Washington Square Music Festival Dramatically Scaled Back Performances at Washington Square Park This Year Due to Park Redesign; Final Concert of 54th Season Tonight

Charles Mingus Orchestra on previous stage at WSP

Updated-There is a story behind the scaled back number of concerts the Washington Square Music Festival is performing this year at Washington Square Park. Traditionally, the Festival, which has performed in its namesake park for 54 years, would present four or five concerts each season at the landmark park. This year, the number of concerts taking place was scaled back to two. The other performances have taken place at nearby St. Joseph’s Church, traditionally the ‘rain date’ venue. The final concert of the season takes place tonight at Washington Square.

Executive Director Peggy Friedman told the New York Times that the festival “kept clear of the park it was named for this summer, partly because of construction and partly because the music on its first two programs was better suited to the festival’s rain space — St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church, on Sixth Avenue at Waverly Place — than to the traditional outdoor setting.”

However, that’s not entirely accurate; perhaps she didn’t think the New York Times was going to care about all the specifics behind this decision but Ms. Friedman knew this blog would. It would be hard for any one involved in the years’ long saga behind the park’s redesign not to have known that the stage would ultimately not work out for the Music Festival. Last year was the first year the Washington Square Music Festival (WSMF) performed on it after Phase II opened in June.

The reconfigured stage was forced upon the community and the park by the Parks Department despite the concerns the Music Festival – and pretty much everyone involved – expressed. The WSMF said publicly upon viewing the plans that they anticipated problems with the sight lines, the size of the stage, the height of the stage (28″ versus a standard and acceptable 36″), the fact that there is no railing, and no real back stage.

One of the ‘stipulations’ of the (basically non-binding) “Gerson-Quinn Agreement” was that the redesigned stage work for the Washington Square Music Festival. (The Gerson-Quinn Agreement was an intervention of sorts by former NY City Council Member Alan Gerson – WSP fell in his district – and Council Speaker Christine Quinn – neighboring parts of Greenwich Village were, and are, in her district – which acted as a quasi-blueprint to alleviate some of the concerns the community had about park’s redesign.) It was clear all along that it wouldn’t.

However, if the Music Festival had spoken up to the Landmarks Preservation Commission in April of 2009 before Phase II was approved and stated ‘it just wouldn’t work,’ the Parks Department and designer George Vellonakis would have had to go back to the drawing board. Instead, the WSMF told the Landmarks Preservation Commission they reluctantly supported the plans. The reason the organization did not (and I gather felt it could not) speak out is because they are under the “auspices” of the Washington Square Association — which was in favor of the Bloomberg Administration’s redesign of the park. And so, they sealed their fate and the fate of others who would utilize the stage by not speaking out.

Executive Director Peggy Friedman told me before the season started why the Music Festival had scaled back this year:

We faced two challenges last summer on the new stage that need to be addressed  1) the total lack of security and the inability to contact police help 2) the overwhelming heat now that the trees that used to surround the stage near Garibaldi have been cut down.  We are hiring private security which is a considerable new expense and probably performing in the Wenger Wagon, a covered stage which must be rented from Parks, another new expenseTherefore we have designed two indoor concerts of music that is more appropriate in a controlled, indoor space.  It is cheaper to do concerts indoors and St. Joseph’s has been very generous to us.

Shortly after the 2009 LPC hearing at which the new stage was addressed, a comment came in to this blog with some interesting feedback from reader Elton:

“Praise be to Commissioner Roberta Brandes Gratz for her stand in redirecting the Phase II design proposals toward stated community needs. Another community need I feel is getting very short shrift in Phase II is the PERFORMANCE STAGE. Its design and location should be restudied, especially in the light of potentially expanding long-range uses of the park, and in line with the recommendations envisioned by many park-use evaluations. For instance, in past seasons, attending musical performances at Teen Plaza, one must contend with competition from being seated in the middle of a crossroads, limited stage area, no acoustical baffles or wind (or even slight, provisional weather) protection, etc., and Phase II envisions even more compromised conditions. Why can’t a STATE OF THE ART PERFORMANCE STAGE be insisted on as a FOCUS and (geometric, if that’s the winning buzzword) FEATURE of that axis of the park, not a badly-served and watered-down afterthought? Wouldn’t this be an essential part of a long-range plan to underscore the park’s continued and expanding viability as a performance venue?”

