Last month, New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, NY announced PopsUp, a series of over 300 performances spread over 100 days across the state and five counties. With artists such as Amy Schumer, Nico Muhly, Q-Tip, Rhiannon Giddens and Devonté Hynes, the series aims to revive the New York art and entertainment industry and create a way back from standstill. The events take place at fixed locations, e.g. B. in museums, parks and subway stations, and are free. A majority is not announced in advance as a security measure against large crowds. Governor Cuomo announced last week that the arts and entertainment venues could open at 33% capacity from April 3rd.
On Tuesday afternoon, Patti Smith gave a private concert at the Brooklyn Museum as a thank you to the institution’s staff. The date, March 9, is very important to Smith: it marks the anniversary of the death of her friend, photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, the day she met her late husband, Fred “Sonic” Smith, and the last show, which she played before the COVID -19 shutdown. The cross-career set took place at the museum’s Beaux-Arts Court, an area of 10,000 square meters that normally seats 880. Around 60 people were present on Tuesday.
The performance began with a reading of a memorial poem written for Mapplethorpe before Smith and Tony Shanahan, who alternated between guitar and piano throughout the set, started Wing in 1996. Smith then read from Just Kids her 2010 memoir about her relationship with Mapplethorpe. With an audience seated on the edge of the room six feet apart, the performance was remarkably calm and quiet. The rare interruption – a cell phone going off during a cover of Neil Young’s “Helpless”, a journalist tipping a pen on the tune of “Dancing Barefoot” – was a refreshing spontaneity, a little reminder of the semi-unpleasant experiences that experiencing life goes hand in hand with music alongside other people. If NY PopsUp is to initiate the small steps required to return to a normal and resilient music scene, it seemed like a productive rehearsal for both audience and performers. For her part, Smith was preoccupied with her own “authentic, flawed moment” when she made an adorable lengthy digression about her love for a Saturday Night Live skit in which Kristin Wiig mocked actress Ann-Margret. “Whenever I feel bad, I watch it,” she said with a laugh.
Patti Smith at the Brooklyn Museum for NY PopsUp, March 2021 (Nina Westervelt)
The overwhelming mood of the performance was one of nostalgia and love for Mapplethorpe and her late husband, Fred, with Smith sharing her memories of both artists between songs. She shared on Tim Hardin’s How Can We Hold To A Dream, which she referred to as her and Mapplethorpe’s song, and remembered the first time she met Fred Smith at the Detroit Hot Dog Joint Lafayette Coney Island when she was Horses toured. At the end of the set, Smith read a passage from Just Kids about a walk through the village with Mapplethorpe and heard “Because the night”, her collaboration with Bruce Springtseen before Easter 1978, “blasted from one shop to another”. After the song ended, Smith offered the small audience some parting words: “God bless life, I hope we will all see you soon.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Lenny Kaye was performing with Patti Smith. Tony Shanahan accompanied Smith.