Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times
Preparations at the new Beach at Governors Island, which is set to open July 11 with a concert by Dark Star Orchestra, include building a food concession area and spreading 300 tons of sand.
It was the third year of concerts in McCarren Park Pool, the disused 1930s public swimming hole on the Williamsburg-Greenpoint border, and they had begun to feel like an institution. Each Sunday afternoon the shows drew thousands of the young and fashionably dressed, yet the buzz-kill of mortality hung over them: McCarren was destined to become a real pool again, so the parties needed to find a new home. But where?
After months of scrambling with city and state authorities, Jelly, the promotion company behind the Pool Parties, has just announced this summer’s series, at East River State Park, an appropriately raw seven-acre stretch of the Williamsburg waterfront. The shows — all of them free, thanks to the very visible participation of corporate sponsors — will begin July 12, with Mission of Burma as the headliner, and continue each Sunday through Aug. 30.
The bad news: no more Slip ’N Slide.
The good news is that there’s more good news about this summer’s concert season. In addition to the long-running, blue-chip series like Central Park SummerStage and Celebrate Brooklyn!, which have already begun, this week funkier events like Seaport Music at South Street Seaport return. Thanks to the ingenuity and one-upmanship of local concert promoters, yet more concerts are turning up in the most unusual and amazing places.
Perhaps the most amazing, and certainly most unusual, is Governors Island, the former military base that has been under gradual transformation into an arts and recreation area. A major new concert space begins there this summer: the Beach at Governors Island, which opens July 11, with the Dark Star Orchestra, a fastidiously faithful Grateful Dead tribute band. Bookings continue into October, with the B-52s, Mos Def and Erykah Badu.
The Beach, on the north side of Governors Island, features an actual beach, or at least a kind of sandbox, with 300 tons of sand imported from Long Island. Its biggest attraction, however, is the view, one of the most awesome in the city, with the towers of Lower Manhattan shooting into the sky just a few thousand feet away and the full expanse of New York Harbor all around.
For a certain kind of music fan, though, the biggest news is the return of the Pool Parties, which for three years functioned as both an important concert series and a social nexus. With the help of the Open Space Alliance for North Brooklyn, a nonprofit group that works in partnership with the Parks Department, East River State Park was secured for the concerts as part of a broader plan to keep the indie and eclectic spirit of McCarren alive.
The riverside park and its surrounding area, like McCarren Park, is emblematic of the area’s cultural and economic evolution. A former shipping terminal, the lot fell into neglect and squalor, and was eventually acquired by the state. Half green and half concrete, it still has the feel of an industrial-era ruin, but all around it are luxury apartment buildings, so new that some are still under construction.
For the concerts there will be room for 6,000 on two long concrete slabs, plus space for 1,500 or more on the surrounding grass, said Stephanie Thayer, the executive director of the alliance. The bookings are strong, with indie-rock stars like the Black Lips, Dirty Projectors, Fiery Furnaces, Girl Talk and Grizzly Bear. Unlike previous years, though, there will not be ticketed shows by big promoters like Live Nation and AEG Live. And this year’s concerts arrive with an expiration date: after this summer another spot must be found.
For months the lineup for this year’s Pool Parties has been the worst-kept secret in the local music scene. But most fans don’t know the difficulties that stood in the way, and how close the concerts may have come to not happening.
In an interview Sarah Hooper, 28, and Alexander Kane, 33, the owners of Jelly (formerly known as JellyNYC), explained their plans for the Pool Parties. When they put the first season together in 2006, they had experience with club shows but nothing on such a scale. They knew they had a phenomenon on their hands midway through the first summer once they checked Craigslist the day after a packed Deerhoof show. “There were all these missed connections from people at the pool: ‘I saw you by the Slip ’N Slide,’ ” Ms. Hooper said with a hearty laugh.
They had an ambitious plan to expand to San Francisco this summer and booked eight weekends there. But those shows were abruptly canceled, and Ms. Hooper and Mr. Kane say they lost $150,000. They blame prohibitively high expenses, but also hint at conflicts with local promoters in San Francisco. “We were definitely the new kids on the block,” Ms. Hooper said, “and that doesn’t always go so well.”