However, there was no rethinking of the plan. At some point, years from now, I believe this stage will be readdressed but, for now, you can catch the last concert of the Washington Square Music Festival’s season at the park tonight at 8 p.m.

July 31, 8 pm: DEEP SAHARA BAND — free
Washington Square, main stage south of Fifth Avenue
Abdoulaye Alhassane Touré leader and vocal soloist
performs music of West Africa, the roots of American jazz, on guitar, Kora,(African harp), ngoni (ancestor of American banjo), talking drum, tama, drum set, conga, djembé (a rope-tuned skin-covered drum played with bare hands)

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Review of first concert this season New York Times (July 11), Dickinson and Dylan Thomas, Set for Strings and Voices

Review, New York Times (July 19th), Echoes of Vienna and Byron

Previously at WSP Blog:

Landmarks Preservation Commission Approves Phase II of WSP Redesign; Parks Department Agrees to Increase # of Alcoves

On the 2011 season

Photo: Nan Melville

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Music This Sunday 5/20: Washington Square Music Festival Fundraiser and Greenwich Village Orchestra Concert (Mention WSP Blog at the Latter & Get in for Discounted Rate!)

There are two great opportunities for high caliber music and fun this Sunday, May 20th. One is the Greenwich Village Orchestra’s final concert of the season at Washington Irving Auditorium with a discounted rate – only $5 – if you mention Washington Square Park Blog! In addition, there will a fundraiser for the Washington Square Music Festival at nearby Le Poisson Rouge on Bleecker Street.

Conductor Yaniv Segal

Here are the details:

The Greenwich Village Orchestra, comprised of talented local musicians and going strong for the last 25 years, will present its final concert of the season this Sunday, May 20th at 3 p.m. The concert features guest conductor, 31-year-old Yaniv Segal, named by Esquire Magazine as a rising star who is “redefining classical music.” Performances will include Shostakovich’s “Symphony No. 9” and Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No. 5.” There will be a free reception afterwards with food and beverages and an opportunity to meet the musicians.

** Mention Washington Square Park Blog and get in for only $5 at the door!
Location: Washington Irving Auditorium, 40 Irving Place (at 17th Street), Manhattan.

The Washington Square Music Festival will hold a fundraiser from 3-6 p.m. on Sunday, May 20th to benefit their upcoming season at neighborhood nightspot Le Poisson Rouge. The event will feature “delicious savories, sweets and wines,” door prizes (including Emily Kies Folpe’s book, It Happened On Washington Square), and entertainment by members of the Festival plus special guests. Music director and cellist Lutz Rath and soprano Lucia Hyunju Song will perform Barbara Harbach’s “Cherish-Caress” and Kurt Schwitters’ “Anna Blume,” a DADA love poem for speaker and cello improvisation. In a highly anticipated performance, Abdoulaye Alhassane Touré, the singer and leader of the Deep Sahara Band, along with members of the group, will present music from West Africa. The West Village Chorale, which performs at Judson Church, will join the Washington Square Music Festival in performance for the first time. Chorale members will present Michael Conley’s “This Bequest of Wings,” an Emily Dickinson Cycle. The 54th season of the Washington Square Music Festival will begin in July.

Tickets range from $75 to $200 ($50 special price for attendees under 40!). You can purchase tickets in advance here.

Le Poisson Rouge is at 158 Bleecker Street (between Sullivan and Thompson), Greenwich Village.

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Photo (Yaniv Segal): Rick Guest, Esquire

“Beauty Makeover Bus” Stops at Washington Square Park Thursday, May 17th 10 a.m. (Yes, you read that right.)

Jane Jacobs stopped traffic running through Washington Square Park and she certainly would not have known what to make of this “Beauty Makeover Bus” headed to the perimeter of the Park tomorrow, Thursday, May 17th for “Get Glam in Manhattan.”

But, it’s almost summer, NYU students graduated today at Yankee Stadium (as previously reported in 2010, NYU graduations will never again be held at WSP due to the new design and its reduction in space on the Fountain Plaza, it now holds 5,000 less people) and it’s a good time for some levity.

There’s a lot more to report at Washington Square and beyond but I’m a bit behind at the moment. More on that to come

The event tomorrow is presented by Refinery 29 and Buxom Cosmetics. You must RSVP here. The “makeover bus” will have free makeovers, tips, treats, and more.

Washington Square Park, tomorrow, Thursday, May 17th, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. University & Waverly Places (then moves on to Madison Square Park at 2 p.m.).

