The killer punk flicks at the CBGB Festival are All Better than CBGB

Hilly would have been delighted.

As rock ‘n’ roll bands celebrate CBGB’s 40th anniversary, a film festival is also occurring this week, a cinematic salute to Manhattan’s hippest music club. One can only imagine the late Mr. Kristal, CB’s owner and purveyor of all things punk, somewhere whispering, “Cool idea, kids.”

Beth Toni Kruvant’s David Bromberg: Unsung Treasure, one of these films, performs two tricks simultaneously. First, her documentary demonstrates quiet movie magic. It also restores its subject to his rightful place in the pantheon of great guitarists. This superb session player and solo star in the ’70s is captured here with real charm, a humble guy who says, “I felt terrible that my name was Bromberg. That’s not a folksinger’s name.”

Kruvant’s film, which hinges on the guitarist’s partial return to performing (he quit playing live in 1980), came about when she saw Bromberg play one of Levon Helm’s Rambles in Woodstock, a few years back.

“He was on fire. I wondered where he’d been all this time. I looked into things to make sure there was a story there. David had stopped performing to make violins in Wilmington [Delaware] and was about to start recording a new album. I had my story.”

She did, indeed. Kruvant tells us all about Bromberg, from his difficult childhood to eventually accompanying Bob Dylan and George Harrison. The movie culminates emotionally with the guitarist helping to restore Wilmington’s crumbling theater, The Queen. Kruvant took two years to make her doc, and the former lawyer used the time well, crafting a fine film about a musician who walked away from showbiz. But also saved his soul.

Punk rock is regally represented with two terrific documentaries: Gorman Bechard’s Every Everything: The Music, Life & Times of Grant Hart and Lilly Scourtis Ayers’s Last Fast Ride: The Life, Love, and Death of a Punk Goddess, depicting the tragic tale of an L.A. cult figure. Neither film is feel-good. Both, however, are beautifully sad.

“I wasn’t sure Grant would do it,” says Bechard, who also made Color Me Obsessed, about Replacements fans. “But I sent him Errol Morris’s The Fog of War, with Robert McNamara, alone, simply talking about Vietnam. I wanted to do something like that. And Grant was sold.”

Bechard’s film eloquently imparts that brilliance (like former Hüsker Dü drummer Hart’s), is often more hindrance than help, whether filming the musician standing in a vacant lot where his house burned down—and remembering where everything was—or holding forth on poet John Milton (who inspired his new album). This documentary dynamically reminds us that smarts don’t ensure success or happiness.

Ayers’s film, about throwaway child Marian Anderson, treads similarly sad turf. Ride recounts Anderson’s short, horrid life: molestation by her father, numerous suicide attempts, and finally finding her “family” amid the ’80s Bay Area punk scene.

“It began when I was 17 and at a party,” says Ayers. “I looked over, and sitting on the couch was the ‘famous’ Marian from The Insaints, a legendary local band. That’s where the seed started.”

After seven years, marriage, two kids, and scores of interviews, the seed sprouted. With Henry Rollins narrating, Ride is more than just a film about an almost-star. The movie breaks your heart as it hints at how many castoff kids there are in the country. Who, with some support, wouldn’t fatally overdose at 33, as this gifted girl did. Ride tells Anderson’s story. But it should also resonate with anybody who’s found in punk rock an aural antidepressant.

Finally, the festival features Louder Than Love: The Grande Ballroom Story. This joyous blast from Detroit native Tony D’Annunzio details the hall where everybody from Iggy to The MC5 learned to “kick out the jams, Motherfucker!” or get off the MF-ing stage.

“My budget was under $15,000,” says D’Annunzio. “I have access to higher-end equipment because I work in the business, but that’s still really cheap. The main thing is, this was from my heart. I was too young to go to the Grande in the ’60s, so doing this story was the next best thing. It took four years to make. But it doesn’t matter. I followed my dream.”

As with Ayers’s film, there’s also a subplot. The people who worked or played at the ballroom made do with bad pay and no perks—as someone in the film says, this happened before rock stars “had personal assistants” and the fun became big business. Want to see The MC5 in their prime? Or the Who? Check out Louder. This documentary, like most punk rock, was made for all the right reasons. As for the CBGB Festival’s film lineup? You can say exactly the same thing.




