bill bodkin previews the third installment of the 10-night festival of jazz, funk, bowling and soul food in Brooklyn …
A 10-night stand of soul music in a bowling alley in the middle of Brooklyn. It sounds like an absurd notion. But it works. It works beautifully.
Since 2010, the revered jazz/funk trio Soulive has partnered up with the equally revered music venue, bowling alley and soul food restaurant, The Brooklyn Bowl to create an event called Bowlive. A 10-night stand where musical genres come together in harmonious matrimony, where the best musicians in the world gather to jam and where the crowds come out — and they pack the joint — to dance their asses off.
Thanks to the wonderful people at The Brooklyn Bowl, Royal Family Records and Calabro Music Media, Pop-Break.com had the privilege of attending Bowlive II’s final night last year.
The scene was surreal and electric. First, you’re floored by the sheer size and scope of The Brooklyn Bowl. It’s gigantic yet still maintains this really hip, intimate club vibe. People are bustling about, whether they’re grabbing Brooklyn Beer at the bar or waiting online to get into the Blue Ribbon (an excellent soul food franchise in New York) restaurant — there’s just non-stop movement.
Then you enter the main section of the venue — to your right, a full-fledged bowling alley. Hipsters and families mingling together, sitting on plush leather benches while movies and nature documentaries fill up the massive video walls behind the pins. Then to your left you see it, the ginormous concert area. The walls are lined with picnic benches, allowing for people to have some delicious grub before the show. Moments before the show, the benches are removed maximizing the concert space even more.
On the night in question, we were all taken by surprise when Soulive brought not only their usual cast of characters — The Nigel Hall Band and members of Lettuce on stage to jam but names like American Idol winner Taylor Hicks and the lead guitarist from Incubus, who dropped in unannounced to perform. The high-energy set of Soulive had people up and down the crowded venue moving and grooving with every beat.
And they do this for 10 nights. The insane energy and passion that not only Soulive, but the venue has for an event like this is commendable and something to be seen.
In fact, if you talk to Brooklyn Bowl owner Pete Shapiro about the length of the run, he says, “It’s something you should see more than once because it only gets better as the run goes on.”
Speaking of Shapiro, Pop-Break got to speak with the man behind The Brooklyn Bowl and the man who in the near future will be re-opening and reinvigorating the long dormant Capitol Theater in Port Chester, N.Y. We talked with Shapiro about the impetus of Bowlive, some of his favorite memories and buying shots for 600 people.
Pop-Break: Let’s talk about how the idea for doing a 10 night stand with Soulive at The Brooklyn Bowl came about.
Pete Shapiro: We opened Brooklyn Bowl in July 2009, and maybe it was [the same month] that Jeff Krasno, who manages Soulive and is [Soulive guitarist Eric Krasno's] brother, and has managed them a long and I probably met Soulive in ’98 or whenever they started as a band, which was ’98, ’99. So I’ve known them since the beginning and we’ve always been good friends and I’ve become good friends with the band, that just happens from working so many shows with the band. So, Jeff and I were talking — he said to me, ‘I want to do something really special. What would be really special?’ And I remember where I was, I was on 57th street walking into that Citibank on the corner of Park Avenue … I remember exactly where I was, isn’t that weird? And then I said, ‘Ten shows. That’s what I think what would really stand out and be unique and fun.’ So we did it that first March of the club’s first year, that’s March 2010, and it just worked from the beginning.
So I’m excited that it’s starting up. It’s like going into another mode, it’s like throwing a two week party but a big one. It’s fun, last year I went to nine of them and the year before nine of them. I don’t know if I’ll keep up my nine streak, but I’m going to give it a shot.
PB: After you had the idea, were you nervous? Was there a fear of ‘Can we actually make this work?’
PS: Yeah, yeah definitely there were moments where we were like, ‘Hmmm … I wonder if this is a good idea?’ There were probably moments when Brooklyn Bowl was being built and you’d stop and you’d look around and you’d be like, ‘Huh … I wonder if this was a good idea. I hope we fill it.’ And there were definitely with Brooklyn Bowl that said, ‘This is a really a large space in this area, you’ll have to fill it to make it feel right, for it to be warm.’ Because you can only have a great show when the energy’s right and you can fill a room. Brooklyn Bowl works so well because of the scale of it and because of size of it — it’s a great hang. And that’s the reason the whole Bowlive thing works — because it’s a hang. People will come multiple nights, and it won’t feel repetitive. So [sometimes] you gotta try shit to see if it works.
PB: What is it about Soulive that you personally like about the band?
PS: A good groove doesn’t get old. And they’re really good at being able to hit good grooves. Even if they’ll play a song they’ve played at a previous Bowlive or a couple songs from before, it just doesn’t get old. And their songs are like one weaving ride. It’s like a road trip. When it’s really nice out and the top’s down or the window’s are open and the music is on, it’s the type of music you’re going to put on every time you’re on the road. There’s certain types of music that work for that, and Soulive is one of them. So the fun part is making it out to multiple shows.
How many shows did you get to last year?
PB: Just the one last year.
PS: Try to make it out to a couple this time. That’s the cool thing I think, if you go to several to get the maximum experience.
PB: Bowlive is known for its special guests. Who were some that really blew you away?
PS: Bernie Worrell last year took the ‘Flashlight’ solo — you know that opening funk solo, here’s a guy who’s been going at it for 40 plus years, and he just nailed that opening. I mean, it’s his line, he’s from Parliament Funkadelic, but he was just so good.
That night, I happened to be standing by the side of the stage by right between lanes three and four. The way we built Brooklyn Bowl is that those lanes by the side of the stage are a fun place to watch a show. See, if you’re the manager of a band or are standing at the side of stage, the guitar tech or the road manager will need something. They’re probably going to be like, ‘Can you move?’ At The Brooklyn Bowl at those side lanes, you can stand there with a beer, and you’ll be closer to the stage than if you were a manager of a band at a gig where you can’t really stand there and zone in. So I was standing there and Bernie Worrell is three feet away from and we’re standing next to each. And he nailed ‘Flashlight,’ and the room just erupted.
There’s an energy that takes over the room on a good Bowlive night. And that’s why I hope we get to do it for many years to come.
Did you ever hear the story of me last year with the shot glasses? The first night last year, I wanted to do something cool. The first year went so well and we’re doing it again! So what do you do to thank the guys in the band? So I decided to host everyone in the room, about 600 people, a shot of tequila to welcome them to Bowlive II. So we distributed the shots around, lifted it up and wishes the second run good luck.
And let the readers know: [Bowlive] is something you need to see more than once because it only gets better as the run goes on.”
The line-up for Bowlive III is:
Soulive w/ John Scofield & Luther Dickinson
Soulive w/ John Scofield & Luther Dickinson
Soulive w/ Rahzel & Karl Denson + Questlove’s Bowlive Train (DJ Set)
Opening set by Rahzel
Soulive w/ Jennifer Hartswick & Karl Denson
Opening set by Alecia Chakour Band
Soulive w/ Marco Benevento & Jennifer Hartswick
Opening set by Nigel Hall Band
Soulive w/ Lettuce, Skerik, Zach Deputy & Allen Stone
Opening set by Zach Deputy
Soulive w/ Lettuce, Skerik & Zach Deputy
Opening set by Zach Deputy
Soulive w/ Citizen Cope, Alice Smith, George Porter, Jr. & Billy Martin + Questlove’s Bowlive Train (DJ Set)
Soulive w/ George Porter, Jr.
Opening set by Alecia Chakour & Nigel Hall
Soulive w/ TBA
with opening set by The London Souls