Saturday, April 24, 2010

"don't call it a comeback..."

Well, I'm back. Don't know if anyone missed me. But I guess this blog went on a longass hiatus as I dealt with seasonal depression, or maybe just some regular-ass depression. But it's nearly summer again and that means its time for all the free shit and all the fun-in-the-sun that makes surviving New York City in the winter worth it. All the landlords that won't turn on your heat or hot water, all the bosses who engage in wage-theft and won't pay you time and a half for overtime or steal from your tips.

New York City may be a really hard place for poor people to live, increasingly so after decades of the policies of Guilliani and Billionaire Bloomberg, but New York City still offers more free entertainment and kickass recreational activities, both underground and way-freakin' mainstream, than any other city in the U.S.

I don't care how fucking broke you are, there's always something cool to do all summer long in New York City.

There's the the outdoor movie festivals such as Movies With a View which plays free movies under the Brooklyn Bridge with a beautiful night time view of the Manhattan skyline; or Riverflicks and Hudson Movies Under the Stars which both play free movies out on the piers of the Hudson River; or on the Elevated Acre, a rooftop park in the financial district on the East River with breathtaking views of the Brooklyn Bridge, Governor's Island and the Statue of Liberty; or Socrates Sculpture Park in Astoria, Queens which plays mostly international & art house films; or the eco-cafe Habana Outpost in Fort Greene, Brooklyn which plays an eclectic mix of cult classics and retro blockbusters projected onto the side of a building in their funky Cuban-inspired courtyard.

There's the Free outdoor concerts in Prospect Park, Central Park, the River to River Festival, Make Music New York!, Governor's Island, and the hundreds of cafes and bars that have free shows, no cover, all the time. You just have to know where to look.

Not to mention all the beaches and parks, or the free days at the museums and botanical gardens, or the fact that its always free to joyride the Staten Island Ferry or to take a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge, or to just get out and explore NYC. Get out of your borrough, go somewhere you've never gone before. We have one of the best mass transit systems on the planet, use it!!!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Dead Prez, Ihsan and Outasight at Solar One's CitySol Festival 7/11/09

New York really has some amazing free outdoor concerts all summer long. For every one I go to, I probably miss 5 or 10 other really badass shows. I tried to check out the free Q-Tip show in Central Park and it was completely filled past capacity. Unlike Celebrate Brooklyn in Prospect Park you can't just stand beyond the fenced area and still watch the show. Central Park's Summer Stage is up on a hill and there's bleacher-style seating. So everyone outside the designated concert area can hear the show, but can't see shit. The following day Lee "Scratch" Perry performed at Summer Stage and I decided I just couldn't make the trip out there again on the hopes I was early enough to get into the fenced off audience pen, just so I could bake in the hot sun while suffering from one of the worst sunburns of my entire life (thank you global warming and expired sun bock). Still, it probably would have been worth dieing of heat exhaustion just to see Lee "Scratch" Perry, but I wasn't feeling up to it.

However, the week before I was able to see hip hop revolutionaries Dead Prez performing free at an outdoor festival designed to raise awareness about solar energy and the environment. I don't think there was very much promotion because the crowd was pretty small considering Dead Prez was headlining. It was cool on a selfish level because that meant I didn't have to fight the crowds to get to the front of the stage, but on a much deeper level it was sad because in this day and age where we are actually seeing the disastrous effects of global warming on a massive scale people should be exposed to the message that this festival is promoting. We should be making a serious effort to switch over to environmentally conscious alternative energy sources before it's too late. We should not only be trying to halt the effects of global warming, but reverse the damage that's already been done. Dead Prez was one of the few artists on stage who actually knew a lot about environmental issues, alternative energy sources and ways in which to protect the planet. They talked about how polluted the City is, especially our rivers. They talked about being vegan for your health and the health of the planet. They urged people to exercise and drink more water, but not from the East River. They joked that that's where our "pure unfiltered New York City tap water" comes from. They also rocked the effing house with songs such as "New York," "War Path" and their mad popular jam "Hip Hop."

The CitySol Festival is an annual clean energy-powered music, art and community event hosted by Solar One, New York City’s first solar-powered "green energy, arts, and education center." Solar One's mission is to "empower people of all ages with the vision, knowledge and resources to attain a more environmentally sound and sustainable future." A message that was echoed on the solar-powered stage by artists such as Dead Prez and Brooklyn's Ihsan, whose eco-conscious hip hop anthem "Go Green, Get Green" was a real crowd pleaser.

