In the front row at Brooklyn’s Knitting Factory last Thursday night were a small, older lady in a hat and a little girl around five years old. They stood amidst a sea of twenty-somethings and teenagers. They were all there to celebrate the 25th birthday of Olivia Harris, CC ’14, who put on a musical celebration for the occasion.
Harris wanted her event to have the same family-oriented feeling emphasized at the parties hosted by her Caribbean family.
“We didn’t separate by generation. What would happen is you hang out with your cousins who are your age, but you would end up dancing with your aunt, you’d end up dancing with your little cousin,” Harris said. “That was so much of the environment, and it brings you out of your shell in a different way, when you have all these different generational things happening. It works really well for a family, so I thought, ‘why not try and encourage it with other people?’”
The event was headlined by Harris’s band, Olivia K and the Parkers. During her song “Good Things,” Harris had members of her audience look into each other’s eyes and sing, “You deserve good things, you deserve the best,” along with the song’s chorus.
The dancers who accompanied the band, dubbed by Harris as the “emissaries of enjoyment,” were sent out into the audience to up its energy as they danced along to the music. Balloons with the words “25 Years of Happy Birthdays” written on them were released over the crowd.
Opening for Harris’s band was singer-songwriter Keren Abreu, followed by tap dancer and singer Brinae Ali. Abreu’s songs, which brought a personal feel to the event, addressed relationships, her neighborhood, and dealing with a family member struggling with drug addiction.
Ali’s unexpected combination of singing and tap dancing focused on issues of social justice and gentrification.
“I wanted something different that was not what you would see at a regular show. When was the last time you saw a tap dancer? It’s not something that’s common, and she’s so supremely talented at it,” Harris said.
The celebration had a bittersweet edge, as Harris informed the audience that her grandmother, an influential part of her life, had passed away the night before. She paid tribute to her with a song she felt spoke to her grandmother’s giving attitude towards others.
Harris concluded her jubilant event by bringing her parents up on stage to dance with her. As she celebrated her 25th birthday, she wanted to put emphasis on the themes of joy and family that she felt are often overlooked in popular music.
“I have wanted to give more words to those feelings of connection, of friendship, of family, of fun, of self empowerment, self love, positivity, confidence, that kind of stuff,” said Harris. “It’s about telling the truth about things, being honest and being vulnerable rather than saying the same stuff you’ve heard a million times. God bless those who do it, but I’m over it.”