Greenwood Heights

Will Green-Wood’s new catacomb concerts drive you to drink?

Sip whiskey and listen to classical music under the landmarked Gothic Arch.

May 24, 2019 Alex Williamson
The landmarked entrance to Green-Wood Cemetery. Eagle photos by Lore Croghan

Bottoms up, classical music aficionados: The Angel’s Share concert series is returning May 25 to Green-Wood Cemetery with its first ever Burgers, Bourbon & Beethoven festival.

Attendees will roam the cemetery grounds, chow down on burgers from Harlem Public and Madcap Café, sample whiskeys from boutique distilleries, then finish the evening with a performance of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony by the String Orchestra of Brooklyn.

Unlike regular Angel’s Share shows, which are held in the depths of the catacombs where there’s space for only about 100 concertgoers, this one will take place entirely above ground under Green-Wood’s landmarked Gothic Arch. About 600 people are expected to attend.

Music marketing guru Andrew Ousley is the brainchild behind Death of Classical, which puts on both The Angel’s Share and The Crypt Sessions, a Harlem-based concert series held in the crypt of The Church of the Intercession.

These concert venues may sound a little on the macabre side, but according to Ousley, the mood at one of his shows is more transcendent than spooky.

“I don’t put them in these spaces to make people feel weird or creeped out,” he said. “These are extraordinarily beautiful spaces, but they’re also spaces where you confront your mortality. When it’s paired with a beautiful performance, it enhances our appreciation for the shared experiences of life.”

To keep the atmosphere from skewing toward the morbid, Ousley incorporates a little silliness into every Death of Classical event. The festival will feature a burger cookoff between Harlem Public and Madcap, with votes tracked in real time by digital leaderboard on Ousley’s Burger Club app, with points for qualities such as “texture” and “harmoniousness.” The victor will be awarded a spray-painted golden spatula.

Of course, booze doesn’t hurt either. Distillers including Widow Jane, New York Distilling Co., and Five & 20 will be onsite to lift attendee’s spirits. Whiskey sponsorship for The Angel’s Share is fitting, since the series takes its name from the portion of whiskey lost to evaporation during the barrel ageing process.

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But mingling and sipping aside, the main event at an Angels Share show is the top-tier music and the chance to hear it in an intimate, bone chilling venue. This season, attendees can catch big names in classical and opera like Augusta McKay Lodge, Adam Tendler, Jenny Lin and Daniela Mack down in the catacombs.

“We have wine, we have whiskey. There’s a social element,” said Ousley. “But then, when we sit down and listen to the music, that to me is a communion. I don’t try to make it more than it is, but it doesn’t need to be made more than it is, because it’s extraordinary.”

The Angel’s Share concerts are a rare opportunity to explore Green-Wood’s underground, which dates to the 1850’s, contains 30 family vaults, and is normally off-limits to the public, with the exception of twilight tours.

According to Ousley, audiences are a mix of classical music lovers who aren’t afraid to venture beyond Lincoln Center and less classically-inclined culture seekers for whom the unconventional venue itself is the draw.

Classical music fan or not, Ousley says attendees tend to be riveted.

“The setting, the preparation and the lead-up has [the audience] not worried about, ‘Should I clap at this time?’ or, ‘Am I wearing the right thing?’ None of that matters,” he said. “What matters is if you can sit and be moved by the performance, and the communion with the performers. That to me is the goal.”

The event takes place on Saturday, May 25, 7-10 p.m. Tickets are $80 ($75 for Green-Wood members) and can be found here

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