Last year the Dessner brothers of the National curated the first ever Crossing Brooklyn Ferry with a vision to create a festival as eclectic as the borough which they call home. Not only would Crossing Brooklyn Ferry offer a diverse range of homegrown music, but it would offer a number of performance spaces within the gorgeous Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) that each have their own unique characteristics and charm. These three days of performances are as much a celebration of Brooklyn as they are a music festival.
This past weekend Crossing Brooklyn Ferry returned to BAM with an even more eclectic offering of musical genres including punk, rock, hip-hop, funk, jazz and more. A solid selection of notable headliners and buzz-worthy bands littered the line-up including acts such as the Roots, Solange Knowles, TV on the Radio, Phosphorescent, Antibalas, Japanther and many more. The real star of the weekend however would have to be the venue itself. Performances were held within the modern Rose Cinemas, the BAMcafe with it’s swirling lights overhead, and the 2,109 capacity Howard Gilman Opera House. There was also a tasting room set up by Brooklyn Brewery which was serving exclusive ales throughout the weekend. Movement could not have been more fluid between these spaces as the festival went on. We were there for the opening and close of the festival to bring you our account.
The festival opened up on Thursday and contained the biggest draw of the weekend with the Roots as the headliners for that night. Those who came in not knowing many of the other acts on the bill throughout the day surely found something of intrigue while bouncing between the venues inside. To help encourage the early audience, there was a free sampling of select Brooklyn Brewery beers in the tasting room from 6:30 – 7:30. These “ghost bottles,” as the brewery describes them, are only available for special occasions and included highly coveted ales such as Local 1 and Sorachi Ace. A happy hour was also held during the same time period helping people kick off the night. Noticeably absent from the taps were Budweiser and other common brands as people were encouraged to treat their senses.
Drinks continued to flow at the BAMcafe in the upper level, which featured a large bar with access on four sides that served food as well. Seats remained on the floor for Rudresh Mahanthapa’s Gamak, which offered up a fresh fusion of funk and jazz. As the daylight slipped through the windows and night approached the BAMcafe took on a whole new life. The archways overhead illuminated the space and lights began to swirl on the large window’s between the street and the performance area. The next act to go on in this stage was Champagne Jerry and by this time of the evening the chairs had made way to a large dancing area for the remainder of the acts. As drinks were not allowed in the opera house or the cinemas, the BAMcafe also became a de facto point for hanging out. Compared to the other spots where chatter was at a minimum, the cafe became the social center of the BAM complex.
Most performances had a slight overlap with others which actually helped avoid massive volleys of people at one time. On Thursday night in particular, it seemed like there was plenty of room throughout BAM which allowed you to grab a number of vantages from within the Howard Gilman Opera House throughout the night. The elegant beaux art theatre space may have seemed large at first for some of the acts, but the state-of-the-art sound and lighting helped transition each act that performed in this space. Julia Holter, for instance, occupied just one small platform in the center of the stage. Smoke engulfed her and powerful lighting effects helped to give the feeling of a more intimate performance. Parquet Courts on the other hand had a much higher energy and the crowd began to feed off of it with a dancing section forming in front of the seats and directly below the stage.
The highlight of the first night however was the Roots. Getting the chance to see them in Howard Gilman Opera House was a special treat and it was a little surprising to be able to find so many good spots to catch them from. The seasoned veterans had the crowd entertained from the moment they graced the stage; after all they do do this every night. The band was clearly having fun with this performance. Guitarist and Brooklyn native, Kirk Douglas was very animated throughout the set and continuously engaged with the crowd. ?uestlove was not one to disappoint either; at one point during an extended drum solo he even took time to send out the setlist to his loyal instagram and twitter followers and somehow didn’t even miss a beat. The set contained several hits such as “Next Movement,” “You Got Me,” and “Seed 2.0,” and also took plenty of time to showcase the individual talents of each band member.
When we returned for the final day of Crossing Brooklyn Ferry on Saturday, it was noticeably more crowded throughout the entire day. The acts on Saturday were somewhat more recognizable and the fact that it was on the weekend certainly helped encourage more festival goers. Perhaps the word of Brooklyn Brewery’s ghost tastings also served as some additional motivation to get there early. Indie rock ruled the stage of the Howard Gilman Opera House for the first half of Saturday with People Get Ready playing this festival for a second year in a row followed by an energetic set from Here We Go Magic.
Meanwhile, up at the BAMcafe art-punk band Japanther entertained a growing crowd of fans. Though the act consists of just a drummer and guitarist, they produced more than enough noise to fill up the room. Fans were dancing away in the front for this act. Japanther were definitely the biggest outliers of the week in terms of genre, but they still received an outstanding reception from the crowd and offered a great change of pace.
One of the more anticipated acts of the evening took place back in the opera house when Phosphorescent took to the stage. They have been garnering quite a bit of attention with their newly released album, Muchacho, and after seeing their live performance one can say that the attention is rightfully deserved. With sleeves rolled up, frontman Matthew Houck captivated and connected with the audience as he led us through plenty of new material. From song to song the pace would shift and the six piece band completely rose to the occasion in front of the opera house which continued to fill up. Their live show is definitely one to catch, and Phosphorescent certainly made some new fans on Saturday night.
The final act to take the stage of the opera house during Crossing Brooklyn Ferry was TV on the Radio, another hometown band that has broken through the indie ranks and has enjoyed a pretty wide degree of success. A backdrop of glowing stars was placed behind the stage and silhouettes if the band emerged as they broke into their hit single “Halfway Home” off of 2008′s Dear Science. They couldn’t have chosen a better song to establish the pace of their set. The Howard Gilman Opera House was more full than it had been all week and the amount of energy that the band was pouring out on the stage could be felt by everyone. The Dessner brothers couldn’t have picked a better band to close out the opera house and the momentum continued into the BAMcafe for the final portion of the festival; a DJ set from Vampire Weekend’s Scott Baio.
It is difficult to lump Crossing Brooklyn Ferry in with the myriad of summer festivals sprouting throughout the world. What CBF is is a celebration of Brooklyn and all of those qualities that make this borough unique. The Brooklyn Academy of Music served as a spectacular host for this event and hopefully will for some time.
For more photos from Crossing Brooklyn Ferry view our gallery.