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Old 09-01-2007, 08:00 PM
Jason Dunn
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Default Live at the BBQ: A Techie Perspective

This article was written by a member of the Zune Thoughts community, Adam Krebs.

It was almost sunset and Cham was about halfway through his set.

"Is One Blood a hip hop song?" He asked rhetorically, referencing the Junior Reid's neo-classic and the several songs that sample it*. "No!" The crowd of hipster twenty and thirtysomethings shouted back, eager to differentiate themselves from the unwashed masses. In here, the majority of today's popular music is scorned in favor of older and/or lesser-known "real" acts. This is commonplace at concerts such as this, where questions are asked in an attempt to weed out the Justin Timberlake/Fergie-listening general populace from the real fans.

Luckily, such classic acts as Brand Nubian, Large Professor (a.k.a. "Large Pro", Clipse, and a surprise appearance (at least to us non-press members) by the L.O.X., Black Moon, and LL Cool J helped bolster the feeling of a true "golden era" hip hop experience. Joell Ortiz, Masta Ace, Smif-N-Wessun, and Special Ed helped round out a more contemporary affair**. And for the most part, they were all phenomenal. Even the in-between-set music was done well, complete with a slide show of concert pictures enclosed in a skin resembling the Zune software.

LL Cool J was undoubtedly the most energetic of the night. I haven't been to many big concerts (mostly smaller club settings), but LL's antics are legendary, and I was happy to say that he didn't disappoint. I'm not going to go into too many details (there are legit music blogs with far better writers than I for that), but suffice it to say that it was very cool. The screen to the right of the stage often synced the music video of the song he was performing to the lyrics he was currently spitting. It was well done, and a lot of fun. It's true what they say: Ladies Love Cool James.

It was hard to believe that just a few hours earlier, my companion Miles and I had been on the 9:30 Greyhound from South Station, huddling around our respective MP3 players for entertainment. It was by odd coincidence that we happened to be watching the video for "Why" by Jadakiss, only to see him perform it live later that day.

We came into the Port Authority an hour late, but still with plenty of time to spare, permitting us a meandering walk from the Jay Street stop down toward the bridge. Despite, or perhaps because of this leisurely pace, we soon became lost and had to ask a police officer for directions. "The hip hop thing?" he posited, answering his own question. "Everyone and their mother is going. They're expecting 5000 people. Watch out for [undesirables]".

We heeded his advice, and soon enough, we were within earshot of the festival. The event was truly set up as he described - one of our first sights was a row of portable toilets stretching on for about 100 feet. We rounded the gate after passing several people who attempted to get in without an RSVP, quickly realizing how incredible this location really was. We were admitted without hassle, with maybe the exception of the full-body pat down***.

Shortly following our arrival, Miles and I sat down to a game of checkers laid out on a picnic bench. Miles handily beat me, despite or maybe as a result of my declaring "flying Kings" legal. A travelling Zune demo-girl, Kat, was passing by at that moment and I asked if I could borrow her Zune to show off the sharing effects to my friend. Kat happily obliged, and I even sent her a few songs as she noticed a surprising dearth of Black Sabbath and Van Halen (Charles Mingus was also in short supply, and I was happy to show two iUsers how we Zuners do it better.) Even Miles, who might as well be surgically attached to his Nano, had to admit this was cool.

Kat joined our game, and forced Miles into a stalemate before being called back to her demo patrol. Throughout the night, we sampled the three varieties of gaming Microsoft had laid out for us: checkers and other assorted boardgames, around-the-world basketball and tetherball, and my personal favorite; six XBOX 360's set up inside an air-conditioned tent. Sticking to the theme, the 360's were housed in BBQ smoker-style frames. I’ll refrain from cynically pointing out the fact that juxtaposing flame broiler grills with the 360 might be a bad idea, instead opting for you to insert your own joke in its place.

I also let slide the patch of faux grass (astroturfing, perhaps?) below a few of the demo Zunes in the tent. These Zunes were mounted on the same displays Microsoft passed out to electronics and department stores, except these had wireless enabled (they were running firmware 1.4), and were named things like "BBQ 3", while the roving attendants, who apparently worked for Filter magazine, carried Zunes flying a "Filter Black 5" flag.

The six Xbox 360s had a mix of mostly sports games: Tony Hawk, NCAA Football '08, FIFA '08, NBA Live '08, and Harry Potter and Ratatouille for the youngsters were each fun in their own way. I spent several minutes performing the “wingardium leviosa” (levitating charm) in Harry Potter, merely to smash a large stone bench into things. But my companion had his sites set on more age-appropriate games. Miles, a lifelong soccer player fared far better than I at FIFA, while I handily defeated him at my game of choice: NCAA Football '08 (being the other type of footballer myself.) A man in a panama hat, khakis, sunglasses and loud Hawaiian shirt joined our FIFA fest, and I was quite sure he was a blogger, even before he pulled out his shiny new iPhone****.

The most interesting thing of the night (from a technology standpoint) was the information I gleaned from one of the organizers. I knew Microsoft couldn't have done this alone, despite its best efforts to convince us to the contrary, a suspicion confirmed by said organizer. Mr. X informed me that his company specializes in promotions such as this. They planned the venue, the artists, and the setup. Microsoft merely bankrolled it. And bankroll they did—everything was done to near perfection, and little, if anything, felt cheaply done. The unopened checkers boxes, friendly staff, and BBQ and Zunes galore helped reinforce this, as did the top-notch acts on stage. Very few events have the resources to leave such desirable talent off the headliner list, and even fewer can bring the event completely free of charge. My VIP wristband, so graciously provided to me by Zune Thoughts Jason Dunn (via Microsoft Zune guru Cesar Menendez), entitled me to free BBQ and an open bar, perks I was unable to take advantage of. I was, however, glad to partake in the mass consumption of free Red Bull, a reality my fellow passengers on the 1 AM Greyhound would probably have wished untrue.

