Cayman Airways Skies September/October 2012 : Page 54
Sounds and Stages of 54 Cayman Airways www.caymanairways.com © Jamie Farrant/iStockphoto.com
Sounds And Stages Of New York City
With hundreds of theatres, clubs and music halls throughout the city, and even more local bands clambering to perform in them, New York is brimming over with great options for unique, live music performances.
Surrounded by hip thirty-somethings in vintage black-rimmed glasses, energy building as the Wu-Tang Clan’s GZA gets set to perform his seminal hip-hop album Liquid Swords for a sold-out crowd at Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg, my mind drifts through a decade’s worth of live music memories in New York City.
Dolly Parton belts out bluegrass classics at the 1,025-capacity Irving Plaza. Ex-Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan commands the stage at Gramercy Theatre with brooding, baritone bravado as he guides the Soulsavers through a mesmerising set of electronic-tinged gospel-rock. Movie soundtracks of classic spaghetti westerns cascade through Radio City Music Hall as legendary Italian composer Ennio Morricone conducts for a live audience for just the second time in North America. The sun sets on Central Park as the psychedelic sounds of Ween are practically drowned out by thousands of euphoric fans, swept up in the rapture of the moment, hanging on every last note and shouting along with every last word.
There’s something magical about live music in New York; something markedly different than the experience in Detroit, Los Angeles, Nashville and other U.S. music capitals. It doesn’t matter whether it starts with the performers and trickles down to the audience, or vice versa: it’s there..
You can see it, you can feel it, and you can almost reach out and touch it. Aspiring and established musicians alike look forward to performing here, and their fans dream of seeing their favourite bands here. When it happens, the cost of admission often becomes meaningless compared to the deep-rooted memory of that unique New York experience.
“I have seen so many good shows in this great city. Paul McCartney on the top of the Ed Sullivan Theater marquee, Jaco Pastorius at the Lone Star Café, Miles Davis at Avery Fisher Hall, James Brown at Radio City Music Hall… I could go on forever,” says multi-instrumentalist Dave Dreiwitz, who for the past 15 years has played bass for terminally underrated (and recently disbanded) rockers Ween. “I just saw Larry Graham and Graham Central Station at Beekman Beer Garden. It was just amazing. There were only about 70 people there, and it was so loud I had to plug my ears, but it was so good that it made me cry.”
Follow the Leaders
Ask 100 New Yorkers to name the city’s best live-music venues and you’ll likely get 100 different responses. There are, of course, the iconic, world-renowned spaces including Radio City Music Hall, Carnegie Hall, Avery Fisher Hall and Beacon Theatre, but beyond New York’s historic concert halls hundreds of smaller venues play host to local and touring performers on a nightly basis.
Jazz collectives at Greenwich Village landmark Village Vanguard; singer-songwriters at the Lower East Side’s always jam-packed Living Room; underground indie rock at tiny galleries and cafés such as Glasslands, Cameo and Zebulon in Brooklyn’s trendy Williamsburg neighbourhood; outdoor performances at Central Park’s SummerStage and Prospect Park’s Bandshell during the summer — New Yorkers are spoiled for choice. “On any given night there are probably 150–200 shows you could choose from, and that’s not an exaggeration,” says Aaron Leeder, a 29-year-old guitarist who lives in Brooklyn. “There are other fantastic music towns in the States, but when it comes down to quantity, NYC has the most to offer.”
That abundance of choice can sometimes be overwhelming, however, for many of the more than 50 million visitors who descend on the city every year. Sure, you’ll naturally seek out familiar performers no matter which venue they’re at, but if you’re simply searching for a slice of New York’s unparalleled music scene in a space representative of its energy and diversity, follow the lead of the city’s working musicians themselves.
Look Up the Lower East Side
“One of my favourite smaller rooms is Stage 1 at Rockwood Music Hall, not only because of the cosy environment, but also because the crowd seems to know that this is one of the great listening rooms in the city,” says Leeder, who currently plays with New York-based rock bands Exit Clov, Sri and Drunken Sufis. “The space is almost too small to even have your own conversation or socialise, so it’s truly a place where people go to enjoy music and actually listen to what the musicians are singing and playing.”
Featuring live music seven nights a week and located at 196 Allen Street, just a block away from the 2nd Avenue subway station (orange F line), Rockwood Music Hall is indeed one of the most intimate spots in lower Manhattan to catch acoustic performances and up-and-coming singer-songwriters from around the world. Tiny Stage 1 has space for less than 50 people, while the newer Stage 2 can accommodate up to 200.