The music portion of the festival took place at 23rd St and the East River and was co-curated by Digiwax, who put out a free CD Mix Tape that was given out at the festival. The Mix Tape was called "Hip Hop is Green Vol. 2: Solar Heat" and featured tracks by Dead Prez, Ihsan, O'Neal McNight, Outasight and many many others, with 21 tracks total mixed by DJ GETLIVE!

"It's bigger than Hip Hop..."


All jokes about New York City tap water aside, New York City has some of the cleanest and best tasting tap water in all of the U.S. and environmental groups in the City are urging people to stop buying bottled water and instead refill reusable containers with "pure unfiltered New York City tap water" instead, thus preventing billions of non-biodegradable plastic water bottles from ending up in landfills every year. New York City's water comes from upstate sources so clean it is not required by the EPA to be filtered in any way. The water is screened and treated and that's about it. Its full of minerals and because EPA standards are higher than the FDA's standards, New York City tap water is actually safer to drink than bottled water. The best part of all is that New York City tap water is completely free, just like nature intended.

Disclaimer: many old buildings in New York still have lead pipes which can contaminate the otherwise pure and delicious New York City tap water. Prolonged exposure to lead can lead to brain-damage and death, so get that shit tested. If you can't afford to get your water tested and you don't trust your scumbag landlord when they say the pipes aren't lead, then be sure to only drink from the cold water tap. Let it run for about a minute before drinking from it. Never drink from a hot water tap.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Free Water Taxi to Red Hook and Back

Ok all you "freeloaders," it's time to take advantage of the free Ikea water taxi to Red Hook before the multinational, anti-union mega-box store goes back on their word and stops providing free water taxi service between Manhattan and Red Hook for non-Ikea shoppers.

I joy ride the Ikea water taxi all the time for the view and hope that it won't soon be a thing of the past. I mean, it's a free open-air boat ride with amazing views of the Manhattan skyline, the Brooklyn Bridge, Governor's Island, the Statue of Liberty the New York Harbor and the historic loading docks of Red Hook, which are unfortunately marred by the site of the big ugly blue and yellow building that houses overpriced cheaply made Swedish crap furniture designed for people with no imagination or real sense of style.

Ikea has sworn up and down in all the media that they would be providing this service for free, regardless of whether you were a customer of Ikea or not. This wasn't just a gift to Red Hook or to New York City, Ikea offered the Red Hook water taxi service to gain community support for the unwanted box store. This was intended to mitigate traffic concerns, and provide compensation for negative effects in the neighborhood, such as destroying historic structures and ushering in a tide of gentrification and displacement.

It's offensive enough that a big box chain that engages in union busting decided to move into a working class community against their wishes, destroying historic structures that were remnants of labor's past, now there's rumors of Ikea going back on their word of providing free water taxi service to and from Red Hook. Red Hook is one of many Brooklyn neighborhoods that is severely underserved by public transportation, so why shouldn't Red Hook residents and others be able to take advantage of the free water taxi service Ikea promised, especially given the fact that it is heavily subsidized by the City. You're not freeloading when you ride it, that water taxi belongs to you.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again, big box stores like Target, Wal-Mart and Ikea and corporate chains like Starbucks, CVS and Duane Reede are destroying everything that is unique and special about New York City. The reason I moved to New York in the first place is because it isn't just one big cookie-cutter strip mall like nearly every other major city in the U.S. However, New York is slowly losing its individuality, its uniqueness, its soul. It's the bodegas, street carts, the parks, community gardens, the small independent businesses, the public spaces that make New York City tick. It's the vibrant, unique neighborhoods with a culture and style of their own that makes New York one of the best cities on the face of the Earth. And New Yorkers aren't going to know what they had until its gone forever and we're living in one big sterile, corporate strip mall you can see from space. One street looking nearly indistinguishable from the next.

So while you still can, hop on the water taxi from Wall Street's Pier 11 and ride it to Red Hook. Enjoy the sights. Soak it all in. Check out historic Red Hook before the yuppies devour it like locusts. Walk along what's left of the historic waterfront. Grab yourself a bagel and check out the views of the Statue of Liberty from the outdoor eating area behind the Fairway. Just be warned, on the trip back they're letting Ikea customers board first. So you may have to catch the next water taxi out if they're all full up.