The Year Punk Bored: CBGB Could’ve Been Good But…

CBGB begins with a bit of misdirection. You think punk started at 315 Bowery. You’re wrong. It began in a basement in Connecticut with two ne’er-do-wells, John Holmstrom and Legs McNeil. There, according to the film—a mostly turgid, boring-as-hell, campy slog that gets more wrong than right—the two created Punk magazine, and thusly punk. Never mind that you can’t have a zine that covers punk if punk doesn’t already exist, or that McNeil’s contention that he coined the term has long been disputed. CBGB treats his claim as gospel. It’s the film’s lede.

From there, we’re off to the wrongheaded races.

Cut to: a baby jumping from its crib and running for miles through a Hightstown, New Jersey, chicken farm before nearly being run over by his parents’ speeding pickup truck in pursuit of their missing son. Their boy’s crib jailbreak and subsequent marathon is “just not normal,” they say, pointing out the obvious in order to drive home an unsubtle point: This baby is special.

Cut to: that baby, 40 years later and all grown up, bored to tears in front of a judge who sternly (and conveniently) runs down his bio for the audience. Hilly Kristal (Alan Rickman) is a lazy, unimpressive, once-divorced, twice-bankrupt club owner, incapable of greeting rock bottom with anything more than a shrug.

He sleeps on a dirty mattress on the floor with his dog, whose overactive bowels the film feels it must remind you of every 15 minutes or so. He strolls leisurely through the hellscape that is lower Manhattan in the ’70s, until happening upon the Palace Bar at 315 Bowery, where he plops down for a drink and imagines what the joint could be if he slapped a coat of paint on it.

Hilly’s original vision for the place, of course, is to bring country music to the Bowery (CBGB famously stands for “country bluegrass blues”), but that’s in geographical short supply. He books Television instead, and the first jittery notes of “Marquee Moon” they belt out from the stage stand as one of the film’s few highlights. (Another, in an expert bit of casting, is actor Jared Carter’s uncannily resemblance to a young David Byrne.) The Ramones, Blondie, Patti Smith, Talking Heads, The Police, Iggy Pop—many CBGB heavyweights are touched on in one way or another, none more so than The Dead Boys, whom Hilly would go on to manage, and who occupy an embarrassing and time-consuming side story that goes nowhere.

There’s a lot to nitpick: the way the movie is shot like a comic book for a tenuous-at-best tie-in to Punk magazine; the many punk icons reduced to laughable caricature (Richard Hell, Cheetah Chrome, Stiv Bators, and all of The Ramones, in particular); an odd emphasis on how often Hilly’s dog poops; the egregious Fresca product placement; the complete and total absence of anyone of color (save a knife-wielding Latino gang); the fact that the walls of this CBGB are covered in stickers of bands who—if we’re sticking to the movie’s timeline—have not yet played their first note, much less the club. But CBGB’s biggest problem is that it’s taken such electrifying source material and done absolutely zilch with it.

For example: Forget exploring the storied bands that called CBGB home, their relationship with Hilly, and how the whole thing came to be. Instead, there are at least four scenes in CBGB where Hilly, his daughter, and a sometimes-Scottish, sometimes-not Merv Ferguson (Donal Logue) sort receipts. In several more, Hilly’s daughter, Lisa (Ashley Greene, complete with New York accent she clearly didn’t inherit from her father), admonishes him for his woeful lack of business acumen and general cluelessness. “No wonder mom left you!” “No wonder your other clubs went bankrupt!” (Don’t even get her started on how he’s wasting money by not buying toilet paper in bulk.)

And forget Hilly the special baby: As an adult, he walks through his life in the rat-infested, crime-plagued, junkie-cramped Bowery with an odd detachment, a sad lump of a man who is always half asleep, rarely knows what the hell is going on, and is in constant need of rescue. Never mind that history has revealed him to be a shrewd businessman with an ear for talent and a preternatural ability to strike while the iron is hot. CBGB would have you believe he lucked into his life, that history fell into his lap with the thud of a Voice article about his club, and we should all thank our lucky stars he was surrounded by people who could see what he couldn’t.

The story of Hilly’s historic club is, of course, well-trodden, but likely unknown by many more familiar with the famous logo than the fact that it’s the place The Ramones were first given a platform. CBGB misses the opportunity to educate. But its biggest sin, unlike many who performed there, is that it also misses the opportunity to entertain.


Hey Ho, Let’s Go!: The CBGB Festival

“I certainly didn’t love every band that played CBGB, but I did love to encourage them to do their own thing, to challenge the establishment,” asserted late CBGB founder Hilly Kristal. “I’ve always felt the stronger you are about yourself and your own ideas (in this case musical ideals), the more satisfying your success, hopefully, the more rewarding your future.”

