Summer Concerts, Art and the new Fascism of NYC

Summer’s coming to an end but every year the hot months spent in the city are a great time for good music and free shows. This year I’ve been roaming the parks looking for good music and found some really good one and, as always, some less interesting one… In my quest for fresh sounds at open air public gatherings I’ve gotten increasingly frustrated with some of the rules and attitudes at these events.

First of all, what is up with the no water bottles policy at Summer Stage? It is 100 degrees for chrissake! How can you ask people not to bring water? If anything, water should be distributed for free if ask me (especially if they insist on enforcing this ridiculous rule)! Not sure if they do it because they want you to buy their water or because they think you’ll fill your Poland String bottle with grappa or with liquid explosive? With hundreds of people in that heat, somebody might dehydrate and just pass out! Who’s fault is it going to be? We’ll have to ask a good lawyer!

Then there is photography… At Central Park I used my long lens SLR camera to take some shots from the front row and nobody said a thing. At Prospect Park, while I was just shooting birds between shows, some staff member on a power trip told me to put the camera away because, I quote, “long lenses are not allowed”! Since when are they making a separation? I have a point and shoot camera with an optical zoom that is bigger than the long lens I have on my SLR! I walked around reading the signs and all they said was that flash photography was not allowed. The same thing was said on stage by the announcer. Nobody said anything about non-flash photography with long lenses! No announcements and no signs. I contacted Celebrate Brooklyn through their website but I received no answer. I just wonder what they are going to do in 5 or 10 years when there will be 15mpx 25x optical zoom camera phones or pen-shaped cameras that fit in the palm of a hand…

Finally there is the crackdown on freedom of body movements and shows of love. The other day I went to Pier 54 on West 14th Street and watched John Lee Hooker Jr and a a few other artists on the bill of the 8th annual Blues BBQ under the light rain of that afternoon. Outside this Hudson River Park organized event the list of “don’ts” was longer than the list of performers on the stage! I could not believe my eyes when I saw these private security employees that were telling people not to dance… Are we serious? Is this what it has come down to? People are having a good time and happen to feel like swinging their bodies and shuffling their feet and some nazi security guard tells them not to? Their argument was that people are not supposed to dance in the middle corridor between the seating, but that corridor was really wide, there were no cables on the floor and on BOTH the exterior sides of the two seating areas the staff and security had two extra corridors.

I am telling you: these security policies and attitudes are the new fascism of today and the new real threat to art and to its wide-spread diffusion. What are they gonna do next? Tell you that you must wear shoes on the Park’s grass? Kick you out cause you are kissing your partner? Chain concert goers to the Park benches and seating so they won’t move? (oh wait, they are not gonna do that because they do want people to go buy overpriced drinks and food at the concession stands! right! just walk there slowly, do not dare running there or dancing your way to the food stands!) Maybe they’ll burn all the books at the library because readers are not sitting up straight enough in their chairs? These are the new fascists of our time and the new obstacles to future’s generation peaceful fruition of art, community spirit and events attendance. Shame on them!

I don’t remember the name of the security company (I believe it is a three letter acronym) but I am pretty sure it is the same people who handle security at Central Park Summer Stage and THEY SUCK. My beef is not necessarily with them as a company or with their employees, but with what event security has come to mean and be today. First of all their bag check is absolutely useless and ridiculous! Even more ineffective than the ones they do at airports. At airports, where the terrorism threat is real, they do a lousy job at checking bags but at least there is a metal detector and they try to feel the contents of the bag. At the parks they look inside and you could have literally ANYTHING in there in any of the side pockets or just covered under a newspaper or what not and you’ll get through no problem! And if you happen to be a skateboarded you are totally out of luck! You cannot go in unless you surrender your “vehicle”. I’ve seen people part with so much stuff just to get in after they stood in line for an hour… Mostly perfectly harmless stuff. Sad indeed! Seriously now: how many terrorists do you know that are interested in attending concerts or blowing up big crowds, it’s not like the concert is in the Gaza Strip!

I am not advocating no security at all, but I’d like to see smart security employing smart and effective methods. And I’d like them to focus on the important things (prevent weapons to make it into the park, don’t waste time trying to prevent people from dancing if that’s what they wanna do: after all they went to the park to have a good time)! But the reality is that as always we need to wait for something bad to happen and we won’t smarten up until then. Sad.

Between 9/11 and Giuliani’s own doing, NY has become a city of rules and regulations and has lost a lot of what used to make NY a great city. Very often I feel like I am in a fascist state (I am not even gonna talk about the rules at the beaches). Terrorism is used as an excuse for anything nowadays. All these rules to prevent or control public gatherings along with the completely anachronistic enforcement of the even more anachronistic Cabaret Laws need to stop. Authorities need to chill out and leave the kids alone to focus on some more important stuff!

What happened to NYC? I’ve only lived here 10 years and I barely recognize its spirit! I can’t even imagine how a long time resident must feel about all of this.

Don’t let the good-time killers win! Peace, love and rock’n’roll!

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