This summer two college kids, Nick and Katharine, were challenged to go see 50 free concerts in 50 days throughout the city. This of course was made more difficult by the never-ending rainy season, but they managed to reach their goal. You can read about the entire experience on their blog. Sounds fun right? Even if it is a rip-off of 100 Bands in 100 Days.
Your 50 shows experiment just ended—so tell us where the best place to hear music for free in NYC is? Nick: Tough question. Prospect Park is really cool, on Saturdays it feels like a county fair- a lot of people BBQ just outside the gates, but I might have to go with Stuy Town. Stuy Town has the most community vibe, whole families go there: You see people there from 8 to 88. There are no fences, it’s a very welcoming scene. My one complaint is that the concerts at Stuy Town end too early.
Katharine: Honestly, venues completely depend on the kind of crowd and show that you're looking for. Everything varies so drastically from place to place, so it's mostly just on what you're in the mood for that night—outdoors, by the water, inside, small, massive, grassy, seating or not, etc. My two favorite venues of the summer were probably the shows on the Williamsburg waterfront in East River Park and the shows at the Studio @ Webster Hall. They were very different venues (one outside on the water and one inside, intimate, dark and with a bar) and had very different shows, but they were in good locations and had a lot of different things to offer.
And the worst? N: I don’t want to throw any venues under the bus, but when KRSone performed at Crotona Park the acoustics were terrible. You couldn’t hear anything 50 feet from the stage.
K: I didn't have a venue that I didn't really like. There were some that were unlike any I'd ever seen before (World Financial Center's Winter Garden was certainly very different, with set-up chairs and palm trees in the middle of the building) and there were some that had sound issues (Crotona Park's speakers were really weak) but none of the venues left me with a feeling like I'd never want to go back again.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened while doing this project? N: There were a couple of days where the concert streak came frighteningly close to ending prematurely. When the Round Robin show got moved to Brooklyn Bowl because of rain I didn’t have a press pass and didn’t get in. That was at 9pm on a Sunday, and I had no idea if other free shows were going down. On a whim, I decided to try Pete's Candy Shop. Luckily, Matt Jaffe was playing there which kept the streak going.
Also coming back from They Might be Giants at Prospect Park I got into a fight with a crack head at 5 p.m.
K: I think one of the coolest things for me was being able to talk to a few of the band members after shows sometime. I remember very vivdly a moment in conversation with Nils Edenloff of the Rural Alberta Advantage when he was talking about having seen a show where the opening band started by playing soft and acoustic in the middle of the audience of 10 people who knew that what they were seeing was great—and it turned out to be the first Arcade Fire show in Toronto. I love small things like that, and they really interest me. I love to hear people's stories. Aside from that, one of the most interesting experiences was seeing Care Bears on Fire. I went into the show not really taking it seriously, since the band was a group of 8th and 9th grade girls, but—they certainly changed my mind. It was interesting for me to see how music can and is starting to become more and more important to people at younger and younger ages, and I love that.
Did you come out of it with any new favorite bands you wouldn't have even seen before? N: Yes, Casio Kids were absolutely amazing live. They are an electro-pop band from Norway. I saw them play at South Street Seaport, they had a red boa draped stand of cowbells that they took turns banging on wildly in syncopated rhythms. No description or recording could do the show justice. See them ASAP.
K: I came away with a serious and as-of-yet-unending fondness for a band called Slow Club. I'd had them on my iPod for a little while but never really gave them a shot—and then they opened for Casiokids and I was immediately charmed. The British duo were fantastically endearing and make really wonderful folk pop music with tight harmonies and strong, poetic, down-to-earth lyrics that just absolutely hooked me. Since I saw them, they've become my summer band.
What was the best performance? N: Casio Kids, Matt and Kim, Monotonix, Borrowed Eyes and Terry Lynn were all great live. I think my favorite performance of the summer might have been Janelle Monae. She has an incredible voice, great style and better dance moves. Also, Gamelatron, a robot that plays a mix of drum and bass and traditional Javanese music was startlingly different than anything I have ever seen.