After lamenting the fact that there was no Nano equivalent—Miles promised me he would get one if and when it came out—my tipster friend informed me to "wait until October," when they would be releasing the new models, which included bigger storage, more WiFi features and a flash-based entry, which basically confirms what I've been reading elsewhere online. I also brought up the issue that this was to be the last concert of the year. He corrected me, stating there would be another round of concerts, including stops in Dallas and Philadelphia, coinciding with the new products (in other words, sometime in October). He also said that Microsoft has signed his company up for another tour next year--this time for 14 cities. Feeling hungry, we decided to go back to the VIP section, where free BBQ and unlimited drinks were waiting. Unfortunately, despite looking delicious, the BBQ seemed to be in constant short supply. A victim of its own success.

Elsewhere, The VIP section was truly incredible. When I first arrived, still shell-shocked from the amazing location and how easy it was to get in, I went straight for the VIP area. I flashed my black wristband to the guard, who pulled open the gate so we could enter. I felt like I was entering Willy Wonka's Factory. The vestibule was itself nothing special, a press tent to the left, a private trailer of toilets to the right, but standing at the press tent was someone I recognized from numerous pictures on his blog.

"Cesar?" I asked. He replied with the affirmative, and we shook hands*****, introducing myself and my travelling companion. He asked if we had gotten in alright, and we proudly displayed our wristbands, still very much in awe of our recent good fortune. He then proceeded to show us around the VIP area, cautioning us to not "disturb the talent". Cesar then left us to explore on our own, a fact I don't blame him for, considering our relative unease with the situation. It turned out he wasn't joking about the talent. Within the first five minutes, we saw Joell Ortiz, both members of Clipse, Steele of Smif-N-Wessun, and the blond woman who almost ran us over on the way to the show—awkward. Speaking of which, it was almost surreal to be this close to such incredible talent. Heeding Cesar's advice, we decided not to approach Pusha-T, instead letting a slender Asian woman do that job for us. Pusha didn’t seem to mind. Meanwhile, Miles and I grabbed a seat on one of the park benches overlooking the beautiful (?) East River, and watched as several ferries pass by.

And then it hit me. Just like within Zune itself, there are some who really and truly "get" it.

Someone was really thinking when they chose the location. Aside from the marketeese terms—"urban", "grungy", "between the Brooklyn and Manhatten Bridges"—the place was gorgeous. The park was a lively atmosphere that only got more intimate around sunset, as the gold-orange light poured in through the trusses of the Brooklyn Bridge, casting a brilliant glow over the non-stage proceedings.

I gotta say: the whole purpose of this concert series (and the Zune brand as a whole) is in itself somewhat brilliant. It gets music listeners interested in Consumer Electronics, and CE fans interested in good music, while simultaneously providing their hip-looking mugs as models for Zune ads (thereby increasing Zune's coolness), and making the nerds appear cool. Conversely, there are some who still don't "get" it. As with all marketing, some logo smattering/brand name dropping comes out quite forced. Thankfully, the acts all seemed genuinely appreciative to the Zune, and many concertgoers grabbed Zune advertizing (posters, etc.) on the way out.

Being one of the few to actually own a Zune had some drawbacks. I had forgotten to charge my Zune before I left, and spent the majority of the day on half-battery. Luckily, we made it all the way home without it dying, but I would've appreciated some sort of "Zune check" (or charging station) should these concerts and especially the Zune catch on. I asked Cesar about it, and he told me that he wasn't aware of a charger anywhere nearby. Even the roving Zune models from Filter Magazine couldn't charge their Zunes (not that they would). Kat had me resend her Black Sabbath, as they made her give up the Zune she was using when it ran low on juice.

Overall, it was an incredibly fun experience, and one I would happily repeat sometime in the future. Miles and I are already planning on going to the Philadelphia leg, and several of my friends are hoping to come along. This time, maybe I'll be able to snag some BBQ (or Halloween Candy), and I'll remember to bring a camera.

Adam Krebs is a first-time blogger and an avid hip hop fan. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts with his family and sometimes obedient Zune.

Article Notes: *The Game's "It's Okay (One Blood)", Wu Tang's "One Blood Under W", and "War" by Sev One are a few that come to mind. Junior Reid and Baby Cham were both on the remix to MIMS' "This Is Why I'm Hot". (If you recall, this was the video that featured the Zune in the first place).

**It should be noted that of that list, only Brand Nubian, Cham, Large Professor, Clipse, MIMS, and Joell Ortiz were on the "scheduled to appear" list. I didn't see MIMS, but maybe it was because I was off doing the zillions of other things they had for us.

***As a former Boy Scout, I typically carry a Swiss Army knife on me. Interestingly the guard questioned me about the bulge in my pocket (my Zune), but not about the leather knife case on my belt.

***Yes, I know, blasphemy, blah blah, but I hear some people enjoy them. To each their own. By the way, we're all aware now that I speak of none other than Digital Media Thoughts' own Jeremy Charette, who finally put Miles in his place

*****I never got my “High Five!” from Cesar. Perhaps next time…
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