Well, I sure am glad I got to perform in Jason Trachtenburg’s Me and Lee at Sidewalk late last month, for I just read in EV Grieve that it may no longer be long for this world.
I have to agree with Killy Dwyer, who posted “I feel sick to my stomach” this morning. I don’t know how “famous” the place is, but it is both influential and important, and has been very important to me. In the mid 90s I used to attend an open mic night there run by this guy Lach, who is considered the founder of Anti-Folk. I seldom use this word to describe my own music because people misunderstand the term, but that’s exactly what my music is. If anything, anti-folk was and is an attempt to recapture the roots of folk, back when it was in the hands of the FOLK. It values truth and honesty and rawness and rudeness and great songwriting, with less emphasis on the polish and perfection that became the hallmark of all the pretty singers who co-opted the folk movement when it went commercial in the early ’60 (Peter Paul & Mary, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, etc). Anti-folk uses acoustic instruments for the most part, but is closer in spirit in many ways to punk, grunge and garage band music, and hip-hop and spoken word . Anyway, that’s my take on it.
So, anyway, like I say, I used to go to that weekly open mic night at Sidewalk in the ’90s. I rarely stuck around for stage time (although I did play there a few times — I wore a suit from work; Lach quipped that I looked like Bob Roberts), but what I DID do was absorb the template. In ’97, I took over Johnny Hoppe’s very similar open mic at the Charleston in Williamsburg and ran that for a couple years, and made a bunch of lasting friends. And that experience bled over into my vaudeville show at Surf Reality, which operated according to similar (almost identical) aesthetic principals.
And from time to time, I would go back to Sidewalk over the years to catch performers. Here I am there on a date with my wife a few years back. We were catching performances by Jason Trachtenburg, as it happens, and his daughter Rachel’s band, Supercute:
And I have a very happy memory from just a couple of years ago, when we were at a friend’s birthday party on the Lower East Side (it was summer, I think) and walked by Sidewalk, and our friends Killy and Carla Rhodes popped out in an ebullient mood, fresh off the high of performing (at least I think it was the high of performing. Let’s just say it was the high of performing). And this is what we live in terror of…the fear that our home and the homeyness of our home is evaporating. The Lower East Side WAS a place where you could COUNT on bumping into friends every time you were out and about. It has become a place where people fall out of limousines, go into the venue or the boutique, then fall back into the limousine.
So we read with a great deal of concern a news item that informs us that some fancy schmancy new owners have acquired Sidewalk, may change the name, and “aren’t sure what sort of music they’ll book.” AREN’T SURE??? It’s the home and birthplace of anti-folk!!! It’s packed to the roof with customers every night! What do you mean you aren’t sure, you interlopers, you marauders??? Yeah? I’ll be boycottin’ that shit! Here’s the news item on EV Grieve.