This Saturday, Queens held its second annual music festival, the only event of its kind in the borough (though for many this may have been nothing more than a free Lauryn Hill concert). It didn’t help that the festival had to compete with Central Park Summer Stage and bad weather. However, Louis Armstrong’s Wonderful World was an event that did its best to represent the borough, which besides offering good food (the festival was no different) and ethnic diversity (the performers were introduced in Spanish as well as English), helps to establish Queens as the historic mecca of jazz musicians that it once was. Not to mention the festival was walking distance from my house.
Technically speaking, Brooklyn opened up the festival with a performance by afrobeat all-stars Antibalas. They dedicated their set to the late Ornette Coleman and announced new music to be released later in the summer.
Shannon Powell’s Traditional All-Star Band went on after Antibalas and played a mix of New Orleans jazz and a few numbers dedicated to Louis Armstrong, including a version of “Jeepers Creepers.” The Rebirth Brass Band continued the trend and paid tribute to Louis Armstrong’s musical heritage and birthplace.
In between the performances, I had the opportunity to check out the Queens Museum, which featured DJ sets (shoutout to DJ Rehka) and a film of 1965 Louie Armstrong concert in East Berlin. The famous panorama exhibit was used to highlight the geographical history of jazz in New York City. The Theatre in the Park was also converted into an indoor beer garden, though it featured no performances and was more of an excuse to drink inside the park. It wouldn’t be a Queens music festival if the food wasn’t good so I’ll leave it at that. In addition, there were two sets of tents lined up for organizations sponsoring the festival and family oriented activities.
Ozomatli took the stage next, coming out from behind the curtain like the 1996 Chicago Bulls, theme music blaring as the rain began to come down harder than before. The funny thing is that despite being from Los Angeles, Ozomatli is basically a band from Queens in that they play so many different styles of music, feature members of different ethnic backgrounds, sing and rap in two languages, etc. What I’m trying to say is that we should adopt them…you know, if they would be open to it. Anyway, they played a strong, charismatic set before leaving the stage for Ms. Hill.
At this point, the inevitable doubts arose as to whether Ms. Hill would be arriving on time. Though technically, with over 25,000 tickets mailed to the general public, the audience was a bit late too as the park began to fill with people. Although Lauryn Hill was late, she did show up with an incredible fifteen piece band. The anticipation grew as soundcheck carried on. Then without introduction, she walked onstage and proceeded to deliver a beautiful set.
Overall, Louis Armstrong’s Wonderful World festival was the kind of event that is in the process of becoming something important in creating a legacy for the borough of Queens.
*photos by Néstor David Pastor