NEW YORK (AP) – What started as a way for two musicians to get out of the house during the pandemic has turned into nightly concerts at the boathouse in Brooklynâ€™s Prospect Park — with fans who expect them to play three to four hours a night, seven nights a week.
The musicians, accustomed to playing their Haitian roots and jazz music in bars and restaurants that had been shuttered or limited to takeout by the lockdown, couldnâ€™t be happier.
â€œOne day I came here with my guitar out of nowhere, to just get some fresh air. And people just started coming over. And then they were like, â€˜Thank you!â€™ And then it took a life on its own,â€ said Alegba Jahyile, leader of Alegba and Friends.
Jahyile, a Haitian raised in New York who plays guitar, drums and bass, recalled a woman who cried at one concert.
â€œYou made my day,â€ she told him. â€œItâ€™s been a terrible week for me and my family. Listening to you, singing, I felt the joy, I found a little bit of serenity, of peace to my day.â€
It was then, Jahyile said, that â€œI decided that every day I would come here.â€
Classically trained saxophone player Mark Kraszewski has played with Jahyile for more a year. But Kraszewski, who was busking for tips in Central Park last September, canâ€™t believe the groupâ€™s good fortune.
â€œInitially when we started, it was just us playing. We were just practicing and jamming and having fun with it,â€ he said. â€œEvery once in a while, weâ€™d end a song and we noticed people were clapping. Alegba quickly realized that the Prospect Park boathouse would be a better spot than the park entrance,â€ where people had no place to sit.
Prospect Park is Central Parkâ€™s lesser-known, outer-borough sister, designed as well by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. With so many people out of work, – with no school, no camp and for most, no vacation homes to escape to – the park has become a daily escape. On weekdays, itâ€™s as crowded as Memorial Day or July 4, especially in the early evening when the group performs.
Situated on whatâ€™s known as the Lullwater, a winding park waterway, the Beaux-Arts style 1905 boathouse has steps that are good for sitting. Itâ€™s also adjacent to a grassy hill where people can bring children and dogs, spread blankets, plop down lounge chairs, and picnic while listening to the music.
â€œI think everyone just kinds of needs that literal breath of fresh air,â€ said one fan, Jackie Padilla. â€œBut also just hearing them reminds you that itâ€™s still summertime, and we still can be a community.â€
Said Jahyile: â€œWhen people come here, they come to have a little good time, to have a picnic with their family, their friends, their lovers. And then the music takes them to another level. So, it becomes a daily thing.â€
People ask him, â€œâ€™Are you going to be here tonight?â€ And I say, â€˜Yes. This is your daily rendezvous until the next snowflakes. I will be here.â€™
Kraszeswki has his own take: After each performance, as the musicians leave, â€œpeople on the steps say, â€˜Thank you for doing this. I havenâ€™t heard live music in months.â€™ Ironically for us, if there were just three people, we would still be doing the same thing.â€
New York City is in the second phase of reopening and gatherings are restricted to 10 people or less.
The constant work is good for the bandâ€™s music. â€œWe get to keep working on our skills and on our sound while also building an audience, turning our music on to new people,â€ Kraszewski said. It has become, he said, â€œour own self-generated concert residency in Prospect Park.â€
And the crowds are enthusiastic. â€œWeâ€™ve had really lively concerts that rival where we would have been playing in bars and clubs. Some nights itâ€™s better,â€ Kraszeswki said.
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