Fort Greene

Hot time. Summer in the city. Spike Lee’s block party makes a triumphant return after a four-year hiatus

An estimated 30,000 people celebrated the music of Michael Jackson and Prince in Fort Greene Park

September 8, 2023 Beth Eisgrau-Heller
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Saturday, Aug. 26, marked the triumphant return of Spike Lee’s beloved Brooklyn Loves Michael Jackson and Prince Block Party after a four-year hiatus. He announced the event via Instagram as only Spike Lee knows how to do:

Spike Lee (left) daps rapper Buckshot (right) during his performance at the Brooklyn Loves Michael Jackson block party on Saturday, August 26. Photo by Beth Eisgrau-Heller

“Whaddup Party People. It’s Finally OFFICIAL. I’m Elated To Announce That After A 4 Year Break ‘Cuz Of Covid We Are Having Your MICHAEL JACKSON💜PRINCE BLOCK PARTY On Saturday August 26th In Da Year Of Our LAWD 2023 From High Noon To 7pm At Fort Greene Park In Da People’s Republic Of Brooklyn. On Da Wheels Of Steels Da Mighty @DJSPINNA And Ya Already Know He’s A WINNER. Dis Will Be Da Party Of Da Year. It’s Gonna Be A L💜VEGFEST For MJ And PRINCE. Come Dressed To Da Nines. Who You Reppin’❓Either Way It’s All L💜VE. We Gonna Sing And Dance So LOUD Michael And Prince Gonna Hear US. ‘Cuz Y’Know Spreadin’ 💜 Iz Da Brooklyn Way. And I’m Gonna Be Sippin’ Dem NUTCRACKERS😜😜”

The crowd at Spike Lee’s Brooklyn Loves Michael Jackson and Prince Block party was estimated at 30,000 people. Photo by Beth Eisgrau-Heller

And boy, was it a party! Lee emceed in his signature laid-back style for an astounding estimated crowd of 30,000 revelers. Partygoers enjoyed the stylings of DJ Spinna and entertainers who performed along to Michael Jackson’s and Prince’s tracks. Performers included drumline Fogo Azul, rappers Special Ed and Buckshot, and Michael Jackson impersonator, Gritty James, among others. Celebrities like Rosie Perez and Chris Rock, and no doubt many more were in attendance, too.

Only one word can describe the vibe of the event: joyful. With each song, the crowd rode a wave of nostalgia. People spontaneously broke into song and dance. Hands were placed on chests or waved in the air. Revelers belted out lyrics by heart. Faces turned skyward in praise and adoration of the two beloved music icons, Spike Lee and Brooklyn. Ashley Lampkin-Martinez, Manager of Spike’s Joint, the director’s streetwear brand, said it best. “The neighborhood was calling for it. We needed some peace and love.” Amen.

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Stacy Kovacs is the Founder and Musical Director of Fogo Azul, an “all-women, trans, and non-binary Brazilian Samba Reggae drum line” per the group’s website. Kovacs told the Eagle Spike Lee introduced himself to Fogo Azul in 2021 when he stumbled upon their outdoor rehearsal in Brooklyn Bridge Park. There they discussed future collaborations and traded contact information. (Lee directed two videos for Michael Jackson’s “They Don’t Really Care About Us.” One version was filmed in Brazil.)
Fast forward to forty-eight hours before the block party, Kovacs was contacted by Lee’s event organizers. There was only one problem, the group was double-booked. Without hesitation, Lee arranged a charter bus to transport the group from Jersey City to Fort Greene Park. They rehearsed in their seats. The minute they arrived they followed Lee around the Park playing “Sign O’ the Times” as he paraded a guitar gifted to him by Prince. Then they hit the stage to perform “They Don’t Really Care About Us.”