“Do The Light Thing/Occupy Chanukah” Event Lit Up Fountain Plaza Tuesday

Light Sculpture 2010 Event

The New Schul held “Do the Light Thing in Washington Square Park,” an annual event to celebrate Chanukah, on Tuesday 12/20. This year it also had the theme “Occupy Chanukah.” Chanukah is the “festival of lights” so the “progressive synagogue,” located on West 10th Street, set out to “create a public Light Sculpture in the heart of Greenwich Village” in order to “send a message of hope and peace to our community and the world.”

The event’s Yelp page stated people would:

Dance to the music of Litvakus, sing some Chanukah songs, keep warm with a cup of steaming hot chocolate and taste tradition with a delicious potato latke.

Nice! As far as “occupying,” “occupy” has traditionally (well, at least, since September 17th) meant that you are taking something over in the attempt to change it in some way. I suppose they were “Occupying Chanukah” that night at WSP to bring attention to the message of meaning and community and in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street. The creation of the Light Sculpture happens annually so it’ll light up the Fountain Plaza again next year.

Holiday Events — Tree Arrives by the Washington Square Arch Monday, November 28th!

Last year's tree

More info on the holiday events at the Park to come but here are the basics:

Monday, November 28th Christmas tree arrives from Vermont by the Arch (at 4 a.m.!) (It’s unclear if it gets decorated that day but swing on by!)

Friday, December 2nd 8 p.m. Washington Square Music Festival Holiday Concert FREE in St. Joseph’s Church, 371 Sixth Avenue

Wednesday, December 7th 6 p.m. Tree-lighting ceremony & caroling

Saturday, Dec. 24th, 5 p.m. Christmas Eve Caroling

Arundhati Roy at Washington Square Park Wednesday, November 16th 12:30 p.m.

Arundhati Roy

If you’ve ever heard Arundhati Roy speak – and I had the opportunity at Riverside Church in 2003 – then you know that she is worth any effort involved to do so ! If not, you will have your chance on Wednesday afternoon, November 16th at Washington Square Park from 12:30 – 1:15 p.m. when she will appear courtesy of the People’s University.

Note: Rain or shine – near Arch / Fountain.

The People’s University “brings education out from the classrooms and into public spaces.” Washington Square Park is their focal point.

About Arundhati Roy:

Arundhati Roy won the Booker Prize in 1997 for her novel, The God of Small Things. Her non-fiction work includes An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire, Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers, and Broken Republic. An impassioned critic of neo-imperialism, military occupations, and violent models of economic ‘development’, Roy was awarded the Sydney Peace Prize in 2004. Her consistent exposure of the Indian state’s repressive policies has led to her being variously labelled a seditionist, secessionist, Maoist and unpatriotic troublemaker.

Roy was trained as an architect and worked as a production designer before the acclaim and fame she received for The God of Small Things led her on other paths. That book remains her only novel – since then she has written non-fiction and writes and speaks out on issues of concern to her.

“Pity the nation that has to silence its writers for speaking their minds… Pity the nation that needs to jail those who ask for justice while communal killers, mass murderers, corporate scamsters, looters, rapists and those who prey on the poorest of the poor, roam free.” (Arundhati Roy quote)

More on the People’s University:

The People’s University draws inspiration from the occupations on Wall Street, other cities in the United States, and throughout the world.

The People’s University acknowledges that NYU, and other private universities in New York City and beyond, have colonized our neighborhoods, erecting physical and social barriers to inclusion. The People’s University will now decolonize the public space at the center of NYU’s real estate empire—Washington Square Park.

The People’s University aims to remove education from the marketplace. Learning must be free of charge, and opportunities for education must be plentiful, not scarce. The People’s University is one small step in that direction, because it says that education is not a consumer good. It is what the 99% can and must share in common.

The People’s University is organized in solidarity with #OWS in Liberty Square and complements the education and empowerment work ongoing there.

Village Children’s Halloween Parade Marches Around Washington Square Today

The 21st Annual Greenwich Village Children’s Halloween Parade precedes the big one which starts at 7 p.m.! and winds its way around Washington Square Park this afternoon. Children and families gather at 3 p.m. at the Arch. Hosted by Community Board 2 and N.Y.U., the parade starts marching at 3:30 p.m. It will make its way to LaGuardia Place between Washington Square South and West 3rd Street where there will be candy, rides, face painting, music and other entertainment. This goes until 6 p.m.

