Brooklyn’s Dirtybird BBQ starts off on the wrong foot, but turns itself around following abrupt downpour
Dirtybird has had a whirlwind of a year, having celebrated its tenth birthday with the release of a special compilation, Dirtybird 10, at the tail end of January. Less than three months later, the San Francisco-based label unveiled its first foray into the festival sphere: Dirtybird Campout, slated to take place in October. A more thorough spin on the label’s signature, one-day Dirtybird BBQ, the inaugural camping experience will tie together late night s’mores, hiking, talent shows, and musical showcases — each led by ‘camp counselors’ Claude VonStroke, Justin Martin, J. Phlip, and more.
But the dream surrounding Dirtybird Campout could not have been realized without the unparalleled success of its BBQ predecessor. Like most events, though, Dirtybird BBQ had its humble beginnings when it first came into existence circa 2003. Taking place at Golden Gate park on Sunday mornings, label head honcho Claude VonStroke recalls the days when DJ equipment was as simple as a turntable. He, Chris Wilson (Grill$on), and Christian Martin would cross their fingers in the hopes that a decent crowd would show face. Now, the touring cookout-turned-musical showcase can’t seem to book enough dates, as the desire to participate has amplified significantly over the years.
In August 2014, Brooklyn’s inaugural BBQ took place along the scintillating East River at 50 Kent Ave. At its core, 50 Kent is nothing more than a fenced-in parking lot — but come summer, the “venue” we have come to know and love undergoes an epic transformation to host all kinds of music events. Last summer, the Brooklyn leg of the Dirtybird BBQ tour was a trial run of sorts. In attracting a modest yet emphatic crowd, it was evident that the tight-knit community that was present lived and breathed the label and its affiliates. The event was far more intimate, in the fashion that many New Yorkers have grown to prefer.
When the crew announced in May yet another season brimming with “BBQ’s & Beats,” new cities including Seattle, Portland, Chicago and Denver were added to its ever-diversifying roster. While the size and scope of the actual tour only increased from 5 to 6 cities in 2015, the physical scale of its Brooklyn soiree noticeably magnified in capacity. Where the BBQ outdid last year’s affair was in its inconvenient, yet alluring, location: Gowanus Industrial Park. Concrete blocks, a deteriorated relic and silver foil balloons spelling out “Dirtybird BBQ” welcomed patrons as they curiously walked down the park’s winding path toward civilization. Penske and Evergreen trucks, most commonly spotted on open highways, were parked in a column spanning across the right side of the venue. To the left of the stage lay the soiled Gowanus Canal, as guests trekked across mud, gravel, and other sediments to navigate the park for a full-frontal view of the terrain. There was nothing glamorous about the park, which was synonymous to an industrial wasteland, if you will. Nonetheless, it was easy to weed out exactly what attracted Dirtybird and its promoter, Mean Red, to the imposing dirt piles that infiltrated the scene. They hid not one of its imperfections or quirks — making for one of the truest and most scenic locations for an electronic music event.
In spite of a balmy forecast, a rampant downpour occurred just before doors were scheduled to open. Mean Red promised rain or shine, but to many’s dismay, doors were pushed back about an hour-and-a-half to drain the grounds — a full 360 degree effort to revamp Gowanus Industrial Park into a safe and danceable setting. As the angry Tweets and Facebook posts bearing photos of three to four hour wait times began rolling in, Claude VonStroke did the deed of personally showing his gratitude to fans by meeting, taking photos, and conversing with them as they stood in line. He, too, was terribly disappointed in the outcome:
“I was just as bummed out as the fans that we had the flash floods both at the entry point and on the dancefloor. Then it came down to a choice to cancel the event or hold the crowd for 90 minute creating a Disneyland type line outside. So I went out and talked to everyone and then i took my place last in line and made sure everyone got into the venue who had tickets. That was the best we could do. Once everyone was inside the party was incredible! We still had a great party it was just a little bit shorter than everyone had hoped it would be.”
Performances were cut short and crowds noticeably dwindled as Slick Rick began performing — with a handful of fans confused by his presence, trying to decipher his contribution to the BBQ. But despite starting off on the wrong foot, both Dirtybird and Mean Red deserve to be commended for reviving the park in just under two hours following two unexpected deluges. As always, the food and music’s top-notch delivery expected at any BBQ was overwhelmingly present with the likes of Grill$on, Kill Frenzy, J. Phlp, Shiba San, Justin Martin and Claude VonStroke himself taking the grill and the stage, respectively.
The question, however, as to whether Dirtybird compromised quality for size must also be addressed. Where the “bigger and better” concept often mistakenly trumps smaller, chummier environments, I turned to my direct circle to gather their thoughts on the 2015 edition of the BBQ in relation to last year’s. Some felt that the two were incomparable, citing them as “completely different events.” Most others agreed that the abandoned shipyard-like feel introduced character to this year’s BBQ, but noted that sound and production haven’t improved much since its first go around — which are crucial for an event of this stature.
In part, they are correct: the BBQ’s were very different, although the underlying nature of the two fell on a similar plane. For the diehard Dirtybird fans, it is far too easy to take preference over the smaller and perhaps less developed showcases, devoid of the ticket holders who attend for the look, or purely because their friends are there. The palpable increase from about 3,000 to 5,000 moving bodies forces us to pause and truly reconsider when the “bigger and better” notion is appropriate, and when it flirts with the line of overkill. While Claude did point out “that’s the biggest size the BBQ should be,” it is hopeful that next year’s celebration is scaled down to more accurately reflect Dirtybird’s esteemed positioning in the electronic music sphere. Ultimately, some elements of the BBQ were seamless, but the failure to come full circle dampened fans’ experience — both literally and figuratively.
Photo Credit: Stephen Bondio Photography