From Nightclubs To Picnics: The Shift In New York’s Social Scene

New York City, “the city that never sleeps” was forced to take an unsettling nap when COVID-19 struck full force. Quarantining and required social distancing put an end to in person-gatherings and a question mark to the future of those behind the booming party culture. Amid the city’s gradual reopening and return to some sense of normalcy, the possibility of whether the city’s favorite and most profitable season would be over was a looming question for those who understand the value of summers in New York.

“NYC summer is the best thing on the earth since sliced baked bread,” said Natasha King, 27, a resident from Brooklyn. “As a lifelong New Yorker, it’s that one thing that we look forward to … there’s something about the humidity in the air and the sun kissing your skin. Everyone is always out, there’s always something to do.”

When the “stay-at-home” order was announced in March, residents were immediately concerned with how this summer would look.

Graduations and birthdays were celebrated amongst family members on Zoom, the video conferencing app made popular during the pandemic. Instagram Live became saturated with those trying to compensate cancelled flights with some source of entertainment. Those in event production initially tried to play things by ear, but as more information came out about the mysterious virus, popular New York City parties joined in on the virtual fun.

BrunchBounce, the masterminds behind The Greatest Day Ever Festival, has entertained their following with “Your Nightlife Friends,” twelve hour long live streams that highlight and allow various DJs to show off their skillset and make some money via provided tip donations. 

Fun with Friends, known for their parties on Memorial Day, July 4th and Labor Day hosted a trivia game about black culture and an IG Live Juneteenth party. They’re currently working on Ride with Friends, a group-friendly bike ride to various locations around Brooklyn.

Everyday People has been having community sessions on Instagram where they focus on providing the audience with guided meditation, therapy talk, wellness talks, sound baths, group workouts and live DJ sets.

But not every party saw it fit to go virtual.

Dussepalooza, for example, opted out of internet gatherings. After filling up the Barclays Center with nearly 10K people in December, the group was working toward bigger and better things. 

“Pre-pandemic, we were planning to build off of the success of Barclays. The theme of it was from ‘Basement to Barclays,’ but then what I was actually calling it internally was ‘The Point of No Return’ for us because it’s like you can’t do Barclays Center and then go back to doing some of the stuff we were doing beforehand,” Dussepalooza founder Kameron McCullough said.

In an event scheduled for Memorial Day Weekend, his team planned on attacking the Brooklyn Mirage, but expanding beyond the main part to instead use the entire venue like a festival field with different stages. That would allow them to surpass their goal and fit about 12K people, but then COVID-19 hit.

The group entertained virtual happy hours and Dusse giveaways to some of their loyal fans, but ultimately, they thought it best to wait it out.

“It’s just a little different like you know our party is ..we really have a heavy focus on the music and then with our host and then also all of our performing acts … So it’s like how does that really translate into a zoom? McCullough expressed.

“It’s the same reason why we don’t livestream our events..It’s not the same. Like the energy that’s in the building, that can’t be replicated virtually.”

Now, after months of quarantining, the city is in Phase 4. A range of businesses have reopened with social distancing required, curbside pickup and outdoor dining are in full effect and gatherings of 50 are allowed. Those comfortable with socializing have been meeting up with loved ones in intimate settings like backyard parties and picnics.

King and her boyfriend for example, started having small get-togethers at the end of May. “We’ve kinda just been having very small, very intimate barbecues, so it would be like maybe 8 people, 6 people,” she said. “My boyfriend is around his friends a lot and then I’m around mine but its like we kind of all like have this one consensus, like do not show up if you are sick…period!”

The gatherings have allowed her to socialize but has also served as a break from work, which she now does remotely. “There is nothing more exciting to me than knowing I can go see my friends and we can go order food or we can go cook in the house and just hand out,” she continued. “It’s crazy that everything is home. This is my sanctuary, this is my home but work has invaded that so it’s no longer that safe space that is used to be.” 

Marly Verdier, 24, was at a picnic with friends Giovanny Obas and Tiansal Conteh when they came up with the idea for Blacknic, a get-together at Prospect Park that would allow people to collectively celebrate Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating the freedom of the remaining slaves in the Confederacy AKA the Independence Day for African American people.

“We wanted it to impact the culture by being a day that our community could look back on and feel a sense of togetherness and unity,” Verdier said of the event. “We were concerned about possible congestion in main areas of the event and how that would play out but luckily, everyone brought their blankets and respectively social distanced as they pleased.” 

The event was successful, mainly due to via social media and word of mouth, the same that allowed Dussepalooza to blossom in its early days.

“What’s really interesting about those and it’s really cool I think and unique, is that’s kinda how we started with the intimate gatherings and with the word of mouth promotion, said McCollough. “So now to see that spirit kind of like overtaking over the city again..and it’s happening around the country but especially in New York, there’s no place like New York it’s so beautiful.”

McCullough also marveled at the younger generation of leaders and placemakers that have managed to demonstrate the resilient spirit of New Yorkers.

“You give us a block we’re gonna throw a block party…you give us a basement, we’re gonna throw a bashment,” he said. 

And he couldn’t be any closer to the truth. Around the city, backyards, Airbnbs, rooftops, non compliant with social distancing and masks, have been happening and are often captured in videos that surface the web. The video clips have those still in quarantine questioning whether they’re the only ones still concerned about the pandemic. 

“How is so much happening when everyone should be in the MF house?” writer and on-air host Sylvia Obell wrote on Twitter July 16. 

Just days before, journalist/producer Danielle Young tweeted, “I’m confused. Is anyone else still in quarantine?” 

Though many people have seemed to resume some of their ordinary modes of mingling, the New York’s social scene is and will be quite different for some time.

Indoor dining picks back up in 2021, and with popular venues like The Well and Kinfolk recently coming to a close, future parties may just entail longer lines and waits, all to ensure the safety of those who attend their parties.

“I think you’ll see people in those large events in masks and suits covered up. I think it’s gonna be interesting to see how people interact with one another as far as dancing or just talking, having a conversation that close to each other,” said McCullough.”I think that’s gonna look a little different especially when things first open back up, but i think over time we will get back to some sort of a normalcy, but it’s gonna look different for a long time, for a very long time.”

As New Yorkers continue to adjust to the changes caused by the pandemic, anticipation for summers as they once were builds.

King added, “Give it like once vaccines are like full force and its a lot safer to gather. That one glimpse in time when things kinda like sorta get like 90% back to normal, listen, NY is gonna be on tilt.  Everyone’s gonna be out and it’s just gonna be so great.”

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