The Bandshell: Call it New York’s Other SummerStage

bandshell

The island isn’t the only place where New Yorkers can turn out in droves for a free outdoor event. As an alternative to venues in the city, Manhattanites can cross the Brooklyn Bridge and visit The Bandshell, a space apt to satisfy the palette of culture seeking enthusiasts.

The Bandshell was added to Prospect Park in 1939 as the preeminent space for dances and concerts. By 1978, years of budget cuts and lack of attention resulted in its disrepair. But within a year, BRIC—an organization that championed a new Prospect Park and a reinvigorated Bandshell—was formed and later hosted famous jazz performers and on-the-cusp choreographers through its Celebrate Brooklyn! performing arts festival.  Although the venue had experienced a seesaw of revival and decline, BRIC’s nine-week Celebrate Brooklyn has helped it endure as a popular location for the arts.

This June through August marks Celebrate Brooklyn’s 30th summer at the Bandshell. Its raised stage and acoustic shell hosts established and emerging artists in music, dance, word and film. Precise rows of stacked green chairs make up the 2,000 seats within its circular plaza.  The lawn can hold an additional capacity of 5,000 for friends and families who want to lay out on the green and frolic under the trees. Aromas of brewed beer and barbecue set the ambiance of summer. Two rectangular SLS speakers border the stage and emit clear sounds of audio without offending the ears.  As crowds peel in and the sun sets, the stage roof gives way to lighting that casts alternate hues of color on the Bandshell.  The green stage blends well with the surrounding woodland shrubs and oak trees, which hide all buildings within sight. Without such city distractions, venue goers can mentally relax and dance in the aisles inside Brooklyn’s last remaining natural forest.

The scheduled line-up each year yields a crowed as diverse as its talent. Rock and Roll hall-of-fame inductee Isaac Hayes opened the 2008 season.  In its third week, black string band Carolina Choc Drops introduced instruments and music from the late 1800’s to a packed crowd. “We align with artists who explore traditional things in a fresh new way,” said Rachel Chanoff, Artistic Director with Celebrate Brooklyn.

There is plenty more to experience in the remaining weeks.   For the 4th of July weekend, Michael Stewart and other artists will sizzle the stage with Latin sounds. For the third year in a row, Brave New World theater company will stage Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451, July 24th. Fort Greene based Mark Morris Dance Group will bring its renowned moves to the venue July 31st. And Alvin Ailey II will showcase its young dancers and emerging choreographers on August 7th. Benefit concerts this season include Feist on July 9th and Spoon on July 15th. Over  summer, make sure to be one of nearly a quarter million visitors attending the Bandshell this year.  Entry to Celebrate Brooklyn events (barring benefit concerts) is free, although a $3 donation is suggested. For the remaining lineup visit their website.

How to get there: Take the Coney Island Bound F train to 15th street/Prospect Park Station. 2 or 3 trains to Grand Army Plaza or the B-68, B-69, or B-75 buses to Prospect park West & Ninth Street. Click on the HopStop logo below for exact directions from anywhere on Manhattan (Celebrate Brooklyn at The Bandshell, Prospect Park West and Ninth Street, 718.855.7882, briconline.org/celebrate)

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