Interview with Kunj Shah: Brooklyn Comes Alive brings the late night vibe of JazzFest to BK

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Brooklyn’s premier live music festival, Brooklyn Comes Alive will return for the 4th year on September 29th. Every year this festival is better and different from the previous year! The week Fangeist caught up with the founder of Brooklyn Comes Alive. This year the vibes is something akin to what happens late night at Jazz Fest in New Orleans–except this happens in Brooklyn for one memorable evening. Brooklyn Comes Alive will return to Williamsburg on Saturday to serve NYC a truly unique live music experience.

Hey Kunj, so great to chat with you about Brooklyn Comes Alive. Thank you so much for sitting down with us. I can’t wait for this year’s iteration of Brooklyn Comes Alive.  I would love people to hear a bit about what you’re up to?

Well right now my plate is pretty full with Brooklyn Comes Alive coming up this Saturday. Besides also being the founder of Live For Live Music, I’m managing 4 fantastic bands: Aqueous, Ghost-Note, Mungion, and Organ Freeman. I have a couple of other irons in the fire currently that I can’t talk about publicly yet, and on top of that I’m getting married in less than a month, so this is definitely one of the busiest times in my entire life!

Congratulations on all these accomplishments and especially your pending nuptials. 

Thank you!

How did you brainstorm and come up with the origins of Brooklyn Comes Alive 4 years ago?

Me and my partner Justin Charles had both fallen in love with New Orleans, on separate trips. The city, the culture, the vibe, and in particular, everything about Frenchman Street. The fact that you could walk in and out of multiple venues all night long and be exposed to some of the best music in the world sparked an idea for both of us. We felt that this type of access to music needed to be recreated on some level in Williamsburg, where we both lived at the time, even if it was just for a day.

Tell me a bit about where you came up with the idea to do this unique multi-venue festival right here in Williamsburg, Brooklyn?

After my first Jazz Fest, I knew we couldn’t wait another year to feel the vibes, bask in the energy, and bear witness to the unique collaborations that you could usually only find in New Orleans during that the time. We’re not the type of people that can wait around for a year for anything; at our core, we are creators. There have been countless experiences we’ve been inspired by to create something new because it was in our nature to do so; it’s who we are as people. So, once we both were inspired by the vibrant city of New Orleans, we set out to put on the first Brooklyn Comes Alive.

How do you choose which venues to use and what acts to book?

Originally, we chose the venues based on what was available and their proximity to each other. Keeping the venues within walking distance so guests could bounce around with ease was and still is an integral part of it. We put on the first Brooklyn Comes Alive in Williamsburg at Verboten and The Hall at MP. It took a little convincing, but we finally got one of our favorite venues, and venue owners, Pete Shapiro, to let use the Brooklyn Bowl as one of the venues for the festival.  The venue is such a great hub for our scene and the ultimate hang. The Music Hall of Williamsburg is great for a number of different reasons. It’s immersive, the sound is great, the sight lines are great, and the band on stage is the focus. There’s a bar/lounge area downstairs that’s perfect to catch up with old friends without disturbing the people around you. This is the first year we’re going to be using Rough Trade as a venue. This little gem inside of a record store is one of the most underrated rooms in Brooklyn. It’s only around a 250-person capacity but it feels much bigger, the stage is perfectly elevated, and the production there is fantastic.

I agree with you. I was just at Rough Trade this past weekend to see Andy Frasco and the United Nations this weekend.  I have seen some memorable sick shows there, like Jim James.

What acts to book — now that’s a tricky question. Sometimes we have a vision of a perfect, dream band, and we try to use the festival as a canvas to paint the picture that’s in our head. Sometimes one of us is on a particular legendary artist kick, like Prince or Steely Dan, and we imagine which musicians we think would be best suited to fit that role. Sometimes you know a good band leader and ask them to just pick a band and put on some improv or come up with a concept they’ve always wanted to perform. Ultimately, you need to somehow arrange the 50-60 musicians in these various concepts and projects and fit together the puzzle pieces of the schedule in the best possible way. It usually takes months and months of arranging and rearranging, until it just somehow clicks. We’re lucky enough to have built trust and relationships with a lot of musicians in the scene, and they all love playing the festival because they get to explore different creative outlets from what they’ve been touring year-round.

How would you say this year’s BCA will differentiate itself from the last few years?

Every year we’ve booked the lineup based on our musical tastes at the time. Last year we went a little broader because we had two days, and more slots to fill.  This year we really made sure it’s all killer, no filler. I would pay good money to see each one of these bands on any given night. That was the bar that was set for this year. Each band needed to excite us on their own, and blow us away as a whole.

Some of the acts I am excited to see some of the bands that I ONLY get to see at JazzFest like Baby Jesus Peasant Party and The Adam Deitch Quartet. Explain the vibe you are going for by booking these types of acts during this year’s BCA.

Man, last year’s Baby Jesus Peasant Party at the Maple Leaf during Jazz Fest was the sleeper set of the weekend! I remember looking around at the warriors who were still out and about at 5-6 am, and no one could believe the music and the magic that was going down that night. I really would do everything in your power to catch this set at Brooklyn Comes Alive.

