Longtime BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival Producer Jack Walsh Steps Down
Jack Walsh has stepped down from the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival after 26 years.
Jack Walsh has decided to depart from the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival after 26 years, having served as executive producer of the summer festival since 1994.
Under Walsh’s leadership, the festival earned a global reputation as a preeminent non-profit arts and music gathering that reflected the diversity and cultural ascendancy of its home borough in New York City.
The festival, which is part of the non-profit arts organization BRIC and staged in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, had been scheduled to open June 9 with a free performance by Alabama Shakes frontwoman Brittany Howard before the pandemic led to cancellation of its entire season.
As Brooklyn’s cachet as a center of musical culture has grown in recent years, the reputation of the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival has risen in turn, boosted by the savvy bookings of Walsh and Rachel Chanoff, the festival’s artistic director.
Walsh, who also held the title of BRIC’s senior vp performing arts, oversaw the creation in 2007 of BRIClab, a commissioning and residency program that nurtured the development of new work in the performing arts.
In 2015, Walsh launched BRIC JazzFest, a major new jazz festival and showcase for Brooklyn, featuring 27 performances on three stages over three days. In 2016, he and his team launched BRIC House Sessions, a weekly series of concerts featuring artists billed as “from around the world and around the block.”
“Jack has led the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival through an extraordinary period of growth, featuring a stellar lineup summer after summer at the Prospect Park Bandshell, and positioning the festival and BRIC as a model locally, nationally and internationally,” said Kristina Newman-Scott, president of BRIC. “We are grateful to him for shaping programs over the years, including BRIC JazzFest, BRIC House Sessions, the BRIClab residency program, and being part of the team that developed BRIC House.”
The opening night of the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival has been the unofficial launch of summer in Brooklyn for years, with featured performers including Patti LaBelle, Common, Chaka Khan and Janelle Monae among others. In 2006, when Maceo Parker played opening night, Prince joined him onstage for his encore.
A fundraising gala accompanying the opening night concerts have honored music industry figures, from Brooklyn Bowl founder Peter Shapiro to Sony Music Entertainment chief creative officer Clive Davis.”My life totally revolved around Brooklyn,” said Davis ahead of his honor in 2004, recalling his boyhood in Crown Heights.
The majority of the concerts at the festival were free, with a donation requested at the gate. The free events were augmented by fundraising through ticketed shows which brought the likes of Bob Dylan, Robert Plant, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, Childish Gambino, Bon Iver and among many others to Prospect Park. This summer’s ticketed benefit shows were to have included, among others, Norah Jones with Mavis Staples and a tribute to Bob Marley, featuring his sons Ziggy and Stephen Marley.
Under Walsh, the festival gained a reputation for the originality of its programming, reflecting the dynamic creativity of Brooklyn itself.
In 2014, free-jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman was honored with an all-star concert featuring Patti Smith, Branford Marsalis and a historic meeting with fellow saxophone colossus Sonny Rollins.
The same year, the festival presented “Vote, It Ain’t Illegal Yet,” a work of film, music, and spoken word commissioned by BRIC to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965, and created by Brooklyn native, author, filmmaker, journalist and former Billboard R&B editor Nelson George.
Last summer, the penultimate night of the festival brought a presentation of Marvin Gaye’s landmark concept album What’s Going On, performed by an ensemble led by guitarist and bandleader Felicia Collins and including Toshi Reagon, Siedah Garrett, Kecia Lewis and an all-woman band.
“I am honored and humbled to have worked at BRIC for nearly three decades. I had been considering my next chapter for a while, and when the in-person festival was canceled in April due to COVID-19, the time felt right for me to pass the baton,” says Walsh.
“I am proud of the work we’ve done to create platforms for artists to raise their voices and shine a light on what is at stake in our world, and to celebrate what is good and just in our society. I plan to continue producing performances, developing venues, and bringing people together again once we are allowed to do so.”