Brooklyn in The Spring:The Remix

Sorry for the repost, but I just added a whole lot of pics to my photo album entitled "Brooklyn in the Spring." I also removed some of the weaker photos.

With these pictures I wanted to show the world that Brooklyn is beautiful, especially in the spring. Most of these pictures are from people's personal container gardens, small community gardens and various city parks. They were taken around Crown Heights, Prospect Park, Prospect Heights, Downtown Brooklyn, Fort Greene, Red Hook, Brooklyn Heights and on the Brooklyn Promenade.

I just find it refreshing to see living things growing in a city that is mostly steel and concrete. I want to try to promote the idea of greening the city thru guerilla gardening, community gardens, creating more city parks. Not only does it enrich our lives and alleviate some of the stress of city life, flowers and plants and trees help clean the air we breathe. You can grow a garden about anywhere- on a rooftop, in containers on your stoop, in a window box. And you can grow fruits, vegetables and herbs to offset the high cost of food. You'll be doing yourself and the planet a favor.

For more info on Greening the City:
Green Guerillas
Green Thumb NYC
NYC Community Garden Coalition
NYC Park Advocates

For more photo essays on the greener side of the city, check out my older posts on the community gardens of East Village/LES and the Cherry Blossom Festival at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens.

Soon I'll be posting my pictures from Central Park, so watch out for those. I also have not been to the botanical gardens in either Queens or the Bronx, so expect lots of photos of those after I finally check them out. Not to mention all the parks I haven't been to yet in all five boroughs.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

NYC PRIDE 2009 Slideshow

Ok, here's my pics from Pride 2009. They're a little late but I've been busy looking for work and crashing 4th of july weekend rooftop parties.

The batteries in my camera died about three hours into the parade, so I didn't get any pictures of the ACT UP, Polyamorous NYC or New York Area Bisexual Network contingents. There were also some more really beautiful Caribbean costumes and floats, as well as topless dykes and leatherfags in assless chaps. Don't forget the drag kings and drag queens and all the badass trannies and genderqueers.

I intentionally did not take pictures of the endless sea of politicians, corporate floats or gay & lesbian cops. These things do not make me feel proud. They actually have the opposite effect on me. A gay cop is still a cop. You think they won't bash your head in at a demonstration just because they're gay? You think a gay cop won't abuse their power, racially profile, commit sexual assault, shoot an unarmed black man holding a wallet? Well, you're wrong.

This was the 4oth anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion. I find it offensive that the gay & lesbian police association's marching band marched in the parade directly in front of the Stonewall Veterans Association. It was a police instigated riot turned into an open rebellion that sparked the national Gay Liberation movement. Gay cops or not, the veterans of the first GLBT uprising in the U.S. should have been at the front of the parade. Period.

Also, I found out days after the parade that one of the many POC contingents, The NorthEast Two-Spirit Society and the Audrey Lorde Project's Executive Director were forcefully removed from the parade by hostile cops because of a 6 block delay between the POC contingent and the contingent in front of them. This makes me so angry on so many different levels:

1) Why didn't I hear about this at the march? I know there were hundred of thousands of spectators, but the news should have spread like wildfire.

2) It's our fucking parade. It doesn't belong to the police or the city, but to queer people. All queer people. Especially queer people of color. It was queer working class people of color who first rose up against the daily abuses of police violence and institutionalized state repression. It was queer people of color who threw the first bricks and bottles at Stonewall.

3) And last but not least, this happened on the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion!!!

It reminds me of when the Chicago queer anarchist contingent Pink and Black Bloc was attacked by the police, many of whom were known "out" cops, after we scuffled with a Fred Phelps' style "God Hates Fags" group that was allowed to march in the parade because they paid their fee. Many of us in the Pink and Black Bloc were beaten and three of our comrades were arrested. None of the violently homophobic Fag-Haters were arrested. We were screaming that we were being gaybashed at Pride and none of the onlookers did a damn thing. We even tried to stop the Lambda Legal Defence Fund's float, which was swarming with gay lawyers and they just kept dancing to bad Euro-disco. Like we were inconveniencing them.

Pride is not just a party. It started as a protest. As a queer fist in the air and a "fuck you" to hetero-normativity.

