Live: The Great GoogaMooga Tries To Break New York’s Festival Curse


The Great GoogaMooga
Prospect Park
Sunday, May 20

Better than: Eating anything in my fridge.

Vineland. Field Day. All Points West. New York is littered with the acrid corpses of past festivals, a perpetual tease giving hope to the most jaded music fan that maybe this year, someone will get it right. Figuring out why New York hasn’t had a long-running festival has been a parlor game in the music industry for years, but the Great GoogaMooga, the new food/music hybrid festival organized by the people behind Bonnaroo and Outside Lands, seemed like a front-runner to break the curse.

In theory, it’s a great idea: Collect 75 food vendors from disparate parts of New York, book energetic groups like disco revivalists Escort and retro-soul group Fitz & the Tantrums, and turn Prospect Park into one giant tasting menu. The best laid plans…

Your Googa Mooga experience largely depended on which day you went. On Saturday, the first day of the festival, broken scanners, insufficient toilet paper and overcrowding led to the most frequently heard word of the day: shitstorm. And that’s not including reports that Extra Mooga, the VIP area costing $250 per day (versus the free regular area), ran out of food and beer by around 3 p.m. Good thing it wasn’t packed with food critics, journalists, bloggers and other tastemakers. Oh, wait.

I didn’t go Saturday, but I didn’t have to. Texts from friends knowing I was going on Sunday told the story. “This is a nightmare.” “The ID checking station ran out of wristbands.” “Why did I wait two hours and still not get beer?” Staff members known as “line talkers” had signs proclaiming, “I’m here to humanize the waiting process” and “I am here to wait, so we can relate,” thoughtful gestures that, in light of the glacially moving lines, felt like cruel jokes.

By the end of Saturday, which featured performances from Holy Ghost!, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Preservation Hall Jazz Band and The Roots, it looked like Googa Mooga would join its brethren as another curious footnote in NYC festival history; a “Remember when… ” moment when theory and execution were as disparate as, I dunno, M. Wells’ horse bologna & foie gras grilled cheese and Tertulia’s paella. (I’m not a food writer and I tried neither, but I’ll just assume those two things taste very different.)

But to quote the Book of Huang, “To all those who called googamooga a failure Saturday, witness perseverance on Sunday!” Whether it was better organization, fewer people or more beer and wine vendors accepting cash instead of the previously required “GoogaMoola” card, Day 2, by all accounts, ran noticeably smoother.

So maybe the music was the secondary focus here, but Sunday’s lineup (on the main stage at least) found a balance between family-friendly and snob-approved funk and soul. Village Voice cover stars Escort should just be the house band for every New York festival this summer. Frontwoman Adeline Michèle’s up-with-everything attitude and the group’s disco-meets-Larry Levan sound is perfect for expansive, outdoor venues. When the band performed a cover of Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls,” the disco diva an obvious influence on the group, Prospect Park turned into a large, albeit brief, musical wake.

Fitz and the Tantrums have become as close to festival mainstays as any group without “Black” or “Keys” in its name. New song “The End” operates in the vein of their buoyant debut Pickin’ Up the Pieces, but it was a horn-blasted cover of Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” that highlighted the set. “Some of them want to abuse you” never sounded more cheerful.

On the smaller Hamageddon Stage, Japanese cartoon punk band Peelander-Z decided to go intergalactic. “If you go into space,” asked Peelander Yellow. “What are you going to do?” Those unfamiliar with the band would probably not have guessed the answer “Star Bowling,” but when Peelander Red (each member is known simply for the color of the costume they wear onstage) ran through the crowd, formed a conga line and played guitar while jumping up and down on the Porta-Potties, it didn’t matter.

Daryl Hall and John Oates’ blue-eyed soul seemed scientifically engineered for today’s crowd; their crowd-pleasing set of their biggest hits caused numerous parents to “share a moment” with their dancing children. Daryl Hall is 65, but he still looks (and sounds) 30 years younger, and over 90 minutes, you realize a) Man, virtually every song sticks in your head; b) The group genuinely look like they’re playing these songs—some more than 30 years old—with the excitement of a band premiering new material; and c) Kids love Hall & Oates.

Am I a bad music writer for putting Anthony Bourdain’s “set”—a 60-minute Q&A involving a wheel with categories like “What’s That Taste Like?” and “Angry”—over all of this, though? Better writers than me have dissected the whole “chefs are the new rock stars” blah blah blah, but Bourdain, the Noel Gallagher of chefs, has the bloviated stage banter down. Sure, there was actual insight into technique vs. ingredients and why you need to treat others’ cooking like it’s your grandma’s, but it was the chef-cum-TV-star’s bluntness (“Unless you have kids, you hate kids… If your kid starts crying, you have a one-and-a-half second grace period to get the fuck out of the restaurant.”) and trash-talking (“Guy Fieri is like 48 and still walking around with the Ed Hardy douchewear. How does one transition gracefully out of that?”) that made him simultaneously repugnant and hysterical.

Will the Great GoogaMooga, whose first day was a confluence of New York entitlement and messy disorganization and second day, smooth lines and crowd-friendly funk, return next year? The post-mortem’s not finished on this weekend, but one thing is certain: Who else will get the titular star of “Cookin’ with Coolio” to bring out “soul rolls” with pineapple BBQ sauce? Your move, Lollapalooza.

Critical bias: I, like most people, enjoy eating.

Overheard: “I’m just really concerned about the impact this festival will have on the food community.”—Really concerned woman waiting on line at Extra Mooga

Random notebook dump: Even among 40,000 people, it is impossible to miss Reggie Watts.