Party At Bohemian Grove, Just Like Justice Scalia

29.02.2016

Unless you were hiding under a rock last week (with the news these days, we can’t blame you), you’ve probably heard that the juiciest little detail surrounding US Supreme Court Justice Scalia’s death is that at the time of his demise, he was attending a retreat with a secret society known as the Bohemian Club, an all-male group of cross-bearing hunters who hold an annual gathering at Bohemian Grove in Sonoma County that can be traced back to the 1600s. Unless you have ties to the Illuminati, it’s unlikely you’ll get an invite to that Bohemian Grove any time soon, but worry not - we’ve found an East Coast alternative.

Casing The Joint

Welcome to Bohemian Grove Brooklyn, a “secret” music-and-art space located inside a residential house on Grove Street. In some ways, it is the antithesis of its namesake: instead of a  a stunning landscape of greenery, the front yard of the Grove is little more than a concrete slab and the iron gate that encloses it is lined with aging fixies. Plus, inhabitants of the pale yellow three story are a group of creative and forward thinking kids who are comfortable sharing space and ideas - not exactly the kind of folks you’d expect to find Scalia keeping company with.

One evening when we arrive to load in gear for a music show at the Grove, we find our way to an unmarked basement door and wander in. The brick walls are lined with artwork, some of which is abstract and others more blatantly reminiscent of the anti-establishment movement. Inside we are met by the show’s promotor who is projecting YouTube videos of some distant Utopia, unlike anything you’d find in the streets of Bushwick. We ask him questions about the music set we’re playing that evening, most of which are met with vague, open-ended answers, so we prepare to settle in and take things as they come.  He’s incredibly welcoming, and cheers enthusiastically as he smokes squares behind the soundboard throughout the whole show - the best kind of promoter you could ask for.

Court Side Seats

As the music gets underway, the space fills with a refreshingly diverse crowd, and most of the attendees stay for the majority of the performances despite a stylistically broad line up. After taking in a set of mind-bending electronic music, an older Rastafarian man looks me in the eyes and tells me I’m a good man before imploring me to “never cut my beard for no one”. What I might have passed off as old man’s ramblings resonate like a prophecy in the smoky air of the Grove’s underbelly. Later, he asks my bandmate if he knows where to score coke.

Other sets for the night include a band that plays “stoner music”, as described by a few other attendees and Dog, a post-punk band from Boston.

Not unlike the many DIY spaces that predate the Grove, there’s an emphasis here on the transcendental that goes hand and hand with rejection of high-brow presentation of the typical art gallery and the increasingly insane production values of mainstream entertainment. It’s art for art’s sake and it doesn’t need sugarcoating, as evidence by the Grove’s grungy interior. There’s also something reassuring about experiencing a show in someone’s home - it feels more like a house party, where every strange face you see is really just a friend of a friend; just like in American politics.

Getting there: Bohemian Grove, 66 Grove St Brooklyn, view their Facebook group here for event listings. 

Justin Gaynor is a musician living in New York City.