I missed the first couple of songs and a ballad seemed not quite sustained and then the drummer rips into this fiery drum solo, a jungle conga type circular rhythm that steadily burns, gaining more and more momentum, until Sylvanna Joyce and the Moment explode with a surprising fury, and they absolutely rock the joint, the joint being Barrow Street, which was about a third of the way down All About Downtown, a neighborhood festival hosted by the quasi governmental agency in charge of Downtown Improvement, held on this year’s autumnal equinox.
I wrote about this event last year. When I went to the old post, I noticed some pictures of the band so I must have heard them, but I made no mention of them in the writing. Gee, what a difference a year makes.
Joyce & company play what they term gypsy rock, which is a pretty apt description of their turbo-charged zest that forms original aural allegiances between show-tunes, jazz, Queen and jam-band. While prone to intricate noodling, the band was stop-on-a-dime tight and ready to burst into rave-ups that were a pure delight and utterly thrilling. Their rock was theatrical, had a carnival feel. Anybody remember the Sensational Alex Harvey Band? The set took off, inducing foot tapping, clapping and dancing to which no one in earshot was immune. The moment found their moment, the band energizing the swelling crowd, whose numbers including not just the “hipster” (we really need a better term) but the mom and dads and toddlers and the local cadre of, well, winos and street folks.
There was potential for trouble but the wino crew, we see them every day and they were not doing anything different than everyone else, hanging out at the neighborhood fair and digging the band. They’re not that numerous, and their public displays of intoxication are rarely loud or violent, and even then only with each other. They are more annoyance than nuisance. They are facts of urban life, just like more parents and offspring and the subsequent increase in daycare centers and healthier choices in the supermarkets and bodegas. The near-do-wells were outnumbered by the un-intimidated well-to-dos, creating a microcosm of gentrification. Those who do not leave are overwhelmed. Night may tell a different story but in the light of day, the future was here yet even those clinging to their past life on our repaved sidewalks enjoyed the music, like everyone else there.
I’ve lived here 20 years and the street people (talk about needing a better term) have always been here. What wasn’t here then are the live bands we can dance to in the street at a local fair where you can see friends and neighbors and participate in the pastime every human enjoys – hanging out undisturbed.
My love for autumn would be absolute except for the inescapable fact that summer is gone. The Autumnal Equinox is when the length of night equals the length of day and the length of day will now get shorter every day until December. All About Downtown was a communal farewell to season, amplified by the overly cool late Summer that has made everyone unpack their jackets out of mothballs a month earlier than is usual.
Tomorrow go pumpkin shopping, begin making those thanksgiving planning phone calls and start griping about how Christmas will be here before you know it. Tomorrow begin to wonder when the 2013 Sandy or Irene will hit. Today let’s give our good bye glance to the tattoos and skin, the arms and cleavage, and navels we will not see and you will not display for another six long months.
Today – in Jersey City – it was like an extra-inning, late season baseball game – clocks un-tick and summer is trapped within our collective moment.
I was able to catch Mayor Fullop giving out a proclamation to two of leaders, who mentioned that maybe we can do this more times a year, meaning block off Newark Avenue, the main thoroughfare of our fair city, from traffic for a day and let pedestrians stroll in a danger-free zone (pedestrians are at risk while walking in Jersey City, where the lack of signage and street lights and general indifference to traffic violations is a genuine public safety issue whose awareness of is picking up steam). I say, how about every weekend? How about next year more blocks of Newark being closed off? Head west young fair.
Actually, that is one of the fun thing about these street fairs, what you see everyday is suddenly transformed. I probably walk Newark Avenue every day, most days more than once too and instead of the usual and mundane, it’s a street bazaar of goods and food and music and rides for the kids. The routine is banished for an afternoon. Everybody is here to relax, mosey and chat... s'up?
