This past weekend marked the yearly performance of a plethora of artists at the annual Afropunk Fest in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. For nearly a decade, producers of the festival have been working their assess off to bring the best of the afro punk world to New York (someone this year said they started in Webster Hall’s basement!) However small they may have begun, the Afropunk team is now regularly taking over Commodore Barry Park in Fort Greene and dominating an entire weekend with a variety of musical performances, beer gardens, food trucks, art displays, independent shops and so much more.
2013’s festival was no different. Brooklyn-based band, The Skins, kicked off the music with a dynamic performance on the festival’s green stage Saturday afternoon. Though they took the stage early, The Skins drew as much of a crowd as is possible at 2:00 p.m. on a Saturday. Between Rye Rye’s rescheduled but unannounced show and Theophilus London’s multiple band stop-and-starts (“It has to be absolutely perfect!”), it’s possible that the two best parts of Afropunk’s first day were the performances of Unlocking the Truth and Wicked Wisdom. For a group of sixth graders, Unlocking the Truth did a hell of a job blasting down the green stage and amping up the crowd. I was in the press tent charging my electronics, so I didn’t see these kids play, but I heard them loud and clear, and as a metal fan since my own pre-teen days, I approve. Even without the support of the entire borough, which they seem to have, it feels like Unlocking the Truth would have no trouble making their performance count. They were made for this.
As far as Wicked Wisdom, I can’t say quite the same thing. While it was interesting, and somewhat confusing, to see Jada Pinkett Smith in punky gear with a crazy fro galavanting across the stage, Wicked Wisdom’s performance was highlighted more by the appearance of her husband, Will Smith and the famous, Queen Latifah in the crowd. Had it not been for this, I’m not sure the band’s show would have been memorable.
Outside the main gates, certain food trucks stole the show, at least for me, on Saturday. Wing N’ It served up a half dozen wings with a side of ranch tater tots, and with the Wing N’ Buffalo sauce, the flavor did not fade quickly. Several minutes after finishing my portion of the wings, I could still feel the burn in my lips. Thank God there was free Redd’s Apple Ale in the media tent for the majority of the day. Yes. FREE. The brew was featured at one of the festival’s beer gardens just outside the tent as well at $6 drafts and $7 cans, plus a fun shuffleboard with the sole prize as two for ones.
Undeniably, Sunday was a busier day for Afropunk and its attendees. The line at several food trucks, including Wing N’ It, Wafels and Dinges, Kelvin Natural Slush Co, Itizy and several others, never quite seemed to die down. Despite the fact that I wanted another dose of those delicious wings, I instead opted for a Bareburger with fries (yum) and later a perfect selection of tacos from Kimchi Taco. Where the hell is that truck when I’m hungry every day?
Musically Sunday was a bigger day as well, featuring the likes of Death, Vintage Trouble, Living Colour, Big Freedia and many local bands without as much hype but with plenty of punk, energy and skill. Newark, New Jersey’s Sunny Gang started off the day with a ridiculous performance on the green stage. I actually found myself surprised with the level of energy these guys brought to the stage. With the lead singer “crying blood” and the drummer painted red from the waist up, Sunny Gang painted a pretty legit picture of punk in the tri-state. When bassist, Joe Sap, broke a string, the remainder of the band never missed a beat entertaining the crowd, and lead vocalist, “Nasty Nate”, even came off the stage to frolic about with his audience during the final song. But let me save my gushing for a more focused article.
Pyyramids followed the gang on the green stage, and though they were a significantly different brand of music, their audience was just as captivated, including me. I caught up with Tim Nordwind and Drea Smith, the duo behind the music, following the show, and they were nothing but impressed with Afropunk. Fuck yes, Brooklyn.
Though Living Color and ?uestlove were obviously at the peak of performances, one of the most entertaining acts was New Orleans’ reigning queen of bounce music, Big Freedia. Accompanied onstage by his three dancers, Big Freedia brought enough game to represent the entire dirty south. And it got dirty. Even before his “Azz Everywhere,” there was, in fact, ass everywhere. Big Freedia, his dancers, and a select group of audience members literally dominated the stage with booty dancing the likes of which I have never personally seen. By the end of his show, I was in awe at how his dancers moved and demanding that my smaller friend be lifted to see the action. Because, dat ass.
Though it’s not advertised with the festival, the fashion of Afropunk is one of the most glorious parts. Even Pyyramids’ Smith noted that there was an abundance of beautiful people. From long, satin robes to Betty Page-style American flag hot pants, to feather head-dress to rainbow platform shoes, nothing was off limits at Afropunk. It seemed every time I turned around, two more girls were posing in the grass to show off their amazing thrift store buys or homemade earrings. So Brooklyn, but so freakin’ cool.
As usual, I have another thousand or so words to spill regarding one of my favorite festivals of the year, but I’ll save all that for another time. There will obviously be plenty more where this came from. Long live Afropunk.