September 18-19, 2004, Peekskill, New York
Mixed media installation
Poster dimensions 17 x 12-1/2 inches
As part of the 2004 Peekskill Project, curated by Alison Levy, artist Trong G. Nguyen organized Sonic Peekskill, a fictitious blockbuster summer concert broadcasted through an i-Pod hidden behind the red curtain of a third floor apartment located in the center of Peekskill. A poster with the line-up of performers was produced and hung in the windows of numerous shop windows in the city. Headlined by Paul Robeson, the artists were a “dream line-up” that included living and deceased musicians.
In 1949, Robeson, the singer and civil rights activist, was scheduled to give a concert in Peekskill on behalf of the African-American and Jewish trade unionists and pacifists. A mob of rioters led by members of the KKK and the American Legion stoned the gathering and the concert was cancelled. But Robeson pledged to return, determined to sing "wherever people want me to sing." "My people and I won't be frightened by crosses burning in Peekskill or anywhere else," he declared in a public statement. The following week Robeson went back to Peekskill along with 25,000 people who travelled from New York City and other places in the Northeast to hear him. About 2,500 black and white trade unionists and veterans made a human wall around the concert area while Robeson sang. The mob got its revenge after the concert, however, as groups of people on their way home were ambushed, stoned, and beaten on the highway while the police and New York State troopers stood by in full view.
Sonic Peekskill was made in tribute to Paul Robeson as a posthumous rectification to what transpired in 1949. Passerby could hear the concert from street level as songs streamed from above, at a decibel level which mimicked real musicians playing upstairs a bit too loud. Red Curtain Music Fest, the subtitle of the music festival, references an eerie short story, also titled The Red Curtain, from Les Diaboliques, by Jules Amedee Barbey D'Aurevilly. By combining the literary and historical references with the model of influential concerts like Woodstock or Live-Aid, Sonic Peekskill is part mysterious and all rock ‘n roll.