NEW YORK – What started as a way for musicians to get out of the house during the pandemic has turned into nightly concerts in Brooklyn'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, couldn't be happier.
“One 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, 'Thank you!' And then it took a life on its own,” said Alegba Jahyile, 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.
“You made my day,” she told him. “It'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.”
It was then, he said, “I decided that every day I would come here.”
Prospect Park is Central Park's lesser-known, outer-borough sister. 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. New York City is in the second phase of reopening, and gatherings are restricted to 10 people or less.
“I think everyone just kind of needs that literal breath of fresh air,” said one fan, Jackie Padilla. “But also just hearing them reminds you that it's still summertime, and we still can be a community.”
After each performance, as the musicians leave, “people on the steps say, 'Thank you for doing this. I haven't heard live music in months,'” saxophonist Mark Kraszeswki said. “Ironically for us, if there were just three people, we would still be doing the same thing.”