Stacy Kovacs, Founder and musical director of Fogo Azul (bottom center) with members of the LGBTQIA drumline. The group was double-booked so Spike Lee sent a charter bus to Jersey City so they could perform at the block party. Photo by Beth Eisgrau-Heller

Of the whole experience Kovacs marveled, “Once on stage and drumming to MJ’s song, seeing the crowd move and air drum with us, dance along, and be together with such an iconic playlist–honestly, I’m speechless. Music transcends all cultures and ages and brings people together like nothing else on the planet. Seeing all those happy faces, to bring this music to the masses in such a special place, for such a special reason, was an honor I, and all of the members of Fogo Azul, will hold on to forever.”

Rappers Special Ed (left) and Buckshot (right) hype the crowd and shout out to Spike Lee during their performance at the Brooklyn Loves Michael Jackson Block party. Photo by Beth Eisgrau-Heller

The love poured in on Lee’s Instagram account, @officialspikelee for days. Cinematographer Ricardo Sarmientor wrote on Instagram, “The feeling of love, joy, togetherness, and pure reverence for Michael and Prince was pulsing from every corner of our lovely park. Thank you Spike for bringing everyone together to celebrate and for a few hours forget our troubles and dance in this thing called life 💜💜💜” ms_lee_aah remarked, “So many black people. So much love! I love us for real. We really did that ❤️💚🖤”

Alicia P (right). and Elijah Pitt Goodson (right) assist a concertgoer at the Spike’s Joint merchandise tent. Photo by Beth Eisgrau-Heller

The Fort Greene production was such a success, many asked if the party would return to the same location next year. Lee responded, “Next Year Is The 35th Anniversary Of DO THE RIGHT THING. Going Back To BED-STUY DO Or DIE.” Guaranteed, that celebration is gonna be a banger.

To fully understand the impact Spike Lee has made on our culture, the arts and Brooklyn, make a note to visit The Brooklyn Museum this fall when Spike Lee: Creative Sources opens on October 7. The show will feature items from Lee’s private collection including artworks from prominent African American artists, musical instruments, historical photographs, and sports and film memorabilia. The show is meant to “ reveal the connections among the people, places, and ideas that have fueled Lee’s incisive storytelling.” The exhibit runs through February 4, 2024.

Best friends Maureen Powel (left) and Sharien Berends (right) rested on a stoop after spending the day in Fort Greene Park at Spike Lee’s block party. They are from The Netherlands and vacationed in NYC for the week. They also attended AfroPunk 2023. Photo by Beth Eisgrau-Heller
Partygoer Keisha Williams was in heaven dancing at the Brooklyn Loves Michael Jackson and Prince Block Party. Photo by Beth Eisgrau-Heller
DJ Spinna kept the Michael Jackson and Prince hits coming and the emotions high at Spike Lee’s block party on Saturday, August 26. Photo by Beth Eisgrau-Heller
Bad and Beat It era Michael Jackson look-alikes Rocco (left) and Rochelle (right) strike a pose. Behind them another reveler is dressed as Michael Jackson from the Thriller video. Photo by Beth Eisgrau-Heller
Michael Jackson impersonator Gritty James caused a stir when he began to dance among the crowd. He was then called on stage. Photo by Beth Eisgrau-Heller
Michael Jackson doppelganger Gritty James performed all of the musician’s signature moves at the Brooklyn Loves Michael Jackson and Prince Block Party. Photo by Beth Eisgrau-Heller
Spike Lee (left) interviews Dancer and Impersonator Gritty James (left) after his performance. DJ Spinna looks on from the DJ booth. James is from East New York, Brooklyn. He thanked Lee for all he has done for Brooklyn. Photo by Beth Eisgrau-Heller
Partygoer Danielle Gaskins is a Prince fan with a capital P. Photo by Beth Eisgrau-Heller
A customer peruses the selection of nutcrackers at a vendor set up across the street from Fort Greene Park. The label reads “One sip will bust your lip. Head crackers.” Photo by Beth Eisgrau-Heller
A staple of NYC summer, nutcrackers were sold by vendors outside of Fort Greene Park. The drink is typically a mix of alcohol (including vodka, rum, cognac, Everclear, tequila or a mixture thereof) with fruit juice or Kool-Aid, and sometimes candies like Jolly Ranchers. Photo by Beth Eisgrau-Heller

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