Leeder says some of his favourite bars and restaurants are also within walking distance of Rockwood. “If I’m craving pizza after a show I generally walk up First Avenue to South Brooklyn Pizza, between 7th Street and St. Marks Place. I’ve been all over town and think this is pretty much the best spot for a stellar slice,” he says. “As far as bars go, after the show I like Marshall Stack on Rivington Street, or sometimes just hop in a cab and head to Brooklyn Bowl in Williamsburg.” (See sidebar.)
Fellow Brooklyn-based musician Doe Paoro’s soulful debut album Slow to Love was released to critical acclaim earlier this year and was followed by a mention on influential music blog “Stereogum” as a “band to watch.” She recalls her group’s first performance at Pianos, a two-story Lower East Side restaurant and indie-rock club at 158 Ludlow Street, which is also a short walk from the F-line's 2nd Avenue station. “Our first show in New York at Pianos was special — it felt like there was magnetism in the air,” says Paoro. “I hadn’t performed in New York for over a year and a half, and had written all these new songs and had all this energy stored up ready to go kinetic. It was packed and the band was completely tapped in the whole time. My whole body was kind of crying, and when I looked out I saw the same in the audience.”
Guitarist and lead vocalist Billy McCarthy and his Brooklyn rock band, We Are Augustines, spent two months this summer touring in support of the Counting Crows. “We played Webster Hall a few months back, which is a beautiful venue, but for a favourite I would have to choose Music Hall of Williamsburg,” he says. “It’s such a quaint venue that’s full of character and is one of the best-sounding rooms in the city. We have so many fond memories playing there.”
Like Dreiwitz, Leeder and Paoro, he’s also played numerous shows in the East Village and Lower East Side over the years and recalls two of his go-to aftershow spots for a drink and bite to eat. “During my earlier years in New York I was playing a lot of the clubs around there,” he says. “Afterwards it would always be a quick pint in a bar called the SKINnY on Orchard Street, and then over to Punjabi Grocery & Deli on Houston Street for the best vegetarian homemade curry in the city.” For her part, Paoro recommends the fresh fruit and vegetable smoothies from organic deli Earth Matters at 177 Ludlow.
The City that Never Sleeps
New York’s treasure trove of music spaces are but a means to an end. As it’s been since the days of the Rat Pack, the ever-swelling pool of gifted, hungry musicians is what sets this city’s music scene apart and what makes its hundreds of venues, large and small, sustainable. “There are so many musicians either living here or passing through, and because New York draws people from all over the world there is this constant sharing and translation of culture in music,” says Paoro. “It’s inspiring; I’m always learning. The pulse never dies here.”
Dreiwitz, who says two highlights of his life are playing on “sacred ground” at Central Park — in 1993 as a member of Joan Osborne’s backing band and in 2010 with Ween — agrees. “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere,” he says. “It’s a tough place to live, but that doesn’t stop anybody. The amount of talent here is staggering. Even when people move somewhere quieter or easier to live, I know New York always stays with them.”
BOWLING, BANDS AND BREWS
Around the corner from Brooklyn Brewery and across the street from trendy Wythe Hotel, Brooklyn Bowl is a stunning 23,000-squarefoot space that’s easily one of the most unique nightlife spots in the city — and one of its busiest.
Opened in 2009 and hosting bands and Djs every day of the week, including a long-running Thursday night residency with DJ ?uestlove of hip-hop supergroup The Roots, Brooklyn Bowl features a 600-capacity performance venue shouldering 16 bowling lanes, a packed bar with more than 10 locally brewed beers on tap, and a small restaurantstyle seating area where plates of fried chicken, catfish sandwiches, gourmet macaroni and cheese, and other rich cuisine from renowned Blue Ribbon Restaurants are served. It can take as long as 2–3 hours to get a bowling lane on weekend nights, but this is one spot well worth the wait.
Getting There: Brooklyn Bowl is located at 61 Wythe Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, just across the East River. Take the crosstown L train, which runs along 14th Street in Manhattan, east to Bedford Avenue, the first stop in Brooklyn. Walk north on Bedford Ave. To N. 11th Street, turn left, go two blocks to Wythe and look for the lit entrance and doorman on your right.
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