It’s been seven years since Patti Smith performed the final show at the legendary club at 315 Bowery, and 40 years since the first act, country singer Con Fulham, played opening night—CBGB’s name having always stood for “country bluegrass blues.”

And the music continues.

The second annual CBGB Festival features about 700 established and emerging artists showcased over five days in more than 150 venues, not to mention guest speakers from every realm of the music industry. And, oh yeah, a free concert in Times Square on October 12 featuring My Morning Jacket, The Wallflowers, Grizzly Bear, and many more.

How many of those musicians will be “challenging” the establishment in the vein of CBGB alumni such as Television, the Ramones, and Richard Hell, per Kristal’s wish? Louise Parnassa-Staley, CBGB’s booker from 1986 to closing, who chose much of the talent for this year’s festival, says, “Our criteria was quite in the CBGB spirit: originality, songs, and live shows. We spent a lot of time reviewing each band, making sure they are actively gigging.”

While some bands capture the essence of CBGB (or are veterans of its stage), others, like Lisa Loeb, come from further afield. Here, we offer a few picks for bands and speakers over the course of the festival. See them all, or die knowing you pissed on the doorstep of the home punk rock helped build.

Genya Raven and Cheetah Chrome

Leftfield Bar October 9

Genya Ravan (aka Goldie) famously fronted Goldie and the Gingerbreads, who toured with the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds, and the Kinks, and had a hit with “Can’t You Hear My Heart Beat.” Ravan also produced the Dead Boys’ 1977 album, Young Loud and Snotty, and supports old and new music via her Sirius/XM radio show, Chicks and Broads. Not so coincidentally, ex-Dead Boys guitarist, the legendary Cheetah Chrome, shares the bill with Ravan.

Duff McKagan

Landmark Sunshine Cinema October 10

The most punk Guns N’ Roses alumnus, bassist (and sometimes drummer) McKagan has morphed into a super-smart businessman and journalist who’s seen it all and lived to tell. Here, he offers the festival’s keynote address.

The Spanish Channel

Trash Bar October 10

Brooklyn’s own Spanish Channel describe their sound as “melodic power pop—catchy up-tempo rock with harmony-heavy vocals, and lyrics that tell the stories of life in New York City.” Featuring the shredding guitar stylings of Berklee graduate Lauren Stockner, The Spanish Channel manage to be both commercial and cool.

Carry On Band Series

Bowery Electric October 10

Here’s one in the true spirit of CBGB (and on the Bowery, no less). Not exactly sure what this is, but you certainly know who it is, which is why you should go if you know and like any of these CBGB heavy hitters: Andy Shernoff, Cheetah Chrome, Glenn Matlock, Lydia Lunch, Syl Sylvain, The Waldos, Sick Fucks, Tuff Darts, Lenny Kaye, Richard Lloyd, Rob Duprey, Ivan Kral, Certain General, Dee Pop’s Private World, Faith, The Planets, and The Rattlers.

“Producers, Studios

& A&R—A Lost Art?”

Landmark Sunshine Cinema October 10

These men know music and business, and the stories will be epic. Featuring Michael Alago (Metallica, White Zombie, Cyndi Lauper); Steve Greenberg (S-Curve Records; discovered Hanson, the Jonas Brothers, and Joss Stone, and won a Grammy as the producer of “Who Let the Dogs Out” by Baha Men); Eric Ambel (Del-Lords, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Steve Earle); and Tony Bongiovi (cousin of Jon Bon Jovi and producer of Talking Heads and the Ramones).

“Artists & Their Attorneys”

Landmark Sunshine Cinema October 10

For the “business” of music, forewarned is forearmed. Get advice from Julie Swidler, Jake Friedman, Michael McDonald, David Jacobs, and Elliot Groffman.

“Book ‘Em—The Transition

From Writer to Author”

Landmark Sunshine Cinema October 10

Featuring, ahem, Louder Than Hell authors Katherine Turman and Jon Wiederhorn, Jacob Hoye from MTV Books, and literary agent James Fitzgerald.

Puss N Boots

Bowery Electric October 11

Norah Jones sold more than 26 million copies of her debut record and has won nine Grammy Awards. She can sell out Madison Square Garden, but chooses a smaller venue for her side projects. This one, Puss N Boots, features Sasha Dobson of Ryan Adams and the Cardinals and Catherine Popper of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals.


