Joy on Fire at the Storied Grounds of Tompkins Square Park

After seven weeks away from our home in Greensboro, North Carolina, Anna and I finally came home in early July. Looking back at all the good gigging and recording and jamming that Anna, Chris, and I did in the Northeast from May to June, the gig that stands out for me is International Make Music Day, June 27, which, for Joy on Fire, and thanks to Corinna Makris, who acquired the permit (this permit plays an important role in the story), took place in Tompkins Square Park, NYC.

As per circumstances—an early morning uncancellation of the gig due to sunshine after a late-night cancellation due to thunderstorms, Chris’s car being in the shop, etc.—we got a late start, and with the gas generator pull-started and roaring and coughing and spewing exhaust and creating a rhythm all its own while powering our amps, we were set up and ready to play by 2:40pm. A crowd had already begun to form, and in this crowd, beside the street punks, weed dealers, families eating ice-cream, and at least one guy on a unicycle, was a man who worked for the NYC Parks Department. He asked if we had a permit. Corinna was ready for him and brandished the permit. “This is only good to three o’clock,” he said. “You’ll have to shut down by three.” We debated this, but he was insistent. It was now 2:45. With wide eyes we looked at each other. This was surely a lot of set-up and all kinds of other work for a fifteen-minute gig. On the other hand, it definitely created a sense of urgency.

We brought this urgency into our playing and blasted into a stomping version of our opening number, “Le Phant.” By the time we were done with our second tune, “The Spider’s House,” the crowd had grown to twice its original size, photos were being snapped, and people were taking videos and dancing—and we had two minutes left to play. We only have one piece that fits this short format, so Anna switched from alto to baritone sax as quickly as she could, and we played “Punk Jazz,” a tune with a head, a solo, and then the head again, and that’s it.

It was now three. The Parks Department Guy was nowhere to be seen. With the crowd’s encouragement (they knew the score) and to their enjoyment, we kept playing. By the time we made it to “Disco Metal,” the last song in our set, Parks Department Guy, with his arms crossed, was once again part of the audience. Though he insisted on cutting us off as per his badge, he seemed to enjoy what he heard, and when it was all over, the members of the crowd dispersing on their ways to the rest of their New York City days, we gave him a CD.

-John Paul Carillo

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