Brooklyn Podcast Festival Brings Music, Comedy, Politics, More In Third Year

Jay Pinho
– Love It Live
Host Ophira Eisenberg interviews Terry Crews in a live edition of NPR’s “Ask Me Another” at The Bell House, in Brooklyn, N.Y., as part of the 2019 Brooklyn Podcast Festival.

Once the fodder of morning commutes and laundry days, podcasts are now live staples, with clubs and theaters delivering marquee shows to audiences across the podcasting spectrum eager to get an in-the-flesh fix.

Brooklyn Podcast Festival, which brings an eclectic slate of programming to the borough for a third year Jan. 22-26, is among the podcast festivals that have sprouted up across the country in recent years.

Podcasting has proven robust in the live arena because many podcast fans are “superfans,” says Varghese Chacko, executive producer at City Farm Presents, the company behind Brooklyn Podcast Festival.

“These aren’t passive fans,” he says. “All the shows we’re doing, these people are really into it.”

Brooklyn Podcast Festival originated when City Farm, owner and operator of central Brooklyn clubs The Bell House and Union Hall, launched City Farm Presents, which Chacko describes as “essentially a festival production arm.” City Farm’s venues had long specialized in comedy, and Brooklyn Podcast Festival was “a logical progression for us to gather all of our programming into one festival across our venues.”

For its 2020 programming, NPR’s “Ask Me Another,” which stages a monthly show at The Bell House, will present a BPF edition featuring “High Maintenance” star Ben Sinclair, and podcast network Forever Dog, another perennial CFP collaborator, will stage a BPF episode of “The Unofficial Expert.”

“Podcasts really opened up the world of creative niches,” Chacko says, and with 19 events across five days and three venues, the programming at this year’s Brooklyn Podcast Festival runs the topical gamut. True crime, among podcasting’s most popular genres, will be represented by “Not Another True Crime” and “Martinis & Murder,” and niche history will also get its due, with NYC-specific “The Bowery Boys” and stoner-centric “Great Moments In Weed History.” Other slated events cover science, science fiction, politics and relationships – and comedy pervades nearly all of them.

The bookings also hint at the event’s future. “M Train,” a six-part series exploring Muslim culture in New York City, will record its premiere at BRIC House, marking BPF’s first collaboration with the Brooklyn venue.

“We’ve partnered with BRIC House, and we’re looking into the future of going bigger, into potentially Kings Theatre,” Chacko says. “That’s obviously a much larger play, but it would just show a really awesome ecosystem of being able to have different levels of venues in the festival being represented.” (Though BPF hasn’t presented a live podcast at the Brooklyn theater yet, over the last two years, major podcasts including “Pod Saves America,” “StarTalk,” “2 Dope Queens” and “My Favorite Murder” have all done live editions at the 3,000-capacity venue.)

Live podcasting’s unexpected popularity isn’t lost on Chacko.

“It’s not, like, smoke machines and lights,” he says. “For being a digitally native medium, it’s definitively lo-fi. You’ve got a mic and table. You can definitely play with the format, but it’s not the sexiest kind of presentation.”

Podcasting’s magic, he says, comes from its simplicity. “This is a person’s voice, this is their message and what they want to say,” Chacko says, and live iterations appeal because passionate fans enjoy taking in shows “before the polished version” is edited and released.

Still, BPF is experimenting with what exactly a live podcast can be. In its BPF debut, podcast network Osiris, which has gained notoriety for its deep dives on jam and rock music, will present two members of the band Goose in conversation and performance. The booking points at a promising new format for live podcasts, and the new audiences that will likely accompany it.

“Right now, our booking team is crushing it, with just knowing that these podcasts are going to do well, because they have their established fanbase,” says Chacko, but audience development and expansion are priorities going forward for BPF.

“We’re exploring ways to structure the fest so that it’s a festival-wide pass, so that people are a bit more open to checking out a podcast that they don’t necessarily know about,” he says.

The event is also eyeing conference and business-oriented options, to present podcasters with resources and networking opportunities for honing their craft.

It all ties into CFP’s underlying goal with Brooklyn Podcast Festival.

“We’re supporting both podcasters and the community and their fans,” Chacko says. “Being able to grow that has been a pleasure.”