read an oral history on Williamsburg’s McCarren Pool Parties
For those who were in NYC in the mid-'00s, there are few fonder fuzzy memories than the McCarren Pool Parties, which hosted live music, dodgeball, slip-n-slides and general Williamsburg hipster debauchery for three summers in a decaying former public pool, all for free.
A new oral history about the Pool Parties, put together by Patrick Sauer, has just gone up on the Have 2 Pass substack, which talks with most of Jelly NYC, who created the series, many of the artists who played (The Hold Steady, Matt and Kim, Holy Fuck, Man Man, more) and more folks who were there. it's long, going in-depth on the Pool Parties' rise and fall before the city reclaimed the location as a public pool, and the parties' relocation to the Williamsburg waterfront where they were never quite the same.
The first-ever Pool Party show featured Les Savvy Fav, Dragons of Zynth, Proton Proton and Beans with Holy Fuck, and happened the same day as the 2006 World Cup Final:
Sarah Hooper (JellyNYC Founder): We were buddies with Les Savy Fav, so we told lead singer Tim Harrington, “It’s our first show, we really need some awesome shit.” Tim asked for a wireless mic and as much rope as he could have. He went on the Slip 'N Slide, climbed down in the middle of the audience, and covered himself in glitter and paint.
Beans : McCarren Park was a little minute ago, but I know I played the very first one with Holy Fuck. It went swimmingly, no pun intended. There was a range of people, but it didn’t have an aesthetic yet. It wasn’t like it would become, it was just music in an empty pool, so nobody knew what to make of it. Seemed like a lot of people came in off the street, followed the sounds out of curiosity. They were lucky, the performances were dope. Dragons of Zynth killed it. And that Les Savy Fav show, shit was bugged out.
Graham Walsh (Holy Fuck): I’d been to Williamsburg before, but it was still surprising that in a massive city, with all that money, a crumbling concrete fading structure of that size was sitting there waiting to be taken over by weird art bands.
Brian Borcherdt (Holy Fuck): McCarren didn’t feel like a big blown-out festival, like Coachella. It wasn’t a happening, at least at that first show. There’s a video of a dude dancing by himself in the middle of the day, a one-man rave on his own planet that perfectly captures the vibe. People who love music just doing their own thing, partying their own way. Felt like a glorious day in the sunshine, not a puking-in-the-corner event.
The oral history also talks about the evening shows Live Nation began booking -- like Sonic Youth, Devo and M.I.A. -- as well as the non-musical aspects of the Pool Parties were were as big a draw as the bands on stage:
Hooper: The dodgeball players were in McCarren Park all weekend. I got them to come play in the pool just to get people in the building.
Chris Goldstein: I saw an ad on Brooklyn Vegan that Jelly needed volunteers to pick up glass. A couple of weeks in I was manning the dodgeball game, which fit the pool organically and took off to become its own little universe. It was all the best-looking hipster kickball dudes. Those regular guys, and a few girls, who were really into the dodgeball game had fans watching them every week. After the first year, I passed that job onto Shirtless Tom and started doing more with set-up and breakdown, ops manager, and eventually, office manager.
Hooper: We did interesting stuff with brands. One fun thing we came up with was having Saucony sponsor the teams in our dodgeball league.
The most infamous Pool Party show was arguably MGMT in 2008, one of the last shows there and drew an enormous crowd:
Hooper: We booked MGMT before they blew up. That show was absolute lunacy. Actual capacity was 5,500, we might’ve had 10,000. By 9 a.m., seven hours before the show, there was a line. "Time to Pretend" had been released that spring and the girls were going insane, scaling the fences, jumping onto Port-a-Potties and down into the pool, crying at every entrance because it was at capacity.
Goldstein: It looked like busloads of Connecticut teenagers had rolled in and they’d all already taken all their drugs. People were offering me $100 bills to get in.
Doug DeFalco (JellyNYC Founder): We had between 2,000-4,000 people per show. MGMT went well over that when kids started climbing the gates. We didn’t have the manpower to stop them. It was tough to pull off that show, but once it started, I guess it calmed down enough because nobody got seriously hurt.
Then there was the "dead guy":
Adam Robinson (PA at McCarren for Bowery Presents, Live Nation): There was a smell. I’m a New Yorker and if you live here long enough, you know the funky smell of a dead rat. One week it was dead rat, the next week maybe dead cat, and maybe three weeks later, ‘Is it a big dog?’ The smell was getting worse and we didn’t know what it was. Finally, one morning we were loading in a DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist show and a stagehand called the police because it had gotten so bad...
...The cop said there was nothing in there but trash, but then the security guard pulled back another metal plate… I just saw from the waist down, a guy’s legs sticking out, his pants were flat. You could tell he decomposed… We immediately left the area.
There is lots more and you can read the whole oral history here and check out a few other pool party photos below.