Niagara October 11

In 1981, New York hardcore punk rock band Kraut made their first public appearance, opening for The Clash at Bonds. A Kraut reunion show in 2002 at CBGB yielded the album Kraut—Live at CBGB’s, so it’s only appropriate they’re playing the festival. Bonus: This show is curated by music-and-club-man-about-town Jesse Malin (D-Generation), so it’s a safe bet that the other bands on the bill—High-Teen Boogie, Ingrid and The Defectors, and The Threads—are rockers to be reckoned with.

John Sinclair

The Cutting Room October 11

All you need to know: John Sinclair founded the White Panther Party, managed the MC5, and John Lennon wrote a song about him. Along with Carlo Ditta (who produced Willy De Ville), the pair present a “mystical fusion of folk, funk, blues, soul, and passionate beat poetry.”

Saint Rich

Bowery Electric October 12

When a band claims their song “Officer” is “jubilant post–T.Rex,” well, investigation is called for. And damned if they’re not lying. Precious but dirty and transcendent, Saint Rich—fronted by songwriter Christian Peslak and guitarist Steve Marion—also record under the moniker Delicate Steve, and have released two albums on David Byrne’s Luaka Bop Records. Saint Rich’s new one, Beyond the Drone, is just out on Merge.

Honorable mention for best band names: Fancy Regan, Krunk Pony, Flux Capacitor, Pants Exploded, The Oxford Coma, Bass Drum of Death, Logan’s Run, Brunch of the Living Dead.

The CBGB Festival takes place October 9–13 at venues around the city. Visit for more information.



Wish you could have been in NYC for the rise of hip-hip in the ’80s? Tonight, let photographer Ricky Powell (a/k/a the Fourth Beastie Boy) educate you at “Funky Dope Maneuvers,” an exhibition and slideshow of New York and its legendary characters, including Run–D.M.C., the Beastie Boys back when they were young punks, Basquiat and Andy Warhol, and more. Tonight’s reception, part of the CBGB Music and Film Festival and presented by GRIT New York, includes photos measuring 40 feet high and beats provided by DJ Stretch Armstrong.

Wed., Oct. 9, 8 p.m., 2013


‘Robert Gordon’s Elvis Birthday Bash’

When the Ramones were wearing Elvis-esque leather, their fellow CBGBs performer Robert Gordon was channeling the King’s Sun Records years with the release of his 1977 rockabilly breakthrough, Robert Gordon With Link Wray. Tonight, he performs his ninth annual Elvis Birthday Bash, where he pays tribute to the man whose “Heartbreak Hotel” stirred him as a 9-year-old and whose “One Night” he covered to get a record deal. All hail the King!

Wed., Jan. 9, 7:30 p.m., 2013


Photos: CBGB And The Old Bowery Live On… In Savannah, Georgia

Today is the beginning of the CBGB Festival, a series of shows, panel discussions, and movie screenings that will stretch on into the weekend. The festival just so happens to coincide with the filming of a movie about the storied Bowery rock haven starring Alan Rickman as CBGB impresario Hilly Kristal; the East Village of yore is being recreated not in New York (not even in a Long Island City soundstage!), but in Savannah, Georgia. We had photographer Dylan Wilson take some shots of the set to see if the spirit of the once-grungy strip can be recreated in The Peach State.

Classic cars line Congress Street in Savannah, Georgia during the filming of <em>CBGB</em>. Paula Deen's restaurant, The Lady and Sons, is in the background.
Classic cars line Congress Street in Savannah, Georgia during the filming of CBGB. Paula Deen’s restaurant, The Lady and Sons, is in the background.
Actors shoot a scene for <em>CBGB</em> in Savannah, Georgia.
Actors shoot a scene for CBGB in Savannah, Georgia.
Classic cars and a Hilly's Piano Movers truck line up on Congress Street in Savannah, Georgia during the filming of <em>CBGB</em>.
Classic cars and a Hilly’s Piano Movers truck line up on Congress Street in Savannah, Georgia during the filming of CBGB.
The Bowery is recreated on Congress Street in Savannah, Georgia for the film <em>CBGB</em>.
The Bowery is recreated on Congress Street in Savannah, Georgia for the film CBGB.
Alan Rickman, center, as CBGB owner Hilly Kristal, and Ashley Greene, left, shoot a scene for the film <em>CBGB</em> on Congress Street in Savannah, Georgia.
Alan Rickman, center, as CBGB owner Hilly Kristal, and Ashley Greene, left, shoot a scene for the film CBGB on Congress Street in Savannah, Georgia.
Alan Rickman, center, as CBGB owner Hilly Kristal, and Ashley Greene, left, shoot a scene for the film CBGB on Congress Street in Savannah, Georgia.
Alan Rickman, center, as CBGB owner Hilly Kristal, and Ashley Greene, left, shoot a scene for the film CBGB on Congress Street in Savannah, Georgia.
A checker cab sits on the street in front of CBGB for filming in Savannah, Georgia.
A checker cab sits on the street in front of CBGB for filming in Savannah, Georgia.
Tires and other debris used to recreate the 1970s Bowery sit in front of the Paula Deen Store in Savannah, Georgia.
Tires and other debris used to recreate the 1970s Bowery sit in front of the Paula Deen Store in Savannah, Georgia.