Washington Square Park Folk Festival – Interview with Organizer Eli Smith + Photos from Day 1

Banner for the Festival

This weekend there’s a new music event at the park, the Washington Square Park Folk Festival. The two day event, which began yesterday, is being produced by Eli Smith, organizer of the Brooklyn Folk Festival in Red Hook for the last three years and host of the Down Home Radio Show. The festival was the idea of WSP administrator Rebecca Ferguson who learned of Smith upon asking Matt Umanov — of the eponymous famous guitar shop on Bleecker Street — for a recommendation of someone to produce the show.

In putting together the event, Smith, who grew up in the Village on Barrow Street, said he “tried to bring in musicians who had a history with Washington Square Park.” The festival features musicians such as John Colen and Peter Stampfel who “have been playing music in Washington Square Park since the 1950′s” as well as newer musicians who have busked in the park. The goal was for a “diversity of sounds and good stuff.”

This year is the 50th Anniversary of the Washington Square Folk Riots in which people were banned by city government from playing folk music in the park. This weekend’s event is being organized by the city’s Parks Department. Smith was considering showing Dan Drasin’s film “Sunday” which captured the events of that day 50 years ago at today’s performance. He remarked that many have been “profoundly shaped by their experiences with music in Washington Square Park and young people come from all over to find music there.”

The performances on Saturday had an emphasis on string, old-time, blues and bluegrass. There’s more today and it will go from 2 p.m. until 7 p.m. so swing on by!

Here are some pictures from Saturday —

East River String Band

East River String Band, Stage and Audience

Whiskey Spitters

Eli Smith, emcee and organizer of event

Note: Eden from the East River String Band writes the Slum Goddess Blog.

Banner, top: C. Cassano

All other photos: Cathryn

Washington Square Park Folk Festival This Weekend September 17th-18th


Eli Smith, host of the DownHome Radio Show, was hired by the city’s Parks Department to produce the first ever Washington Square Park Folk Festival this coming weekend Saturday, September 17th and Sunday, September 18th on the Garibaldi Stage (eastern end). Smith will be MC and also perform on Sunday with his band, the Dust Busters.

Here’s the schedule:

Saturday Sept 17th:

2pm The Calamity Janes – old time string band
3pm Feral Foster – original songs and blues
4pm East River String Band – country blues & old time
5pm Whiskey Spitters – country blues & old time

Sunday Sept 18th

2pm Bob Malenky – country blues
3pm Brotherhood of the Jug Band Blues – jug band music
4pm The Dust Busters with John Cohen – old time string band
5pm Willy Gantrim & the Phantoms – original songs, country & blues
6pm Peter Stampfel and the Ether Frolic Mob – make a wish for a potato

On his web site, Smith writes:

2011 also marks the 50th anniversary of the 1961 “Washington Square Folk Music Riot” when the City tried to revoke the permit for folk musicians to play and sing on Sundays in the park.  They needed to clear undesirable people out so that they could  satisfy local real estate interests and I heard possibly enact a crazy plan to extend 5th ave. through the park! Luckily folkies resisted the attempt by the police to kick them out of their public space, resulting in the “riot,” and the planned extension of 5th ave never materialized. Lately there’s been a film made about the “riot” and the film will be screened at the festival, check it out… coverage of the so called riot has been offered by The Indypendent and NPR.

Mario Batali‘s Foundation is involved somehow in sponsoring this event. I’m going to talk to Eli Smith and find out more about the festival but wanted to get the info up!

Update — Postponed — “Hair” Tonight, September 15th, 7:30 p.m. — filmed in WSP

"Hair"

Update: Postponed due to Rain; Rescheduled date not yet announced — The Parks Department’s film series of musicals at the Park kicks off tonight, Thursday, September 15th; it’s scheduled to begin 1/2 hour after sunset — around 7:40 p.m. — with classic flick Hair.” Filmed and released in the ’70s, Washington Square Park of yore is featured prominently. The three-film series is being presented with the IFC Waverly Center (and apparently NYU?).

The films are free and presented on the lawn in the NorthWest Quadrant (west of the Fountain). Will there be signs up? There weren’t last week for “On The Town” but that screening was postponed due to pending rain and rescheduled for next Monday.

Still to come —

*Monday, September 19th: “On The Town”
*Thursday, September 22nd: “Wild Style”

Previous WSP Blog post with full information on the series.