Northside Festival took over the coolest neighborhoods in Brooklyn for its eighth and biggest year yet. Set up as a SXSW-style event, where your badge grants you access to hundreds of shows, presentations and exhibits, there was no shortage of amazing things to do throughout the week-long event. This year’s highlights were definitely the McCarren Park shows, which take place at in a spacious area in the park with the most notable names. I was able to catch newly reunited Wolf Parade on Thursday, and The Avett Brothers followed by longtime favorite Conor Oberst along with Kacey Musgraves on Saturday, where Oberst graced the audience with his new tune “You Loved Him Once” and sat in on Kacey’s headlining set to perform the Hank Williams favorite “Hey Good Lookin'”. Sunday’s McCarren show was definitely the most highly anticipated, as it featured the first live performance of Rostam Batmanglij‘s new project since departing Vampire Weekend, and Brian Wilson playing the Beach Boys’ album Pet Sounds in its entirety. These shows were the focal point of the festival, but they ended early enough for badgeholders to quickly get to smaller, more intimate venues such as Brooklyn Bowl, Baby’s Alright, House of Yes and Paper Box for a slew of late-night shows that fit anyone’s taste and genre.
Aside from the countless amazing shows going on, what really highlights the Northside neighborhood takes place in is Williamsburg Walks, which was held on Saturday and Sunday of the festival and shut down Williamsburg’s coolest street, Bedford Avenue, from Metropolitan Avenue to N 12th Street (where the McCarren Park shows take place). The stretch of blocks featured a multitude of activities, freebees, parties and, most importantly, art. As you walked you were able to see a plethora of different art being created and on display. There was live painting, interactive installations, sculptures and performance artists. What caught my attention most was the live painting murals. There were a number of artists with their own wall creating incredible art that showed very different styles. Most of the walls were being completed by one or two artists that looked like they fit right into the thriving Brooklyn art scene, but when I came across a group of youthful teens that did not fit the mold of the Brooklyn hipster art scene, I stopped immediately to chat with them and watch them work. I learned that the group was from Williamsburg Charter High School and they were there under the guidance of their art teachers participating in live painting for the second year in a row.
The piece they were working on spoke volumes, especially in light of the horrific Orlando shootings that happened merely hours before they began painting. When I spoke to Kayson, a student working on the mural, he told me, “The painting was meant to represent the individual as a whole and the sudden realization that the world is in shambles. With the recent tragedy in Orlando, it has come to our attention that what we were trying to portray was already in effect, and I think we stood out because of that.”
The wall has a powerful image and message, and I learned they came up with the concept all on their own. When I spoke with their teachers I was curious to know how they thought their students being involved with Williamsburg Walks has affected their view of the flourishing art community around the school. Their teacher, Angela Rogan, had a great response: “I think our students involvement in WW allows them to see outside of their daily routines and to what else is happening in neighboring communities, see how they (other communities) are doing street fairs and festivals. It also affords the students to be taken seriously as an artist and to interact with other artists, the community and patrons in a way that many young adults haven’t had experience with.” Both the students and teachers of this school impressed not only me but nearly everyone who was walking by as well, and I hope to see them back at Northside next year. Although I didn’t physically have the time to explore every aspect of Northside that I would have liked to, the taste that I did get gave me a new appreciation for the community I live so close to and often take for granted. Seeing a festival support smaller local acts and venues alongside music legends, all while promoting attendees to get to know the lesser known parts of Williamsburg was inspiring, and I can’t wait to see how the community and the festival continues to grow in coming years.