Three years. The irony is that the Mayor gave a similar proclamation to “The Feast” nary a month ago for being around a century or so. All About Downtown has been around only three years. But this event earned it – 30,000 people came last year and this is way bigger than last year an organizer told me – it was by far – and by far I mean by hundreds of attendees – I’ve attended since living here. Beginning in May and going through September, there’s a lot of street fairs in Jersey City, more than one a weekend it seems. Some are better than others and establishing a new one is not easy, the competition is fierce. To have this one come this far in such a brief time, to noticeably and significantly improve each year, says a lot about the creativity and commitment of the organizers. DIY, collaboration, an original thought or two and an insistence on the pragmatic and the artistic. Maybe All About Downtown is somehow actually all about downtown.
30,000 – Jersey City – pop: 250,000 – you do the math, what other event gets that kind of percentage, or what other event gets that many from outside town or the neighborhood. And, 30,000 is last year and there were much more people than last year, a lot more.
The children’s section was expanded, and packed. What a wonderful change this has been, the increase in families with children, a new generation raising a newer generation. I’m an intellectual bohemian type I guess, have hedonistic leanings, but children tend to spread joy and ignoring or not appreciating the feeling of joy is the unearned cynics of the poser. Also, kids bring out the best behavior of most adults (and not necessarily their parents all the time!) When kids are around, people make things cleaner, and they are more polite and act with more consideration. Seems every year, the inflatable amusement parks – the bouncy rides – expand. The entire block in front of the old firehouse had this amazing and wonderful inflatable choo-choo train, like one of them hamster habitrail mazes – except in this train the passengers are moving. There was also a non-inflatable train ride.
At the center of All About Downtown were children, hundreds of children with their parents and guardians having the last summer afternoon of the year – and when you’re that age, every year is pivotal. Clean, safe, fun – away from the TV and what not – how much of the enjoyable vibe can be attributed to the youngest amongst us? Otherwise, All About was just an off-beat flea market with beer vendors.
There was a register to vote tent. In October there is yet another election, a special one for Senate. Still no sign of Buono support anywhere by our Democratic city, alas. What was cool though was a guy in this tent busy painting a portrait of the street fair, art imitating a depiction of life. Jersey City, where art, like voting, is a considered a civic responsibility and a right.
Under a rainbow of canopies, the vendors were a mix of crafts, clothes and food, the latter being mainly local eateries with limited offerings, a great way to make some extra cash and promote their restaurants. There seemed to be fewer corporate sponsors with vendors, but maybe appearance was more important than the factual. Still, there was a nice, local feel. A respite from the 6th Borough marketing mania Jersey City has been inspiring of late, especially by the private/public organizations who organized this event. I can’t say I like the name, all about seems to be lazy slang that rankles the English major within. All of what this place is was not represented, only cheerful and mild commerce. But then, who gets to define all. Experience the nice day and a collective good vibe in a place we call home. I wonder how much we have in common, besides (often inexplicably) loving Jersey City and you know, that is actually quite a lot. The place you live – the place you pass the time and endure the burden of mortality – encompasses an ever-increasing portion of your personal identity. We have to love Jersey City – who else will? Who else can?
Last year when the music ended at Barrow Street, a drum circle began that marched to grove street and where planned-impromptu drum circle erupted. As Slyvann Joyce and the Moment were still playing, the drum march started and there was a wild clash and meshing as the All About Downtown had a sudden cross purposes – if we stay for this raucous conclusion of an extraordinary hot set we miss the funky drum circle – alas, we missed only the opening beats or so, the overlap no longer than 10 minutes or so – but this was a different planning (although the Barrow Street stage was running late) at work. The event was shorter by a couplathree hours than last year’s, the drum circle less extended – although this year the drummers got to use the stage, adding a rocking flautist. Turns out, the reason for the abbreviation this year is the approximately $10,000 required for the police and fire marshals state laws require for these events, especially when alcohol is served. I missed the drumming into darkness, but I had some things to do anyway. I may never get enough summer but I satisfied my street fair needs. Still, I stayed until the last thump and before then, children danced, adults danced. Hula hoops were gyrated. Hands were clapping. Congas, bongos, whistles, tambourines, cowbells… the flute… noise being made, a rhythm shared, a beat advanced and in that moment summer felt forever.