What The Heck Was The Great GoogaMooga?

We'll have more from this weekend's blowout in Brooklyn's Prospect Park, the Great GoogaMooga, later today. But I wanted to give a quick take on what this food and music festival accomplished.

First, why this photo of Pat LaFrieda sitting in a fork lift with 867 pounds of Black Angus beef suspended in the air? I merely want to point out that on a hot Sunday morning, LaFrieda sweated it out and lifted a steer that'd been cooking underneath coals in 200-degree heat for about 30 hours, and for him, it was just another day's work. Hundreds of chefs and food professionals worked long hours all weekend to essentially serve as the entertainment for tens of thousands of people. There was a lot of sniping in the media both before and during the Great GoogaMooga, and I want to point out that while anything's fair game, the people serving the food deserve a helluva lot of credit.

At a press conference on Sunday, the second day of the festival, Paul Grieco of Hearth and Terroir grew testy about all the talk of "glitches" during the first day, when food lines and an ill-advised drink payment system made it difficult to get food, beer and wine — not impossible, but very difficult. I agree with him. This was a first attempt at bringing a major new festival into a park that has never hosted such an ambitious event, and promotions company Superfly corrected most of the problems, and Sunday looked like a smashing success — at least from what I saw.

Were there problems? Absolutely. Saturday's lines and the alcohol snafu were unfortunate. It was nearly impossible to get cell phone service. The ExtraMooga VIP section, which came with a $250 price tag, added some impressive programming that wasn't available in the free section — including two standout performances by Anthony Bourdain — but lacked a diversity of food. A panel in ExtraMooga, which looked like it might be one of the weekend's highlights, with James Murphy, Aziz Ansari, David Chang and Ruth Reichl, devolved into a bunch of aimless riffing as the talking heads mumbled for an hour while intermittently snacking on food. Murphy, one of the weekend's only true rock stars in attendance, seemed completely oblivious to the fact that he was mocking the audience by pointing out that his panel was essentially just people watching them eat and mumble.

So much of the pre-Googa talk was about whether food is the new rock. This was, after all, a food festival that featured a lineup of music acts that almost seemed secondary to the cool selection of restaurants that served signature items. Gawker, the once-great web site that has devolved into a bastion of predictable snarkiness, published a facile critique of the festival last week, and many in the food and music media were quick to re-tweet the article in support of the notion that this whole culture of food and chefs getting attention for what they do is somehow misguided. Besides being hypocritical and sadly simple-minded, I found this dismissal of food and chefs to be really disrespectful — a lot like the way Murphy, a musician I have deep respect for myself, phoned it in with his forced aloofness.

Chefs work harder than rock stars. When they open restaurants, they employ dozens of people, maybe hundreds if they're good businessmen as well. Very few of them make a great living off it. When these chefs and cooks and back-of-house staff shlep out into the far corner of Prospect Park on a sunny weekend to work grueling 12-hour days and feed thousands of people, they deserve at least a nod of recognition.

I saw a lot of people enjoying themselves this weekend, sitting on the lawn, watching the bands play, eating food and laughing with friends. Was the first iteration of the Great GoogaMooga perfect? No, but if you expected perfection this first time out, I have a bridge nearby I'd like to sell ya.

[Update: Superfly just released a statement about the festival that addressed some of the problems: "All things considered it was a great weekend of food, music and fun. Of course, we know there were problems and we have apologized to any frustrated festival goers. We'll improve. First year, always a lot to learn," said Co-Founder of Superfly Presents, Rick Farman. ]