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Celebrate Brooklyn at 30: Just hitting its musical stride

The Brooklyn Paper
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n 1979, a summer series began in Brooklyn with local jazz musicians and city choreographers converging on Prospect Park's Bandshell to reinvigorate the park.

Now, 29 festivals and over a thousand musical and dance acts later, the Celebrate Brooklyn festival returns this June for its 30th summer of free performing arts at the Prospect Park Bandshell.

While the festival does draw some big names, including opener Isaac Hayes on June 12, indie darling Feist on July 9 and alt rockers Spoon on July 15, as well as attracts musicians from 18 countries, the Celebrate Brooklyn festival also features some promising local acts and companies.

On June 19, beat boxer Taylor McFerrin and his progressive hip-hop band, The Cell Theory, perform on the Bandshell stage. McFerrin's the son of Bobby McFerrin, the musician behind the hit “Don't Worry, Be Happy,” and can be heard on the track “Taylor Made,” off Bobby's 2002 album “Beyond Words.” As a musician, the younger McFerrin embraces a laid-back vibe as well, exploring hip-hop, Motown and his impressive beatbox skills.

Spike Lee buffs take note. On June 28, the MCs and DJs responsible for the tunes “Crooklyn Dodgers” and “Return of the Crooklyn Dodgers,” used for the director's '90s films “Crooklyn” and “Clockers” will unite, brought together by the Brooklyn-based Lyricist Lounge for some hip-hop history at Prospect park.

Reggae and salsa sounds come to Brooklyn with Michael Stuart, William Cepeda's Grupo Essencia and Semog El Gallo Bueno take to the Bandshell stage on July 5. Hailing from Puerto Rico, Cepeda works as a musician in Brooklyn now, as well as a member of the faculty at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music. Mixing traditional folk styles of Puerto Rico with jazz improvisation and composition for what he calls Afrorican Jazz, Cepeda is one of the most sought after Puerto Rican composers today. Joining Cepeda and his eight-member band will be Angel Luis Torrullas, the “King of the Plena.”

Joining the sexy Brazilian Girls and Argentine pop rockers Miranda! on July 11 for a full fledged party vibe is Victor Axelrod, a Brooklyn-based keyboardist for Afrobeat band Anitbalas and soul group Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. Going by his alter ego Ticklah, the versatile musician, who also plays drums, bass and guitar on his album “Ticklah vs. Axelrod,” is an overall dub specialist, wowing listeners with his Jamaican and Latin mixes. There's more dub on July 20 when Jewish music label JDub celebrates its 5th anniversary with an impressive lineup that includes Sway Machinery, a Brooklyn who's who of progressive musicians as it draws from members of Balkan Beat Box, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Anitbalas. The evening will be hosted by another Brooklyn fixture, comedian Michael Showalter.

Expect good times as Brooklyn native and guitarist Matt Munisteri plays his blend of jazz, swing and contemporary pop set to his dry, entertaining lyrics on July 12. The Carroll Gardens resident will be joined by a pianist and bassist for his first appearance at the festival as a main act, having previously played with other jazz acts in the pas at Celebrate Brooklyn.

A decidedly music-heavy series, Celebrate Brooklyn has had a consistent theater and dance presence of late in the form of the repertory theater Brave New World on July 24 and the Mark Morris Dance Group on July 31.

Though a lot of companies are hesitant to put time and effort into a one night only production, Brave New World accepted the challenge, and returns to the Bandshell for the third consecutive time this summer. After successful theater adaptations of “The Great White Hope” and “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” the Dyker Heights-based company will work Ray Bradbury’s novel, Fahrenheit 451.

"It's always been an enormously important book for me," said Claire Beckman, Brave New World's co-founder and artistic director, who will play the role of Mildred in the play. "Because we're a company that's committed to a lot of classic works and celebrates the spoken word and literature, this is a very important piece for us."

To achieve the burning visual inherent in the book's title, the theater production will rely on video design heavily to achieve that effect in the company's biggest budget since forming in 2003.

Director and choreographer Mark Morris' company also returns to Celebrate Brooklyn. The Fort Greene-based troupe will pull from its repertoire, performing New Love Song Waltzes (1982), Love Song Waltzes (1989) and the New York premiere of a brand new work set to Samuel Barber's Excursions for Piano, with live music performed by the MMDG Music Ensemble.

For more information on the festival, including the complete schedule, go to www.briconline.org.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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