Just recently in Brooklyn’s own Prospect Park was the premiere of what may become the annual Great Googa Mooga festival. The intended vibe of the event was to be akin to festivals such as Bonnaroo, New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and the Golden Gate Music Festival where food is considered to be of equal importance to the musical experience. With a lineup composed of bands such as Preservation Hall Jazz Band, The Roots, Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires, Peelander Z, Fitz and the Tantrums, Lez Zeppelin, Hall and Oates, and food from the likes of Boahaus, The Spotted Pig, Do or Dine, M. Wells, Colicchio and Sons, not to mention scheduled appearances by Anthony Bourdain, Tom Colicchio, April Bloomfield, Eddie Huang, and much more. With the summer right at our finger tips, New Yorkers were more than ecstatic to have a reason to hang in the park, drink, eat, and listen to music for free out in the sunshine. Unfortunately, the event proved to be disappointing for many of the festival goers, especially depending on which day you attended. Saturday kicked off just before noon with swarms of people infiltrating the park within just a matter of hours.
I arrived early for Naomi Shelton and the Gospel Queens, and also early enough to grab a bite to eat. I decided on Crawfish Monica, having been a regular attendee of New Orleans’ Jazz and Heritage festival where crawfish monica is a must have, I felt compelled to compare. Although it certainly was lacking in that special New Orleans mojo, I enjoyed it and was happy to indulge, while washing it down with a refreshing spicy watermelon lemonade from Colicchio and Sons. Due to heavy line traffic, I was unable to achieve another tasting without having to of had to sacrifice my music experience. By just after 1 p.m., the festival was packed with lines snaking past where the eye could see.
Volunteers acting as “line talkers” held signs reading things like “I’m here to wait with you, so we can relate on this issue,” and a countdown sign with the expected wait time from your place in line reading “Minutes till you’re up,” which in spite of the attempt to alleviate line anxiety, was hardly effective. However, for those who were more so there for music rather than food, getting close to a stage to check out your band of interest served a contrary experience. Not long after, vendors were running out of food, wine, beer, ID wristbands, and the cashless Googa cards (which were required in place of cash at both the craft beer and wine tent).
A personal highlight of the day was having the Preservation Hall Jazz Band here in Brooklyn who played the main stage at 3. To my dismay, the crowd for the band was sparse with most seeming more concerned with satisfying their “foodie” pleasures. Not until later in the evening, with the the Roots closing the day, did attendees take up interest in the music. As soon as the band hit the stage, everyone lost it and clouds of billowing smoke hovered over the masses.
In juxtaposition to Saturday, Sunday was far less hectic and frustrating. As to the reason why, I’m not sure if vendors had learned from their Saturday experience and expediently improved for the last day of the festival, or if the Roots being probably the largest drawing act, prompted those who couldn’t go both days to opt for Saturday, or if less people attended after having developed PTSD from Saturday’s “shit show.” Nonetheless, lines were moving pretty swiftly and were no where near as long as the day before (including food, beer, and bathrooms).
It also proved to be a rather stellar day for music, beginning with the amazing and ever so charismatic Charles Bradley and the Extraordinaires. If you’ve no idea about this soulful band, try to imagine James Brown and Al Green having a baby (as strange as that may sound). The day peaked with Peelander Z at the Hamageddon stage. The Hamageddon area, which had a revolving theme around pork, featured a larger than life boar made of metal, with a pig being roasted on a spit on the inside as well as a corner devoted to bacon.
Between sets, the stage featured an air guitar band staged by a dude dressed as a caveman (Air Guitar Champion of 2011) who paid tribute to MCA, “playing” “Fight for Your Right” and “No Sleep Till Brooklyn.” For those of you that missed Peelander Z…I’m sorry. All costumed in a garish theme of Power Rangers off to space, with helmets (one with plastic toy guns attached), shiny colored suits and bulky astronaut boots, each member was identified by their color (e.g. Peelander Yellow wears some kind of get up in yellow). Spouting out minimal lyrics to heavy guitar and bass led songs, they wooed the audience with a game of baseball, bowling, crowd limbo, and a congo line being lead by Peelander Red, the bass player for the band. Just when you thought you’d witnessed the greatest spectacle of the act, Peelander Red proceeded to climb atop the strip of port a potties, bass still strapped to his body, running across as though they were a train of many cars and finalizing the finale with a giant leap back into the crowd.
With the weekend coming to an end, but definitely not winding down, the soul/funk group Fitz and the Tantrums were the last band on the main stage to play before headliners Hall and Oates. I think it is arguable to say that Lez Zeppelin might have been the real headliners of the day. Although I was sad to have sacrificed the beginning of Hall and Oates, the momentum and fierce energy of the all female Led Zeppelin tribute band was impossible to escape. For Led Zeppelin fans — or those just vaguely familiar with their music — the female versions of Robert Plant and Jimmy Page were uncanny, while mesmerizing the audience to feel as though it were the real deal. All were dancing and singing along to every song. I have no real way to convey their awesomeness other than to strongly urge everyone to check them out.
Having missed part of Hall and Oates, I did have the unique experience of sneaking into Daryl Hall’s greenroom and borrowing a cup of red wine (sorry Daryl, and thank you). Food highlights would surely include but not limited to Do or Dine’s Foie Gras Doughnuts with Strawberry Cumin Jam, M. Wells’ Horse Bologna and Foie Gras Grilled Cheese Sandwich, Russ and Daughters Chocolate Babka, and the Bacon Flight.
Another aspect of the festival was the elitist version of Googa Mooga known as Extra Mooga, where those who purchased VIP passes for $250 were to be guaranteed unlimited drinks, food, and a separate section of music and food experiences which included seeing Anthony Bourdain, April Bloomfield butchering a pig, a New Orleans Brass Brunch with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, and much more. Unfortunately these folks were not excluded from the debacle of an insufficient supply of food and drink. However, it seemed unfair to offer this coinciding portion of the festival exclusive to the select few who could afford the admission. It would have been more fitting for this to have to taken place after the festival as an “after party” event.
It must be noted, that given the legitimacy of gripes about long lines and lack of supplies, the relentless complaints and harsh criticism of problems with the organization of the festival, as to what they should’ve/could’ve done to make the experience far more gratifying were a little overboard. Before making such entitled judgements, lets step back and ask some questions. A) Have you ever been to a festival? Aren’t they known for large crowds, long lines, and running out of things?, B) It’s their first year, right? Is it not safe to say that trial and error is to be expected?, C) It’s a festival with free entry and therefore free music, are you kidding me? When anything is free, it is always a guarantee to be a shit show….and it’s free!! Where else can you live that provides a summer luxury of SEVERAL free outdoor shows. I should say that New Yorkers are quite spoiled in that sense. It’s rather ungrateful, entitled, and privileged to complain about having to wait in long lines for beer and food while feeling deprived of not being able to overindulge as planned. Seriously.
Googa Mooga was neither a failure nor a success. It was a trial by error to hopefully prepare for more organized and improved versions for the following years. For the victims that survived this “unbearable” event which provoked them to spend their sunny weekend trapped in Prospect Park without being able to be as gluttonous as planned. I guess you’ve learned your lesson: Don’t go back. But I’m sure many of you will.
(Photos by Kyra Kverno.)