In just 12 short years, Afropunk now is experiencing the problem of growing pains
Who isn't proud of the success of AfroPunk? In just 12 short years since its founding in 2005, the festival has grown to become a global phenomenon. Not only has the festival achieved its original goal of effectively highlighting black punk culture in America, it has served as a catalyst for amplifying the voices and the struggle of African people worldwide.
Through art, fashion, music and activism, the festival has presented a key opportunity to showcase the diversity of Black American culture, a middle finger to all those who continually paint the black community as a monolith absent of vicissitude and range...
However, in recent years, the festival that takes place in Brooklyn has experienced a growing problem: It's too crowded. Afropunk is experiencing growing pains... like a 12-year-old kid who hit puberty and suddenly needs a new pair of pants.
"I can't get into it as much this year because of how crowded it is," said Grace Figman, a Queens resident who said it was her third year in a row attending. She was waiting in a food line inside of the park. "What happened? Did they oversell tickets? I don't know, but it has changed the experience for me. I can't move around or relax anywhere. It feels like it's set up for young kids, not adults."
New Yorkers actually are used to crowds and so have a pretty high tolerance for crowded outdoor music festivals. But Saturday, August 26, during the Solange performance was a breaking point for apparently quite a few of its participants.
Walking from the Sza performance over to the green stage where Solange was about to go on, the crowd was so thick and congested, I witnessed two separate squabbles between people who complained they were being shoved.
By this time, blankets were being trampled, parties were separated from each other (if you lost sight of your designated driver, you couldn't even call them, since phone service was jammed up); and God bless you if you needed to use the bathroom, because any semblance of a line had become all but non-existent.
"I felt like it was really dangerous, when you think about," said one festival-goer, a Bed-Stuy resident who asked not to be named. "As far as I know, no one got hurt. No violence. But it could have turned into that. There were no fire lanes, no direction; no one guiding the crowd. That made it pretty nerve-wracking. I ended up staying at one stage and not traveling that much to the other performances I wanted to see, because I didn't want to deal with the crowd."
And apparently, enough people had had enough. Some who had waited all day to see the final act were turning around and leaving right as the performance began. I can attest, because I was with that wave of revelers who had waited all day for Solange but at the last minute decided to abandon the chaos for more comfort.
"Were you at Afropunk?" asked my neighbor. He and a female friend were getting on the elevator in our building with me. "Yes," I answered. He said, "We had to leave, because it was just too crowded and too dangerous. We saw four different people pass out right around us."
"Really?" I asked, wondering if he was exaggerating. But his friend shook her head in agreement.
It's a great thing to see that Afropunk has grown so quickly in just 12 short years. But perhaps it is time for a change of venue. At the current ticket prices, an uncomfortable customer experience produces diminishing returns-- particularly for those who are there for the music more than the fashion show and the scene.
Prospect Park might be a good choice. It is much larger with far more options for performance stages. Additionally, the festival takes place after BRIC's Celebrate Brooklyn series has ended.
"I thought the festival was nice, but it could have been more organized for crowd control," said Brooklyn resident Funmilayo Chesney, a first-time Afropunk Festival-goer. "What are the intentions of the promoters? When intentions are clear and honest, the outcome is always beautiful."
Yes, in 2017, what is Afropunk's intention? One thing is for sure: If Afropunk continues to choose overpriced and overbooked ticket sales over the customer experience, it will come to be seen as a festival whose intention is more about money than the music.
And that would be unfortunate to go down in history as yet another black cultural hallmark lost to greed and commercialization... in just 12 short years.