This past Saturday and for the fourth year running, the Bushwick Block Party took over Morgantown’s Moore Street for a free afternoon and evening of music, skateboarding, dancing, food trucks, drinking and other sweaty fun. In case you couldn’t bear the thought of waiting in the epic line, Bushwick Daily spent the day checking it out for you!
It requires a certain personality type to enjoy a public event in our fair city at the end of July. While the heat of the day certainly didn’t match the ferocity of the heat wave a few weeks back, it was definitely not chilly on Saturday; the crowd was sweaty and more than a few sunburns were acquired. In addition to the heat, the line for entry was actually shocking, wrapping around the block and slowing to a standstill when the event reached capacity in the mid-afternoon. Security was plentiful and paramedics were on hand, which was a comfort, as a skate ramp which sustained lots of traffic throughout the day was set up near the main entrance. The abundance of resaurants in attendance at the event included local favorites – Momo Sushi vending yakitori skewers, Arancini Brothers’ rice balls, and several Roberta’s stations with pizza and house-made ice pops (at $2, the best price on anything within the party – we liked the super-sour cherry-lime flavor). Other NYC favorites in attendance included Crif Dogs, Red Hook Lobster, and Yuji Ramen. Several overwhelmed bars vended drinks at the kind of prices that only patrons unable to take their business elsewhere agree to. However, despite the discomforts that one encounters when attending any summer music festival or street fair, whether or not it’s been the recipient of perhaps a little too much hype, once inside the block party there was enough to see and do without putting too much energy into eating, imbibing or otherwise spending money. We would even go so far as to say that the whole thing may have even been possible to enjoy sober!
As could be expected, the event served as both a neighborhood celebration and as a draw to bring curious visitors to the neighborhood. New Yorkers Carolyn and Jack told Bushwick Daily that this was their first visit to Bushwick. “I had heard about the Block Party and I saw it mentioned in Time Out New York, so I thought I’d come and check it out to see what it’s like, because I know it’s happened for 3 or 4 years, and I know a young couple that just bought a house somewhere around here,” Carolyn said. Other visitors had traveled much farther to check the scene out. “We want to try some food from the food trucks and hear some music!” said Joost, from Denmark, who was accompanied by friends from Serbia and Sweden. Asked if there was anything in particular he was looking forward to at the Block Party, he shrugged. “Not really. I guess it’s the agglomeration of all the things together that make it really fun.”
The Block Party also attracted lots of artists, both local and from afar. The Tiki Disco dance party set up at the end of the block was presided over by the Blackbird Squadron, a Philadelphia-based production company operated out of a converted school bus outfitted with a 30,000-watt sound system and a roof deck. The Squadron was originally conceived of by a group of friends who’d been inspired by a series of trips to Burning Man and, in addition to the parties and festivals they attend and help produce, they run art car workshops in Philadelphia. “We’re very creative people and we love creating and inspiring very beautiful, high-quality experiences.” said Coyote, one of two Blackbird Squadron members at the Block party wearing a flight suit and general’s cap and wielding a megaphone. Another art vehicle was parked outside of the party: the HeartsChallenger Pop Art Truck dispensed brightly hued popsicles to the line of people waiting to enter. “This is our touring truck,” explained Lo, one-half of the band HeartsRevolution and a co-creator of the truck. “We just finished building it. It’s the world’s first Swarovski crystal encrusted ice cream truck to tour in for the release our album later this year! The truck sells all of the band merchandise and popsicles and candy and toys that we find along the way. It’s curated with all of our favorite stuff.” Creatives supported the block party in other roles, as well. David Saracino, who recently moved to the neighborhood and plays bass in the Williamsburg band Truest, was the winner of this year’s Bushwick Block Party T-Shirt Design Competition. Saracino proudly described his design to us: “It had to be very legible and fairly memorable, so I made an ogre. His teeth spell out Bushwick, his hands spell out block party, and then the back hair of the little mini-ogres spell out the year.” Whimsical though the image may be, Saracino is far from a hobbyist: “I’m an illustrator and graphic designer full-time…I mainly do editorial work. I do stuff for the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, full-time. This was an outlet for me to really do whatever I wanted, really.”
Musical performances at the block party were packed and met with wild enthusiasm – and were surprisingly multigenerational. Morgan O’Kane, a tattooed banjo player and Williamsburg resident, played one of the early sets on the small stage set up in the garden of Roberta’s restaurant, after which he happily watched his young son play in a sprinkler set up under a tent on the sidewalk. Asked about his set, he told us, “It was good! It was nice to play in [the Roberta’s garden]. My spoon player works here, so it was nice. And it was good to have my son and his friends dancing around in the grass while I was playing. Usually I play at night so he never gets to come to my shows.” A few hours later, Death Threat, a hardcore band with a throng of devoted fans who moshed through their entire set, took the same stage Morgan had played on. As they set up, their guitarist’s children played on the stage, wearing pairs of yellow-framed sunglasses that had been handed out around the party. Veteran metal band Galleon opened the main stage to the crowd who had been dancing to hip-hop there before their set started, and Moon Dudes and Big Ups, both of whom have shows at Shea Stadium this coming weekend, played to audiences who included teenagers, twenty-somethings and music fans old enough to be their parents. Headliner Action Bronson performed close to the end of the event, but spent the day working on a food truck that was sponsored by the Ray-Ban Envision Series, serving “Mother of Lamb Burger, Chicken from France Sandwiches, Fried Hard Smashed Potatoes and Mango Lassi” (Bushwick Daily got a moment on the truck with an exhausted-looking Action at the end of his ‘shift’!).
Amid the self-promoting musical acts and restaurants, room was also made for a few more altruistic projects. Nested between food trucks, St. John’s Bread and Life, a charity that feeds the hungry New Yorkers, offered up information about the services they provide to the Brooklyn community and held a raffle. “It’s great that Roberta’s and the Bushwick Block Party Crew has done this for us to raise money. We’re the largest emergency feeding program in Brooklyn. We served over a million meals last year for hungry New Yorkers, between our soup kitchen and food pantry and fed over 200,000 hurricane relief victims,” explained Anthony Butler, the executive director of St. John’s. “One of the reasons we’re here is that we really want to partner with the whole Brooklyn restaurant community. We think it’s very important. The Brooklyn Restaurant community does an incredible job of bringing food to people with means; we really feel there’s an obligation to help bring food to people without means. In NYC, one in five New Yorkers uses emergency food right now, that’s 1.8 million people that use food pantries and soup kitchens. if we can bring the power and excitement of the Brooklyn Food Scene together to answer the questions of hunger, it would be amazing.” Ten per cent of the proceeds from sales of Roberta’s pizza was donated to St. John’s at the end of the event. At another table, Darin Bresnitz and Jamie Feldmar of Heritage Radio Network described the network to attendees and signed people up for their mailing list. “Heritage Radio’s been around for four years. We have 30 shows now, we have millions of listeners, we’re in two other countries, and it’s all about getting the word out about food, starting new discussions, talking about the serious, the fun, the wacky and all the points in between,” says Darin, whose own program is called Snacky Tunes (“for the music OR food enthusiast”). “Heritage was definitely born and bred in Bushwick. We’re definitely fueled by the creativity of our surroundings. Being part of the Roberta’s family is part of who we are and what we do.”
All said and done, this year’s block party was certainly not for the faint of heart; however, we left at the end of the day wonderfully exhausted by the evidence of a talented and compassionate community engendered in the event.