Same with the Adam Deitch Quartet. Last year was the first time I got a chance to see that band in action and I thought I knew what I was getting myself into with the usual suspects Deitch plays with and Wil Blades. Boy, was I wrong. I thought the set was going to be something similar to what I’ve come to expect from those guys, but it was something completely different. Deitch is a busy man, with many projects, and I knew they were trying to get this project together for a minute but couldn’t find any other time to do it besides Jazz Fest, so we provided the outlet. Watch out for Ryan Zoidis’ playing. He might be one of my favorites and one of the most creative saxophone players out there and he REALLY shines in this project. My boy Benny Bloom is no slouch either.  That man can play the trumpet like no other, and might actually be the most confident, hilarious dude on this planet.

Ryan Zoidis no doubt is the one of the hottest saxophone players in the game—bar none. The last time I saw Eric Bloom he was having one of the most epic moments on stage ever at Lockn’ KILLING Tangled Up in Blue with Bob Weir backing him during the Lettuce Does Jerry Garcia Band set. Also, The Baby Jesus Peasant party is ALWAYS off the chain every year at Jazz Fest with that legendary 3 am start time at The Maple Leaf. Tycoon is the secret weapon in that band! I haven’t seen The Adam Deitch Quartet since Adam’s 40th Birthday in NOLA the year before last. I am ultra-pumped for both of these sets and frankly the rest of them.  You have done a great job booking tight acts this year. And now to my favorite topic, Jamcruise!!

I am an 8 year in a row Jamcruiser…so you know that I KNOW the amazingness that comes out of the late-night Jam Room on The Boat. I’d love if you give the readers the history of the Jam Room and your version of what happens in the Jam Room on Jam Cruise and how this will be replicated on land and during BCA. Also, who will be hosting the special performances?

The Jam Room is my favorite part of Jam Cruise and the Jam Scene. It’s the real deal once-in-a-lifetime moments that happen in the jam room that really can’t be created anywhere else. The hosts usually have no idea who is going to hop on stage at any given moment or what they’re going to put out musically, but the musicians that are confident enough to get up there, somehow always slay it. I love watching the scene to the side of the stage right before a musician gets on stage, and the surprise on the host’s face when they see an old friend or a complete stranger walk on, and then seamlessly get down to the nitty gritty. It’s as raw as it gets. It encapsulates JAM In the truest sense of the word.

It really showcases what’s best about not only the community that surrounds the scene but also the internal community the musicians have built throughout the years. After playing so many of the same festivals and gigs over the years, sharing late night hangs, and talking about playing with each other, they finally get to do it, no holds barred.  Most of them have connected as friends in so many different circumstances, but now they really get to communicate through their instruments.

I know that you helped put some of these acts together, so they are in essence your babies but tell me who YOU are pumped to see on Saturday? Who do you think will be the sleeper set of this year.

Are you kidding? I am friends with 95% of everyone on that lineup. Picking favorites is how you get in trouble!

That being said, watch out for the Ghost-Note cats — Robert “Sput” Searight, Nate Werth, and Mononeon. Those are some of the baddest musicians in the game!

I’m also excited to have every member of Lettuce at the festival. I try every year to get all of the guys and it never works out. This year everything clicked to make it work.

Oh! And the Wokes With Jokes comedy set. It’ll be a real nice treat to get some laughs in to start the day off. Come watch me get roasted and let’s laugh at the music scene we all love. I saw an Umphrey’s McGee version of this set and it might have been one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. I was laughing my ass off the entire show. Ryan Stasik from the band came out that night and everyone had a blast.

Fangeist is a website that focuses on aggregating daily live streaming music webcasts. Will anyone live stream BCA?  Also, I would love to hear your thoughts on how you think live streaming live music will change and grow in the next few years and how the live stream can help music venues, festivals, promoters and musicians can drive branding, ancillary revenue via ticket sales for bands, music venue and festivals.

I don’t think we’ll be able to live stream Brooklyn Comes Alive this year. We’re working on making it happen but unless we can deliver a really professional product, I don’t think it’ll be possible. I believe live streaming is a fantastic tool for bands to get exposure and allow dedicated fans to watch from home, but in these impromptu jam situations and the nature of some of the musicians, the artists aren’t usually comfortable posting anything officially unless the audio, video, and directing are absolutely perfect. Even then, some of them want to check it out before it goes up to make sure they hit all the right notes. I remember last year Jon Cleary screamed at one of our staff for taking a cell phone video. Also, not everything in the live improv / jam world translates via stream. These musicians need to feel free to make mistakes, and keep the improv train moving, but it’s tough in this day and age to do that when you know it’s going to live on the internet for the rest of time.

That being said, I think live streaming is the future. Especially for established bands who can’t come to your city for 6-12 months but are putting on different, can’t-miss shows every night. There are so many shows I live streamed this year through your platform that helped ease the FOMO. I think Fangeist is doing a terrific job!

Thank you so much Kunj.  That means a lot coming from you.  To wrap it up I know a bunch of people on your BCA & L4LM team who work super hard on this and all your gigs and publications throughout the year…feel free to give them a shout out here! They deserve it.

My partner, co-founder, and best friend Justin Charles. Our current director of day to day operations and talent buyer, Gideon Plotnicki. Our festival / L4LM marketing director, and my soon to be wife, Sara Furer. The Live For Live Music team, headed by, Kendall Deflin, and our editorial team consisting of Ming Lee Newcomb, Andrew O’Brien, and Sam Berenson. Shout out to our publicist Juliana for getting the word out. Chris Meyer, soon to be dad, who’s been here since the beginning. Also, our host this year, Ari Fink!

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