Legendary Venues: CBGB

About 2 weeks ago I was hired for a gig at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park, NJ. My position for the show was since cut, but at the time I was super stoked to work a show there. For those who don’t know, The Stone Pony is a legendary venue known for launching the careers of famed New Jersey rockers Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen. It got me thinking about music venues. There’s plenty of famous venues across the country and I should probably write about them some time. So here we are. I thought at first I’d write one epic blog post about a bunch of them, but then I figured it would get too long. Instead, I’ll be doing a new blog series spotlighting each one. The first on that list is one of the most legendary venues I can think of, CBGB (& OMFUG).

The now defunct CBGB was founded in 1973 by Hilly Kristal. CBGB, which stands for “Country Bluegrass Blues” (& “Other Music For Uplifting Gormandizers”), was located at 315 Bowery in the Bowery neighborhood of Lower Manhattan, NYC. CBGB originally was opened to house the genres it was named for but became a haven for late 70’s punk rock bands. It is often referred to as the birth place of punk rock. The venue gave rise to many bands who frequented it’s grounds like The Ramones, Patti Smith, Blondie, Television, Talking Heads, Misfits, The Dead Boys, and Joan Jett. It’s decor was somewhat legendary too. Graffiti covered the walls of the venue making CBGB look just as edgy and original as the bands who played there.

In the 1980’s it became a mainstay for hardcore bands like Gorilla Biscuits, Agnostic Front, Youth of Today, Sick of It All, Cro-Mags, and Murphy’s Law. By the 90’s, bands like Green Day, Sum-41, and Korn became synonymous with the famed venue.

CBGB operated until the mid 00’s when rent became an issue and forced its closure in October of 2006. Patti Smith played the final show at CBGB on October 15th of that year. Since its closure, the site where CBGB once stood has transformed into a John Varvatos retail store, but remnants of its existence still stand. Outside the store, the pavement is engraved with the marker “CBGB 73” to commemorate the venue’s existence and the year in which it was founded. The store itself pays homage to the venue through its decor as well.

I first learned about CBGB shortly before it closed in 2006. At the time my music of choice was from alternative genres like indie, emo, punk, ska, and hardcore, so the venue had a significance to me. Although I listened to more modern bands from those genres I went through a period where I listened to classic punk bands like The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, and The Clash. Besides the music, the culture of punk rock really stood out to me, making the CBGB seem like the coolest venue ever. After learning about The Ramones and more about punk rock history, I added The Ramones classic logo band tee along with a CBGB t-shirt to my collection. I wore both with pride. By the time I realized I wanted to visit the CBGB though, it was about ready to close its doors. After it closed, I remember thinking I should just go see it, even if it was only from the outside, but I didn’t visit NYC much then so it never happened. In fact, even though I visit NYC more now, I always forget that I still need to make a stop at 315 Bowery even if it is just a John Varvatos store.

Though the venue ceases to exist, it’s still a prominent tourist spot in NYC. There was also a music festival honoring the legendary venue from 2012-2014. I actually had CBGB feels while writing this because I just watched my favorite band play a “Blitzkrieg Bop” cover last night knowing I’ll never get to see The Ramones play it in the place that made them famous. Even though the venue isn’t around anymore, its spirit is still alive and well making CBGB & OMFUG one of, if not the most legendary music venues ever.

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