K: I was a huge fan of both the Dean & Britta show that we saw in Prospect Park as part of the Celebrate Brooklyn series and the Ted Leo & The Pharmacists show we saw at Pier 54 as part of the River Rocks series. Dean & Britta was a whole favorite experience; the night was gorgeous, I was with good friends, and the details of the commissioned piece based around Andy Warhol's screen tests were fascinating and beautiful to me. On the other side: I'd been waiting to see Ted Leo & The Pharmacists for a long time, as a fan of theirs prior to this experience, and they definitely didn't disappoint. Despite horrible weather conditions, Ted Leo played on and delivered his enthusiastic brand of perseverance and awesome music that made his fans glad to have braved the rain for the night.
Who are your favorite bands right now? N: Current bands: Casio Kids, Yeasayer, Dirty Projectors, Jay Electronica, Cubic Zirconia, Animal Collective, Menya, Spank Rock and Chromeo. All Time: David Bowie, The Clash, The Grateful Dead, Outkast, De La Soul, ATCQ and Velvet Underground.
K: I have a lot of mainstays that I tend not to stray from even with the change of seasons, but I've been looking through them since June trying to find the perfect summer jams. As a result, right now I'm listening to a lot of: Jimmy Eat World, Slow Club, and Matt Nathanson.
Did the rainy summer put a damper on things? N: Definitely, during Cucu Diamantes’ show at Prospect Park I thought I was going to drown. A few sets including Trail of Dead were canceled over the course of the summer. Conditions were not ideal; when Easy Star All Stars played at Stuy Town every time I took a step I was ankle deep in mud. Most of the shows we went to were outside so pretty much any day it rained we got rained on. We got an education in rain as well as an education in music.
K: Not in my experience. It's true: sometimes the weather was miserable. It often made it hard to find a show in the right place at the right time that everyone could go to—and during the project, it was not always the most enjoyable experience. But I realise, after the fact, that a lot of what this was about was getting a true experience of what going to a show is like, and sometimes that happens. You can never account for the weather, so it almost... made the experience more authentic, I want to say.
After spending so much time here, would you ever move here in the future?N: I just graduated from NYU, so I already know New York is full of wack kids and have no plans to move here. For real though I’m in the process of moving to Brooklyn.
K: Absolutely. I planned to anyway, when I'm done with school. And now I know so much more about the kind of music I can see for free!
Which New Yorker do you most admire? N: David Byrne. Awesome musician, travels all over the world, still relevant and hip at 57 and designs sweet bike racks.
K: Jay-Z. I actually say that unironically. There have been a lot of great New Yorkers—Teddy Roosevelt, for instance, who I'm pretty sure my friends were rooting for when I gave them options—but I have to say it. Jay-Z is amazing.
Given the opportunity, how would you change New York? N: I would bring a bike sharing program like Amsterdam’s to New York, they are bringing one to Boston and New York should be next.
K: I'd make the transportation systems better. I find the subway really easy to navigate, but so many are unreliable in so many ways. Oh, MTA. Makes living in New York an experience, at least.
Do you have a favorite New York celebrity sighting or encounter? N: I have seen a few celebrities at Pizza Shop on Avenue A and 7th Street. I saw Steven Van Zandt and Chloe Sevigny there, at separate times. Once I saw Steve Nash riding the subway. A friend of mine claims to have seen Steve Nash smoking a J at a party. I don’t have any cool stories like that, though.
K: It's not from this summer, but: last summer, when I was working for the Human Rights Campaign as a canvasser, I ran into Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith somewhere in SoHo. They were both really sweet people who didn't blow me off or ignore me, and I thought that was really nice—especially considering that most people who aren't celebrities just walk by canvassers with a blind eye.
Best cheap eat in the city. N: The Gyro cart on West 4th and Broadway. Two Bros Pizzeria at 2 in the morning when it is full of scumbags. For burritos: Pacquitos on 9th and 1st.
K: Pommes Frites on 2nd Avenue between 7th and St. Mark's.