Under-the-radar NYC music fests thrive in local focus

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Frontman of The Walkmen, Hamilton Leithauser, performing at Northside’s free outdoor stage in Brooklyn on June 15.

In a city where live music is at a surplus on any day of the week, its not surprising that traditional summer music festivals often fall by the wayside in New York. A number of festivals in the greater NYC area have grown and died in recent years: Catalpa, ATP New York, Music to Know and Escape to NY, to name a few. Even Governor’s Ball, which featured Kanye West and Kings of Leon, received backlash this year due to flooding and grounds problems.

Two festivals in Brooklyn are on a path to change that by utilizing the local music scene — and crafting a fest within the limitations of city life. Northside Festival, a four-day music discovery festival organized by The L Magazine, and the D.I.Y.-oriented, musician-run three day Hillstock Festival, took place on the past two weekends, respectively, with success.

Both of the festivals are nonintrusive and mostly free or low-cost. While Northside takes place in small rock clubs and spaces in northern Brooklyn, Hillstock takes advantage of backyards and parks in the Clinton Hill neighborhood. And, for the most part, both showcase local music at the forefront.

Northside is Brooklyn’s answer to Manhattan’s CMJ in its emphasis on music discovery. Locally Amped didn’t get to see any acts we hadn’t heard of beforehand, but we did catch promising sets by psych-tinged rising Boston act Krill and local favorite jangle-rockers The Beets over the weekend. The Walkmen and Solange, who both have Brooklyn roots, headlined the free outdoor main stage with enthusiastic early evening sets.

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Brooklyn’s Pow Wow! play a midday set on a blocked-off street during do-it-yourself oriented Hillstock Festival in Brooklyn on June 22.

Hillstock prides itself on being nonprofit, grassroots and truly do-it-yourself. It began in 2009, the same year as Northside, and the bill reads as a who’s who in the local music scene. On Saturday, a stage in the middle of the street in addition to two backyard stages showcased 16 bands. Alt-country act GunFight! stood out among the locals, while the highly recommended Providence, RI-based brass collective What Cheer? Brigade finished off the night with a raucous, high energy set.

All of the acts that played these festivals (as well as headlining acts at the major festivals like Lollapalooza and Coachella, for that matter) do play gigs in New York regularly. What makes Northside and Hillstock valuable as music festivals in New York is to celebrating the local music community, in the same way that a major music festival celebrates a national music community.


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