It was the first night of Celebrate Brooklyn!, a summer-long performing arts series put on by Brooklyn arts organization BRIC. Singer–songwriter Andrew Bird, known for his loop–based arrangements and unbelievably good whistling, drew me and a group of friends to the show. I’d seen him put on a great performance a few years ago in a tent at Denver’s now-defunct Mile High Music Festival. And this time it was free, after all, so braving the subway ride over seemed like a no–brainer.
Unfortunately, thousands of other people from around the New York City area had the same idea, and the show was mobbed. By the time we made our way through the line to get into the fenced-off bandshell, there was nowhere left to sit that didn’t have a tree blocking the view of the faraway stage. We ended up standing behind about 30 rows of people in folding chairs, from where we could get glimpses of Bird and his band. Another group of friends who got to the bandshell a little later weren’t even allowed inside the concert area, and had to watch the show through fence slats between a playground and a public bathroom.
As for the music itself? Bird and company did their usual thing, playing their classically informed brand of indie rock with impressive precision. But Bird’s violin lines, which soar around smaller venues, sounded a bit drowsy from 50 yards away. Likewise for his finger-plucking, by which I was fascinated the last time I saw him — albeit in the front row of a much smaller crowd. Even the most energetic song Bird played, “Plasticites”, barely got anyone going. The problem Friday night wasn’t Bird or his band. It was simply a case of supply and demand: too little music for too big a crowd.
Don’t get me wrong — free live music is very cool, and should happen everywhere else as often as it does in New York. Just don’t go into a free show thinking that it’s going to be much of a concert as much of a nice time outside — with some music in the background.