A “Roots Reggae Family Festival” would seem to be a no-brainer for Prospect Park. Between the Caribbean neighborhoods to the west and south and the Bugaboo-pushing hipsters to the west, the park’s Nethermead (so named by Frederick Law Olmsted for being equally distant from any of the park’s edges) should have been hopping yesterday with the festival’s target demographic.
And it might have been, but for one thing: The $40-a-head ticket price that organizers TSO Productions decided to slap on the day-long celebration of not just roots reggae, but sounds from across the Caribbean. (Co-headliners included Jamaican reggae torch-bearer Bushman and dub poet Mutabaruka, alongside Trinidadian soca pioneer David Rudder and expat Haitian new wave singer Emeline Michel.) The result was an odd spectacle, as speakers declaimed “The revolution will not be televised! The revolution will take place on this stage!” to a nearly empty lawn, while outside the gates several hundred people milled about and peered through the chain-link fence to try to catch a glimpse of the action.
“It’s unfortunate, because it’s supposed to be a family theme,” said Deema Bayrakdar of Manhattan (“but I’m moving to Brooklyn!”) as she bought some roasted corn shoved through the fence by an otherwise customer-deprived vendor. “The businesses could be doing so much better.”
“Release the gate, man, release the gate,” added Brooklynite Joy Weathers. “They crazy.”
Past reggae festivals in the Nethermead, several disgruntled spectators noted, were always free, which made the exorbitant price tag even harder to swallow—especially for families who showed up expecting a party and then found they hadn’t brought cash to pay the cover charge. Indeed, by mid-afternoon organizers were trying to lure parkgoers with half-price tickets; event organizer Carlyle McKetty, while telling the Voice he was “extremely happy with the content” and with “the manifestation of the vision,” stopped short of saying he was happy with the attendance. While he promised the reggae fest would be back next year, he acknowledged that certain “logistics” such as price needed to be addressed.
The larger question, meanwhile, is whose bright idea it was to allow Prospect Park’s central meadow to be fenced off for such a high-priced event in the first place. The rental of city parkland for private uses has been on the rise ever since the Giuliani administration scored a $1 million payment from Disney to fence off Central Park’s Great Lawn for two weeks for the premiere of Pocahontas. Current park policy, according to Prospect Park Alliance spokesperson Eugene Patron, is to allow private rentals so long as the organizers pay a fee to cover security and restoring any damage to the turf; as far as admission fees, he says, “That’s not our call.”
In any case, it made for a bit of a waste of a picture-perfect summer afternoon. “This is sad,” said Therone Evans of Brooklyn as he listened to the music and stared at the back of a tarpaulin-draped fence. “This place used to be filled—you couldn’t see any grass.
“It used to be free,” he added. “Make sure you put that.”