The Camden Night Gardens was an eye-opening experience. Not only did it show how a bunch of dedicated people with a shared vision of what-could-be can transform a weedy stretch of waterfront into a successful night festival, it also showed us the city’s best new music venue.
Last Thursday, the Cooper Ferry Partnership and Nuit Blanche NYC put together the Camden Night Gardens, a festival on the waterfront at the site of the now-demolished Riverfront State Prison in North Camden. There was food, fun, nostalgia and, most importantly, there was music. The Camden Sophisticated Sisters (CSS), the UCC Royal Brass Band and Camden-native hip-hip artist Yung Poppa all performed in front of the Camden Water Tower next to the Ben Franklin Bridge. Lights in front of the stage threw the performers’ five-stories-tall shadows up on the side of the Water Tower. They looked like giants dancing around the waterfront. And damn, was it cool.
Aside from the visuals, the space next to the Water Tower is perfect for a show: ample stage space, ample room to dance, a cool breeze from the river, and – if they knock down the fence that surrounds the grass lot that was once the actual prison – plenty of space for lawn seats and blankets. The lights and action can definitely be seen by PATCO riders and even drivers over the bridge, who must be wondering what’s going on in Camden. It might even entice a few of them to come into the city and check it out.
The Water Tower is on the waterfront, an area of that Camden that is arguably the most developed and that receives the most attention from anyone trying to restore Camden while other neighborhoods in the city languish. But the Water Tower isn’t just another tourist attraction. It doesn’t sit next to the other Susquehanna Bank Center or the Aquarium; it sits north of the BF Bridge, in North Camden, a neighborhood to which the city’s visitors are usually afraid to venture. Opening up the Water Tower to shows – big acts and small acts alike – would force people above the bridge and into a beautiful public space.
So here’s hoping that the city embraces its new music venue, and that it brings people to North Camden and to discover Camden as a whole and not just as a waterfront property with bleak neighborhoods you have to drive through before a Springsteen concert. The Water Tower is a great space, and it deserves its due.