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The demise of Brooklyn's free summer concerts: blame Adams? gentrification? or tighter corporate wallets?

Annual free summer concerts in Coney Island, the Seaside Concert Series, and in Central Brooklyn, the Martin Luther King Jr. Concert Series, have been canceled this year, as the Brooklyn Reporter first reported (citing Facebook posts).

It's been interesting to see the responses, with some blaming current Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who in 2014 succeeded long-running BP (and series progenitor) Marty Markowitz and a few blaming gentrification, with others noting some bad debts accumulated by the sponsors. (Others pointed out that there are still a good number of free concerts.)

I suspect the issue is also significantly financial, given the previously stated difficulty in raising funds from corporate sponsors wary of scrutiny. In other words, when such sponsors managed to curry favor with the Borough President with little backlash, it was easier.

The sponsors' statement on Facebook, and at Brooklyn Concerts:
After over thirty years of free concerts in the summer, the Seaside Summer Concert Series and the Martin Luther King Jr. Concert Series will not be presenting any shows in the 2017 season.
We wish to thank our many corporate and product sponsors who have generously funded these concert series over the years, many of them from the beginning.
Thank you to the City and State elected officials for their support.
Thank you to the bands who have performed, the crews that put it all together and to all of the volunteers. And a special thank you to the hundreds of thousands of audience members that have attended and enjoyed these wonderful shows.
Though the direct connection is unclear, the announcement came one day after the New York Daily News and New York Post reported the two series had been sued by American Express for $36,000 in unpaid fees.

The role of the BP

Adams, in a statement, told Bklyner:
“I am vigorously working to identify and secure an organizer that can make free performances happen this summer in our communities,” said Boro President Eric Adams in a statement. “As I have shared in the past, the Office of the Brooklyn Borough President has no control over either concert series; they have been run by independent non-profit organizations that determined the number of shows each year and who would perform in those shows.”
That's a wee bit disingenous. Consider the press release, from July 2016 and excerpted at right, announcing Adams as host of the series.

As one Bklyner commenter put it sardonically:
Let me understand this. When they were free, they were the Borough President’s concerts. Now that they are no longer free or are no longer held, the Borough President has nothing to do with these concerts because they are run by independent non-profit corporations. Typical political double talk.
Well, especially with Markowitz, the nexus was pretty clear. As the New York Times reported in October 2011:
Besides Best of Brooklyn, the Markowitz groups are Camp Brooklyn, the Martin Luther King Jr. Concert Series and the Seaside Summer Concert Series. The charities do not pay Mr. Markowitz a salary, but all four have close ties to the borough president’s office, functioning almost as quasi-governmental units, the interviews and city records show.
Two of Mr. Markowitz’s aides work both in the borough president’s office and at the charities.
In May 2011, Bklyner reported:
“While the shows are in a slightly different location, tens of thousands of Brooklynites and all New Yorkers will still get the same high quality, free concerts on Thursday evenings this summer. Mayor Bloomberg, the City Council led by Speaker Quinn and Coney Island’s own Councilman Domenic Recchia were unwavering partners in our efforts to keep the concerts in Coney Island,” said a joint statement issued by Markowitz and Seaside Summer Concert Series Executive Director/Producer Debra Garcia.
A change in 2016

Last summer, the Ford Amphitheater opened for concerts in Coney, funded significantly by Markowitz's allocations. As I wrote, the summer concert season in Coney Island was both bigger and smaller than when Markowitz was in charge, though that's wasn't quite Adams's fault. The venue was bigger, but only three shows would offer 1,000 free tickets.

“When we call up these corporate entities and say, ‘Listen, we want these free concerts for the residents of Coney Island and Flatbush,’ they have already read stories and say, ‘We don’t want to donate to those anymore,’"Adams told the Brooklyn Paper, which said "Adams blamed overzealous good-government groups for creating a chilling affect among sponsors."

Oh sure, as I wrote. Good-government groups in New York City are not too strong. Maybe he meant federal prosecutors.

Comments from the public

It's a sign of what the public expects from borough presidents, the comments on Facebook for both Seaside and MLK. Some excerpts:

  • Sad news. I bet Marty Markowitz would have handled this differently.
  • We want Marty back...even with his non stop banter!!!
  • I went to these.for years.. sounds like classic city politics and $$. Bullshit ! This is about for profit cos muzzling in on.what WAS a terrific NYC tradition..Gone are days when our own Marty Markowitz would introduce superb FREE acts like Patti LaBelle, B-52's, Donna Summer, Liza Minnelli ! Alas.. a changing city ! Profits over community ! Hopefully we'll get a REAL political leadership that can advocate for the average New Yorker !!
  • The minute they built that amphitheater I knew the free concerts were gone. Saw so many bands there. It was awesome. Political Greed always gets in the way. Bring back Marty!!!!!!!
  • The dismantling and rebranding of my Brooklyn continues. :-(
  • These shows were phenomenal! Thanks Marty Markowitz for the memories: Toni Braxton, Babyface, The Leverts, Gladys Knight, Angela Winbush, Curtis Blow, Big Daddy Kane, The Manhattans and sooo many more great acts I was blessed to witness perform live there over the years. Other than that tragic night (I was there for that too) when Curtis Mayfield was paralyzed by a stage pole which fell on him during a storm, there was never any problems due to the well-respected Nation of Islam security detail. These shows don't appeal to the new Brooklyn demographic though, so I doubt they will ever be back in the same format. :-/
  • Politically this may harm Eric Adams. Marty Markowitz made it his business to be at each concert in Wingate Park every summer. He was a "hype man" of sorts and people loved him.
  • I knew the minute that arrogant lil peanut head dude was elected that it was going down the 
  • So Gentrification and The NEW People have found it Undesirable. That is why it is ending. Don't sugarcoat it or insult us.

Comments

  1. marty has held us down for 30+yrs and the here comes eric adams destroying everything marty built for our people and with him being a black man is suppose to be for the people, how do you think he got in ofc. us the people!!!! but it seems u just want the title and the paycheck but do nothing to earn it. I'd would love to have marty back he is for the people, I guess that's why you don't like him. we love him he was always available for the people

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    Replies
    1. For the people: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/25/nyregion/for-brooklyn-leader-marty-markowitz-mix-of-business-charity-and-power.html

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