Solidarity to all those fighting the system, and long live Sylvia Rivera!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Femi Kuti & The Positive Force w/ Melvin Gibbs' Elevated Entity in Prospect Park 6/25/09

Melvin Gibbs' Elevated Entity at Celebrate Brooklyn in Prospect Park. June 25th 2009.

Last Thursday my girlfriend and I went to Celebrate Brooklyn's free Femi Kuti concert in Prospect Park. Not only did Femi Kuti rock the house, we were treated to multiple surprises with the opening band- Melvin Gibbs' Elevated Entity.

We were still walking through Prospect Park when Elevated Entity went on. We could hear the sound of the opening song echoing through the trees as we entered the field across from the Prospect Park Bandshell. It was a funky mix of Afro-jazz, hiphop and hard rock. They were well into their second song by the time we got up to the bandshell area. Before the third song, renowned bass player Melvin Gibbs (Defunkt, Rollins Band) started to introduce his band which included such legendary and innovative musicians as Vernon Ried from Living Colour on guitar, Bernie Worrell from Parliament/Funkadelic and Talking Heads on keyboards, High Priest from Anti-Pop Consortium on vocals and Amayo from Brooklyn's Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra on vocals. I couldn't believe it.

Every time Melvin Gibbs introduced another member of the band, Liberte and I looked at each other and were like "No freaking way!"
"Bernie Worrell!?!"
"Vernon Reid!?!"

I still can't believe we got to see all these really amazing performers all on the same stage, all for free. Amayo from Antibalas and High Priest from Anti-Pop Consortium were badass on dual vocals with Amayo singing and High Priest rapping over a psychedelic mix of African drumming, Bernie Worrell's signature keyboards and Vernon Reid's hard rock guitar licks.

I felt so lucky to see all these musicians play and was especially happy to hear Amayo on vocals since I haven't had the chance to see a live Antibalas show yet since moving to New York. It was kind of like seeing Antibalas mixed in a blender with Defunkt, Parliament and Living Colour. "Awesome" is the only word I think adequately describes the moment.

And this was all just warming up for the main event: Femi Kuti & The Positive Force!

Femi Kuti gave a powerful performance. Some critics complain that Femi doesn't have the same stage presence of his father, the legendary Nigerian musician and founder of Afrobeat, Fela Kuti. I find the comparison to be unfair. Few could match the intensity and raw emotional energy of Fela Kuti. However, watching Femi Kuti take command of the stage with his energetic dancing and listening to his wailing saxophone you can almost imagine what it must have been like to see Fela Kuti perform during the height of his musical career. And the resemblance is staggering. At several point's Femi Kuti's music brought me to tears. Certainly during his anti-colonial anthem "You Should Ask Yourself," as well as during his safer sex anthem "Stop AIDS." Here Femi Kuti sets himself apart from his father with lyrics such as "If you love yourself/Protect yourself." Fela Kuti, who was dismissive about the impact of HIV, sadly passed away from AIDS in 1997.

Femi Kuti's back up band The positive Force is an Afrobeat powerhouse, with full-on surging horns and African percussion that creates a wall of sound that makes it literally impossible not to dance. And speaking of dancing, you can't forget the beautiful and talented Nigerian Kuti Dancers on stage!

Another highlight of the show was the sex education lecture in the middle of the AfroPop song "Beng Beng Beng," which Kuti stretched out to marathon proportions and put more of a focus on the lyrics "Don't cum too fast." Femi Kuti, his band Positive Force and the Kuti Dancers even left the stage to take a break in the middle of the song. During the first part of the song Femi Kuti urged parents to talk to their children about sex. Not just fathers to their sons and mothers to their daughters, but fathers to their daughters and mothers to their sons. After a very short break, Femi Kuti & The Positive Force went right back into sexually charged "Beng Beng Beng," a definite crowd pleaser.

And did i mention that the show was completely FREE?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Kofi Ghanaba Memerorial at the Jazz Gallery 6/21/09

My biggest problem with the Make Music New York! Festival is that it makes you wish you were in about a hundred places at once. When are they going to finally approve human cloning? Even though this year there were nearly 900 free outdoor performances all over New York City from sun up to sun down, its hard to soak in more than a few performances unless everything you want to see is centrally located, like the annual Punk Island where Governor's Island is transformed into a massive free outdoor punk rock music festival during Make Music New york! Or if you like hipster bands you can just crawl through Williamsburg and listen to all your skinny pants wearing favorites. However my tastes are pretty diverse and I find myself being torn in a hundred million directions and end up not seeing very much at all because I spend the entire day on the subway going from borough to borough. Also, without fail, every year everything I want to see is at the exact same time.

