In the summertime, even in the age of the Hype Machine and hyperpersonalized iPod listening, the streets and parks of New York City swell with music in celebration of the season’s longer days and possibility stuffed nights. This weekend, the Voice-sponsored 4Knots festival will join that cacophony when it takes over the South Street Seaport for an afternoon of bands and DJs and perspiration.
The glittery psychedelic act the Black Angels headlines; supporting them will be local talent like the history-buff punks Titus Andronicus, the bedroom-indie outfit Oberhofer, the Fiery Furnaces’ Eleanor Friedberger, and the squawky trio Mr. Dream, as well as the jittery Puerto Rican band Davila 666. Meanwhile, in the nearby 4Knots Lounge, DJ duties will be handled by the likes of Dan Deacon and Yeasayer, among others.
Music and the crowded, open-air spaces of New York are always linked, but they go together even better in the summer, a season that is unofficially ushered in by the first time the insidious Mister Softee jingle comes within listening range. (Oh, how joyous it sounds that first time each year! If only it sounded as sweet on yearly listen No. 3,205.) What follows is a series of sounds that could probably form at least a wall, if not the foundation of a tall building—coming from bands setting up shop in subways and on street corners, hot singles blaring out of bodegas and cars, mainstay festivals like Celebrate Brooklyn! and SummerStage.
Over the past few years, a slew of other live-music series have joined the summertime fray. Those specific to New York City include the park-spanning, indie-leaning River to River Festival (launched in 2002) and the early-morning, pop-centric concert series sponsored by Today and Good Morning America; national tours like the hip-hop-focused Rock the Bells (which turned into a touring festival in 2007) and the brand-new dance festival Identity help fill in the gaps, genre-wise. And this doesn’t even get into the one-offs—the Bang on a Can Marathon, the Brooklyn R&B Festival at MetroTech—or the shows by big, if sometimes creaky, names at the sheds in the suburbs, or the pianos placed strategically around the five boroughs, or the corporate-sponsored hangouts like the House of Vans, or the indoor venues that stuff ever-sweatier bodies inside….
You get the point. Which is why it was probably inevitable that All Points West—the “East Coast Coachella” started by the California festival’s promoters Goldenvoice, held at Jersey City’s Liberty State Park—only lasted two frustrating years. Why truck out all the way across the river to see a glop of big-name bands over three almost-12-hour days when that experience could be replicated in a more sane, or at least less physically taxing, way, and parceled out in such a way that each band can be individually savored? Unless it’s put together in as meticulously targeted a way as the All Tomorrow’s Parties festivals are, the megafestival experience makes more sense in areas where there aren’t dozens of venues putting on shows every night—in other words, not in New York City.
New York is, of course, spoiled. It’s one of the home bases of the music industry, and not just the major labels, either: Larger indies like the Beggars Group and Domino have their headquarters in the city; The notion that the city remains the birthplace of hip-hop is strong, even if it did also bring the world “Empire State of Mind” on endless repeat; the term “Brooklyn band” conjures up images (not all of them nice) in the heads of those people tooling around online for music; artists of all stripes come here to stake their claim, make themselves known, get themselves heard. (C.I. Joe, a/k/a the guy who climbed a Times Square lamppost in order to show MTV’s suits his rapping skills, is probably the most brazen recent example of this—and he did, as Mayor Bloomberg noted, get a lot of publicity for his antics.)
But while the city’s residents are certainly spoiled quantity-wise, what’s more special—and rare in the attention-whiplash era—is how the huge number of live-music opportunities around the city, from the free to the overpriced to the Groupon-discounted, offers an ever-more-precious opportunity to digest and savor artists’ offerings. Instead of the megafest model that blasts three days of “festival” (read: shorter) sets in all directions, the sheer breadth of shows around the five boroughs (and even, yes, in the ‘burbs) allows music lovers and casual fans to sample acts they’ve only read about, visit parks located in parts of the city that have nothing to do with their daily routines, rub elbows with other aficionados, and take chances on acts that might reside outside of their comfort zones, or even outside of their iTunes libraries. It’s a staggering way to take in the city’s best offerings, even if being outside for more than a few minutes requires extra hydration and minimal clothing. And if one night turns into a bit of a clunker? There’ll be another tomorrow, at least until daylight saving time ends again.