keys and vocals, Hayley Jane and Sammi Garett from Turkuaz on vocals, Nate Edgar from The Nth Power on bass, Nate Werth on percussion and Chris Bullock and Mike “Maz” Maher from Snarky Puppy on sax and trumpet. I was lucky enough to grab the setlist post show and below is a run-down of the legendary tunes played:

  1. 1.Peg 2.Josie 3.The Fez 4.Do It Again 5.Black Friday 6.Deacon Blues 7.Hey Nineteen
    8.Kid Charlemagne 9.Babylon Sisters 10.Green Earrings 11.Reeling In The Years

Check out the live stream full set footage by Michael Buzzeo

I stayed at The Music Hall of Williamsburg and proceeded to watch the sound check with George Porter Jr. who was happily testing mics with his own improvisational beat boxing while powerfully playing bass. The initial band for the inaugural set of Jam Cruise Presents: The Jam Room hosted by George Porter Jr. included Alvin Ford Jr., the drummer from Porter’s Running PartnersNick Cassarino on guitar who just burned up the stage during the previous Steely Dan set, Skerik on sax, Peter Levin on keys and Maurice Brown on trumpet. Also, this set contained sit ins from father/son drumming duo, Bobby and Adam Deitch.  On a personal note, I saw Nick Cassarino after this set and he was beaming ear to ear after improvising for 2 straight hours and having quite a chemistry with the legend, George Porter, Jr. Before the set started Jam Cruise’s own Julie McCoy and Director of Artist Programming, Annabel Lukins Stelling MC’d the Jam Room and gave the history about how the Jam Room on Jam Cruise came to be. The Jam Room came about because musicians on the boat wanted to play with each other in a non-formal atmosphere and improvise.  George Porter was the first Jam Room host on the boat many years ago, so it was fitting that he was the host for the inaugural non-Jam Cruise Jam Room at Brooklyn Comes Alive.  You can check out the footage below of the entire set of 100% full improv.

George Porter, Jr. Jam Room Set Footage by Michael Buzzeo

I wanted to stay for the rest of George Porter; however, my love for Prince and the sick lineup Brooklyn Comes Alive put together for this final set at Brooklyn Bowl, Purple Party.  On stage the band was killing it when I walked (ok ran) in was Prince protégée and innovative bass player, MonoNeon, the Ghost Note drumming due Robert “Sput” Searight and Nate WerthThe Motet guitar player Ryan JalbertSteve Swatkins on keys from Allen Stone‘s band, Chris Bullock and Mike “Maz” Maher from Snarky Puppy on sax and trumpet, and Casey Russell keyboardist from Magic Beans.  Amazingly, The Brooklyn Bowl was still really packed at this late hour and had such a good vibe and so much energy. Everyone that was still around at this late hour were dancing and singing-a-long.  I, also, caught one of my favorite Prince songs, “Controversy.”  While I was dancing in the VIP area I saw Nikki Glaspie who told me that she was about to start the 2nd Jam Cruise Jam Room set of the night and that she was playing drums for the entire thing.  That is all I needed to hear.

Purple Party Footage by Michael Buzzeo

I rounded up my krewe on Nikki’s word and we all headed to the final set: The Jam Room Hosted By Turkuaz’s Craig Broadhead and Karina Rykman, the bass player of Marco Benevento’s band. The hosts welcomed myriad of guests, including outstanding bassist Divinity Roxx and saxophonist Kat Rodriguez, both known for touring with Beyoncé’s all girl band which Nikki Glaspie was part of as well. Winding the night down the band threw down an ecstatic cover of Rage Against The Machine’s “Killing In The Name” that caused the remaining crowd at nearly 4 AM to go buck wild headbanging, jumping around, throwing middle fingers up in the air and loudly singing along with the band word for word. Now THAT is the way to end the show. Bringing it back to Jam Cruise 2017, 2 years ago on Jam Cruise I saw Nikki Glaspie, sitting in with Galactic, step up to the mic in front, with someone else standing behind her in a military type uniform and proceed to SLAY “Killing In The Name” and raging so hard she may or may not have thrown a few of the mics down on the ground permanently ‘killing’ them. Without a shadow of a doubt, to me, it was the best single song of Jam Cruise 15. Check it out below.

Footage courtesy of Jam Cruise

I went to my friend’s rooftop party in Williamsburg before (and after) Brooklyn Comes Alive full of residents of Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. As we were on the roof, looking out over the city we live in and love, someone said “This is like Homecoming for us.”  That stuck with me the entire day! The native NYC krewe were all present, happy and excited to host all of the awesome out of towners in true NYC style.  I have to say NYC showed up and showed out.  Thank you so much Kunj and Sara for making Brooklyn Comes Alive an annual event the New York people can be so proud of. Thank you to the musicians who played their hearts out and frankly, they all looked so happy and psyched to be playing with each other in these unorthodox supergroups. Thank you, New York City, and specifically Williamsburg for allowing all of the attendees to come ALIVE!

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