This year I got up too late to catch some of the earlier shows. I wanted to finally take the free ferry out to Governor's Island and pogo, skank and slam to some good old fashioned punk rock music. One of the many things I love about New York City is that its the birthplace of both punk rock and hip hop, two of my great loves.

Getting up late also meant I missed the Ukulele jam on the upper west side and the extremely bizarre all-saxophone tribute to Charlie Parker in which free jazz saxophonist Ras Moshe led an all-saxophone ensemble in front of Charlie Parker's old apartment in the East Village. What's bizarre about that you may ask? Each saxophonist played a different Charlie Parker tune all at once, free style.

So with time constraints I knew I had to pick well. As much as I wanted to see the all Accordion parade through Park Slope or the loud electro-rock stylings of Blanket Statementstein which features founding members of the world renowned Brooklyn-based afrobeat group Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, my choice was pretty clear- I had to see Living Jazz Legend Randy Weston in his tribute to African Jazz great Kofi Ghanaba.

I chose wisely. It was one of the best Jazz performances I've seen since moving to New York. "Kofi Ghanaba: a Memorial to the Divine Drummer" was co-produced by the Jazz Gallery and Jazzmobile as part of the Make Music New York! Festival and featured the Randy Weston African Rhythms Quintet with special guests Obo Addy and Kwaku Martin Obeng.

The Randy Weston African Rhythms Quintet featured Randy Weston on piano, Alex Blake on bass, T.K. Blue on sax, Benny Powell on trombone and Neil Clarke African percussion. With special guests Obo Addy on talking drum and Kwaku Martin Obeng on African percussion.

Legendary African Jazz musician Kofi Ghanaba was an influential drummer who was highly skilled in both drumset and traditional Ghanaian percussion. He came to be known by the honorary title of Odomankoma Kyrema, meaning the "Divine Drummer." First introduced to musical audiences as Guy Warren, Kofi Ghanaba was born in Ghana in 1923 and sadly passed away in December of 2008. Ghanaba is widely recognized as the first African musician to perform in the Amreican Jazz scene, working in Chicago and New York and playing with Jazz greats such as Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Max Roach and Lester Young. Kofi Ghanaba pioneered Afro-Jazz and emphasised the African origins of Jazz in his work.

Randy Weston was born in Brooklyn in 1926 and is a direct aesthetic descendant of Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk, with a unique style in his own right. Randy Weston has long investigated the ties between Africa and the U.S. in his music, making it his life's work to delve deep into African music filtered through a Jazz lens.

Joining Randy Weston and his African Rhythms Quintet was the special guest master drummer Obo Addy , descended from the same Ga ethnic group as Kofi Ghanaba. Born in 1936, Obo Addy was one of the first to fuse traditional African music with western pop creating the music known as worldbeat. Also joining Weston for this amazing tribute was Kwaku Martin Obeng, a native of Ghana and teacher of ceremonial songs, dances and traditional drumming at Brown University. Obeng's vision of Jazz as a diasporic language stretching from Africa to the New World is perfectly in keeping with Kofi Ghanaba's musical legacy.

"Kofi Ghanaba: a Memorial to the Divine Drummer" took place inside the Jazz Gallery at 290 Hudson St in SoHo. The Jazz gallery is a cultural center that highlights the significance and varied dimensions of African and Afro-Cuban music and their ongoing relationship to Jazz.

The performance was supposed to be outside in keeping with the Make Music New York! Festival's mission of providing free outdoor music in public spaces throughout the five boroughs. Sidewalks, streets, parks and community gardens. But unfortunately it was raining, so the memorial to Kofi Ghanaba was moved to inside Jazz Gallery's space. It was actually a really enjoyable way to watch Randy Weston African Rhythms, Obo Addy and Kwaku Martin Obeng perform. It was cozy. The lights were dimmed. There was Jazz themed artwork, photography and memorabilia hanging on the walls. It was so packed people were sitting on the floor. It felt really communal.