By Caitlin McNamara
“My job here is simple — to declare the first day of summer, in the most beautiful park in the world.” So announced Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe to the more than 25,000 fans who gathered to see Talking Heads frontman David Byrne in concert Monday night at the Prospect Park bandstand. “My name is Dave, and I’ll be your waiter tonight,” said Byrne as he took the stage.
As fit and dynamic as ever, with his backup singers and ensemble dancers all dressed in his signature all-white, Byrne performed at full tilt through the two-hour set. A color changing rainbow background added drama to the visual tumult created by the dancers. A fan close to the stage said, “I’ve never seen backup dancers having so much fun.”
The material spanned his collaboration with Brian Eno, including three Talking Heads albums, 1981’s groundbreaking My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, and Everything that Happens will Happen Today.
The audience was a record breaker — the largest in the 30-year history of Celebrate Brooklyn. The summer-long performing arts festival will feature an eclectic series of Brooklyn and international artists at the bandstand through mid August.
A pre-show gala for ticket-holding sponsors, held beneath a tent alongside the stage, raised more than a quarter million dollars. The funds will help keep the concert series free for its audiences, and also support the Celebrate Brooklyn Goes Green! Initiative to lessen the festival’s eco-footprint. Features of this include a bicycle parking lot at each Celebrate Brooklyn concert this summer, which can accommodate 400 bikes, and expanded on-site recycling. The gala itself had a zero-waste goal. Byrne showed off his bike — white, naturally — on stage, and it was rumored that he rode the bike home. The series, sponsored by BRIC Performing Arts and co-produced by Jack Walsh and Rachel Chanoff, is entering its fourth decade as a fixture of Brooklyn summers in the park.
“Celebrate Brooklyn epitomizes everything good about Brooklyn,” said Councilman Bill de Blasio before the show, and called Walsh a “creative genius” for his work on the festival.
Within the gala tent, before the concert, the evening’s honorees Kathryn Wylde, CEO of Partnership for New York City, and Gala Chair Barry Gosin, CEO of Newmark Knight Frank, were thanked for their contributions to the success of the festival. Borough President Marty Markowitz called Wylde a “gutsy Bay Ridge girl,” saying “when you want a job done right, choose a gutsy Brooklyn woman.” Gosin spoke of growing up in East Flatbush, describing how he would take three buses every Friday night for years to skate at the Prospect Park rink. He described Wylde as one of the most “dynamic and important people” working on behalf of the park.
In a brief speech, Wylde said how she had enjoyed free concerts in the park when she couldn’t afford Broadway. “It is important to keep Brooklyn at the center of such wonderful activity in the parks,” she said.
Markowitz said he was 35 when Byrne’s music was first hot, and joked about “thinking he recognized” the tunes that people had been humming to him in the lead up the concert. The smash hit of Celebrate Brooklyn’s opening night bodes well for the season ahead. For details and a schedule visit www.briconline.org/celebrate.