Music venues, at night, offer a different rhythm than the one I find at home, unleashing another side of me than the “Park Slope Mom” I personify during most other waking hours.
I seek these places out as much as possible, sometimes to the surprise and dismay of family, friends, and even Uber drivers — who are most certainly judging the middle-aged, married mom heading out into the city after dark. Once, a driver went so far as to hit the brakes and nearly put his car in reverse in an attempt to bring me back the half-block he’d driven.
“You should be home, with your kids,” he said, his eyes dark and stormy in the rearview.
I just laughed, explaining that I needed to move and dance, and, luckily, he drove on toward my destination. Maybe he heard in my voice that nightlife was a necessity, maybe he just remembered he had a job to do. I doubt I changed his mind about a woman’s place being home by a certain hour, but we at least agreed to disagree, and I made it to my desired dance venue.
“Stephanie After Dark” is a side of me some people know, and others have no idea of. It is difficult to explain, but I will try, because just like my reasoning got that Uber driver to at least hear me, it may likewise enlighten others initially turned off by the mere idea of a mom like me spending a night on the town.
Barbes in Park Slope has long been a place I go to seek out the tunes of many different types of musicians. I have danced and tranced to Moroccan band Innov Gnawa in the dark back room there, clapping along with the men on stage dressed in intricate djellabis. Years back, I became a groupie of the band, after meeting some of the musicians by following another great group, The Brooklyn Gypsies, into the far reaches of Bushwick, and Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
Now, I head straight to the front when Innov Gnawa plays, clapping loudly with other fans to their clattering qraqebs, not caring when I am off rhythm (which, sometimes, I am). They know me. They have played in my house, and the house of friends. I have partaken in their personal celebrations.
I follow other rhythmic music from all over the world as well. The other night, I ventured to Nublu 151 on Avenue C in Manhattan to hear Brazilian music with drummer Davi Vieira. I first saw Davi perform at the old Nublu, a small dim space down the street from the new Nublu, marked only by a red light in front of an unsigned metal door.
I stood right in front of Davi as his hands flew in a fast flurry, and his deep voice rang out in Portuguese. I was mesmerized. The body moves in amazing ways to such music, if you let it.
I’ve seen Davi in many a bar, inside a school auditorium during a Brazilian Day celebration, and on stage at Kings Theatre when his world tour with David Byrne brought him back to Brooklyn. I learn of his gigs on Facebook, and I reach out sometimes with the odd “Congratulations,” or “Happy Birthday.” I always go up to him after a show to tell him how his music brings me joy.
And Davi isn’t the only musician I befriended on my forays into the night. For years, I would slink over to Korzo, a Central European restaurant on the southern end of Fifth Avenue in Park Slope, to hear the Konceptions Jazz Series started by pianist James Carney and his wife Heidi Bayer, which is currently looking for a new home.
Those performances drew some of the world’s greatest jazz artists to the restaurant’s tiny back room. I’d see saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, bassist Dezron Douglas, and harpist Brandee Younger. Years ago, the trio traveled with me to Bedford-Stuyvesant one day to play for a class of second- and third-graders, a special group who drew and danced to their rhythm. It was amazing.
One night at Korzo, I chatted with a young jazz guitarist, Andy Bianco, and was so taken with just his cadence that I hired him to work with my son. I have since gone to see him play, and pledge often that I will go again to hear his amazing compositions performed live.
I could go on about the music and musicians I leave home late at night to hear in the far corners of this great city, dancing and grooving into the wee hours with groups of other strangers. It is a parallel life in a way, a life my father often shakes his head about — a woman, alone, in a city, after dark.
To be fair, I sometimes go with friends, other people able who dare stay up as late. But I am fine heading out alone too. New York is full of interesting people, and the great beats its bars provide are enough to bring us together as a family.
And so, I go forth, unafraid, to find my musical expression, to move and sway, to clap and shout. Try it, if you haven’t. It feels amazing.
Stephanie Thompson’s “Talking to Strangers” podcast can be found on iTunes, Stitcher, and Google Play.