Commodore Barry Park exploded with human brilliance this weekend as the Afropunk Festival once again brought tens of thousands out to dance, sing, and pose for pictures under beautiful blue skies. Now in its 11th year, the two-day arts celebration featured headlining sets from Grace Jones, Lenny Kravitz, Lauryn Hill, Danny Brown and Gary Clark Jr.
Afropunk organizers hoped to limit admission lines by abandoning the free-entry system of the past and, instead, asking fest-goers to either volunteer to earn their ticket, or pay up $65/day. Still, queues snaked around most of Commodore Barry Park by early evening, and the interior grounds were filled with people of all colors, sizes, ages, and sartorial philosophies. Musical highlights included local soul duo Oshun, who took the stage clad in flowing white and darted effortlessly between hip-hop, R&B, and afrobeat styles. Sunday's acts in particular proved to be consistently great, with bass virtuoso Thundercat charging through his excellent new record The Beyond/Where the Giants Roam and blues phenom Gary Clark Jr. previewing unreleased material, guitar solos searing the clear night sky.
The weekend's only misstep came during Saturday's Lauryn Hill set, which began over 50 minutes late and, amidst a plague of sound issues, was cut short, the lights and speakers going dark and silent in the middle of her performance, never to return. Grace Jones, however, came to the night's rescue with a topless, body-painted performance that proved positively fearsome. Miss Jones has afro-punk since before most attendees, and still shows no signs of letting up.
Numerous performers, DJs, and MCs took time to address police brutality, racial injustice, and militarized policing in America, with shouts of "Black lives matter!" coursing over hip-hop beats and erasing the line between party and protest. Afropunk 2015 proved that the celebration of black, brown, trans, queer, young, and old lives of all sizes and creeds is as necessary as ever. The weekend climaxed in a perfect moment, late Sunday night, as DJ and hip-hop producer Kaytranada reached the finale of his set. The 22 year-old chose to finish with J Dilla's "Fuck the Police," while at the exact same moment Lenny Kravitz belted out "Let Love Rule." No two notions could have better captured it all.
Additional reporting by Michael Dobson