By Nikki M. Mascali
Photos by Kyle Roarty
NEW YORK — When CBGB OMFUG opened in 1973, it was intended to be a home for country, bluegrass, blues and “Other Music For Uplifting Gormandizers.” Though the club ended up becoming ground zero for the punk revolution, the spirit of its first intentions for those hungry for music was alive and well Saturday amid the neon lights of New York’s Times Square for the free concert that closed the second annual CBGB Festival.
Hundreds of bands played at more than 175 venues in Brooklyn and Manhattan throughout the course of the six-day festival, which also featured 125-plus speakers and tons of music-centric movies, including the premiere of “CBGB.” The movie, starring Alan Rickman as CBGB founder Hilly Kristal, tells the story of how the grimy Bowery-based club became the birthplace of punk.
The Times Square portion of the festival stretched up Broadway from 46th to 52ndstreets and included tons of vendors, a Red Bull mini ramp for skaters, pro pumpkin carvers, and a hefty mix of festivalgoers and tourists fighting their ways through the throng.
The free concert featured performances from Lisa Loeb, The Wallflowers, Divine Fits, Grizzly Bear, a funky DJ set from James Murphy, formerly of LCD Soundsystem, and culminated in an explosive closing set from headliner My Morning Jacket. MMJ’s set included sit-ins by Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard, TuNeYaRds’ Merrill Garbus and the Antibalas horn section. Jakob Dylan of The Wallflowers joined MMJ for “Don’t Do It,” made famous by The Band.
In a press release, James described the experience as “incredibly surreal and beautiful, like playing Red Rocks if Red Rocks was made of computers and light. The crowd had great spirit! God Bless NYC!”
Having never been to Times Square for an event of this magnitude –and avoiding the area at all costs like most New Yorkers – I found the CBGB Festival to be a great way to remember the impact CBGB had on the musical landscape and to celebrate the spirit of music with hundreds of thousands of other gormandizers, both those who intended to there and those who just happened to walk on by.