Last year, the first Great Googa Mooga touched down upon Brooklyn’s Prospect Park with the hope to establish a new tradition – an annual celebration of food and music in the grassy expanses of the Nethermeads and an escape from the bustling city beyond the trees. The two day festival was blessed with cloudless skies and summer-like temperatures months ahead of schedule in its first year. Throngs of people came out with voracious appetites, perhaps more than anyone could have imagined for the inaugural Googa Mooga. The demand for food and drink outweighed the supply and long lines became the norm throughout the weekend. If you got there early or simply had patience than you were treated to a smorgasbord of delights, however there was much negative backlash, much of it directed at the food ticketing process and the VIP amenities (or lack thereof). By the second day of the festival in 2012, many of the kinks had been worked out to some extent, and those in attendance were treated to a stellar lineup of music to go with their food, capped off by a headlining set by Hall and Oates that had people of all generations dancing along.
Superfly Presents, the organizers of Googa Mooga and the same folks that brought us Bonnaroo and Outside Lands, were listening closely to what people had to say about the first year and did their best to make amends by refunding over $1 million to everybody who purchased tickets to the VIP experience. They vowed to return bigger and better and last week we saw the 2013 vision of Googa Mooga come to life. In addition to the free tickets that were distributed via lottery system for Saturday and Sunday, tickets were now offered at a reasonable price for a Friday concert which included bigger music acts such as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Flaming Lips, and the Darkness. Food vendors were much more prepared for the hungry hordes ready to be fed and all food vendors now accepted cash rather than the ticketing system from last year, ultimately keeping lines moving much quicker. With Friday off to a great start and many of the flaws from the previous year worked out, it seemed as if Googa Mooga was on it’s way to a great 2013 – at least until Mother Nature decided to weigh in. With a forecast that seemingly changed for the worse by the minute festival goers that were expecting some sun on Saturday instead had to endure some light rain and chillier than expected temperatures. Those who made it out to Prospect Park on Sunday must have been even more disappointed when the festival was prematurely closed before noon due to persistent rain and despite being a ‘Rain or Shine’ event.
While it is unfortunate that we were deprived of one day of Googa Mooga, we still had plenty of time to take it all in. We were there on Saturday, May 18th for a full day of food, drink, and fun. Those who made it early on were fortunate enough to catch Lee Fields & the Expressions who opened up on the Nethermead Stage at 11:3o am. The R&B music that drifted through the trees made it easy to find the festival site in the middle of Prospect Park as many continued to arrive. It was difficult to pull yourself away from the tunes and find your first meal of the day, fortunately many of the vendors were aligned on both sides of the main stage. Over 85 top restaurants were represented, each serving something special.
There is no doubt about it, food is the main attraction at Googa Mooga. At no point was this more apparent than in the afternoon, when people first became acquainted with the festival site and found the restaurant stalls of their choice. A very helpful mobile app was released weeks before Googa Mooga allowing people to view all of the vendors as well as a description of their menu and prices. With so many New York staples as well as a few choice out of town selections such as L.A.’s Umami Burger and New Orleans’ Crawfish Monica it was important to familiarize yourself with the layout of the festival in order to make the best meal decisions possible. Having a few friends on hand to share with also made it much easier to spread yourself across the grounds.
Many came with blankets and claimed their spots on the great lawn early on. Walking through the fields you couldn’t help but stop and talk to strangers typically resulting in the questions “what is that?”, and “where did you get that?.” The other thing you couldn’t help but notice at this festival were the kids. Many young families could be spotted throughout the Googa Mooga. Unlike many other festivals, kids are encouraged here and there proved to be several diversions such as an arts and crafts area, lawn games, and even some fresh mud to play in. Throughout the afternoon, artists such as Sharon Von Etten and Father John Misty continued to provide music to please the crowd at the Nethermead Stage as a light rain continued to pass over.
On the opposite side of the festival grounds stood the Joe’s Pub Stage shuffled between appearances and talks with celebrated chefs and musical performances. This back area by Joe’s Pub included even more food vendors as well as a more intimate setting to gather around. A distinctly New Orleans feel fell upon Googa Mooga at 2:15. Jon Batiste & Stay Human took the stage at this stage and the Crescent City native mixed in a number of NOLA standards as well as other material to help create a very festive scene. People wouldn’t allow the rain to dampen their fun, and you could find umbrellas bobbing up and down throughout the set. Not long after this set started you could hear brass music coming from the nearby American Express Tent. Not only did this tent provide a dry shelter, but it also served as host to giveaways, food and drink demonstrations and performances. The Soul Rebels moved the New Orleans party to the tent when they took to the stage there. The tent had already been packed with people seeking refuge from the rain, after the 8 piece brass band came on you could feel the ground underneath you shaking in delight.
Another interesting feature from Googa Mooga this year was the Renaissance Fair which was tucked behind the Nethermeads Stage. After passing through a section of overgrown trees which provided a forest like backdrop it was as if you had stepped back in time 800 years. And they were playing Daft Punk. Dozens of people were outfitted in medieval clothing as DJ’s continued to create a unique party atmosphere complete with sword fights and guillotines. Being situated near meats on sticks certainly helped lend to the feeling as well.
Back on the Nethermead stage a crowd was gathering for Italian Superstar, Jovanotti. The singer/rapper had plenty of fans very excited and you can find many peoplesinging along in his native tongue. Even for those who couldn’t understand the meaning of the words coming from his mouth, there was much to enjoy as the music spanned all types of genres and styles. Jovanotti was followed by Brooklyn natives Matt & Kim who were clearly excited to be headlining the day’s festivities in front of the New York crowd. A tremendous amount of energy is poured into each one of their shows as they mix in all of their hits with other party songs such as “Better Off Alone” and “Let Me Clear My Throat.”
If Saturday night were to have been the conclusion of the festival, we would have had mostly great things to say about Googa Mooga 2013. Unfortunately, a whole other day of festivities was scheduled for Sunday. Kool & the Gang, De La Soul, the Cults, members of LCD Soundsystem, and more were all slated to perform. Despite an even wetter forecast than previous days, plenty of people still showed up at the opening hours of the festival only to find that they were being held at the gates.
An announcement was made shortly after noon through Googa Mooga’s social media outlets saying that the decision had been made to cancel the remainder of the festival. It was clear to the people on the grounds at Prospect Park that many improvements had been made from the previous year. Unfortunately many people who were only attending on Sunday were unable to see them. While the weather is something that is completely out of the hands of any festival organizer, better means of communication could have been used; hopefully this will be another learning point for the future.
By Jesse Zryb
OurVinyl | Senior Writer & Photographer