Northside Festival International Showcase
Northside Festival is New York City's answer to South by Southwest—at least that's what I remember reading in an interview with its founders last year in amNewYork. The comparison with Austin's festival comes from its foundational trifecta; it's a weeklong music, film and "innovation" fest (aka trade show and entrepreneurship talks).
For the music festival, bands play in different venues around Williamsburg and Greenpoint (the northernmost part of Brooklyn—hence the name). A cornerstone for the festival are free showcases in McCarren Park (not on the grassy side, as I'd expected, but at the basketball courts west of Bedford). I checked out their International Showcase on Friday night.
I arrived at 5:30pm as the second band was playing. The expo was just wrapping up, but I took a walk around to get an idea of who had been there. It looked like a good selection of companies fitting the environment—tech, social media, car services, design, nonprofit, booze (thanks, Drizly, for my coozie!). There were also vendors around the event space, selling sunglasses, clothing, ice cream, and mental health (really—one vendor was a psychiatric service that you can call or text, designed for people on the go. Their "booth" was an inflatable igloo with a couch and a phone inside...and very helpful ladies outside explaining why there was an igloo to those of us who were curious.).
There was also a vendor giving out free tasting samples of wine and bags of potato chips, and it had its own little cordoned-off bar area. I found this very exciting. My friend and I went through the line a couple of times before we realized that you could ask for more than one at a time—how helpful!
Speaking of alcohol, when I did make it to the beer line, I was pleasantly surprised to find a curated menu with prices that one would expect to pay at a bar.
As to the real reason I was there—the bands—there were a few that were awesome. OY consists of one drummer from Germany, whose face was hidden behind a very elaborate headpiece, and a singer/keyboardist from Switzerland. The songs were inventive and funny, with an African sound, but what really made them exceptional was his drumming. It was mesmerizing! When their short set was over, I was lamenting that I couldn't hear more and a passerby told me that they were playing the following night at Pete's Candy Store...and I went...and it was awesome. I bought their album—it's good, but I think the magic definitely comes from being able to see them live (especially the drummer).
Another band of note was Irie Maffia from Budapest. They had so many members that they filled the stage! Irie Maffia was fun, upbeat, engaging to the audience; their sound reminded me of the Black Eyed Peas. What I really appreciated was how many fans they brought from Hungary who were dancing their asses off right in front of the stage. (I also appreciated the female lead singer's printed bird dress and feathered bird hat!)
The show's headliner, The Very Best (from Malawi), was the headliner for a reason—they killed it! The whole crowd was dancing as they played an uplifting Afro/pop/rap/dance fusion. Somebody towards the back of the crowd had a Malawian flag with which they were dancing, and the band asked if they would pass it up (which they did), and so the band ended up dancing with the flag on stage and it seemed to make them even happier. You could feel the energy in the crowd, too—everybody was happy to be there. And when it was over, we called for an encore and then went off blissfully into the night, collectively knowing that we'd had this awesome, unique experience.