There are plenty of questions floating around CBGB Festival. For starters: Who is this for? Was this inevitable in our retro-drenched society? What does Eytan and the Embassy playing for 20 disgruntled happy hour-goers have to do with the home of New York punk? But those will cease to matter when Guided by Voices headlines this afternoon’s SummerStage bash. Although the band has been around since the late ’80s, this year’s Let’s Go Eat the Factory proved that they still deserve to be billed above younger acts like indie poppers Pains of Being Pure at Heart, indie rockers War on Drugs, and indie thrashers Cloud Nothings, all of whom will be opening today’s show.

Sat., July 7, 3 p.m., 2012


CBGB Reborn, Sort Of: Here Is A Picture Of Its Georgia Stand-In

Next week, the CBGB Festival will take over a bunch of clubs around New York City in an effort to honor the legacy of the onetime Bowery staple, but right now in Savannah, Georgia, a movie about the club’s history is being filmed. Starring Alan Rickman as CBGB impresario Hilly Krystal and his Harry Potter co-star Rupert Grint as Cheetah Chrome, as well as a bunch of other boldfaced names (Donal Logue!), the movie is slated to open next year. The bulk of the filming will apparently be done on a soundstage, but the movie’s production people recreated the club’s grimy exterior, awning and all, in the city’s downtown. Can 2012 Georgia look as gritty as pre-Bowery-gentrification New York City? Find out below.


Convincing enough to inspire a mass exodus of people sickened by the invasion of John Varvatos and Andre Balazs? We’ll see!

Thanks to EV Grieve for the location heads-up, and to Dylan Wilson for the snap. If you want to see how the transplanted artifacts from the club are looking in the space that’s serving as the movie’s set, or how Rickman looks as Hilly Krystal, the Savannah Morning News is all over those developments, as are local Twitter-enabled residents.


CBGB Festival To Debut This July

The rumor earlier this year that CBGB, the storied Bowery punk club shuttered a few years back in order to make room for a store hawking overpriced menswear and vinyl, would be returning to the city in some form has apparently come closer to actually becoming true. Bryan Kuntz over at This Ain’t The Summer Of Love (found via EV Grieve) visited the bygone venue’s still-kicking official site and found an announcement for a festival—with “music, food, conference, [and] drink”—branded with the CBGB logo and scheduled for July 4-8. Other details—lineups, venues, cost, number of conference panels that will look wistfully back on The Good Old Days—are scant, but there is a link to CBGB Facebook page and another where interested bands can apply for consideration via the talent broker Sonicbids. That link elaborates a bit more on the festival’s aims:


The CBGB Festival is a five day celebratory showcase of music, film, distilled spirits and learning. From The Bowery and the Lower East Side to the streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, join them as they turn it up as loud as it will go this year during the 4th of July holiday week. July 4-8, 2012: Named for the greatest rock-n-roll venue in the world; they proudly introduce the first Annual CBGB Festival. Experience four energy-fueled days & nights of music, rock-n-roll films, insider-industry workshops, and intimate storytelling; all LIVE, all in New York City. CBGB has defined music and culture for generations of people around the world. Universally recognized as the birthplace of punk, CBGB continues to define new music and popular culture by fostering live performances & personal expression from artists around the city and across the globe.

The CBGB Festival will produce one of New York’s largest and most energetic music events in recent history. Rounding out the festival will be hundreds of performances, showcase concerts and music themed filmed parties & events in all five boros of NYC with a special focus on the Lower East Side & Brooklyn.

Attendees of the CBGB Festival will have a rare opportunity to showcase their creative talents to the numerous music fans from around the globe inclusive of leading record executives, award winning producers, managers, agents and globally published media. CBGB has always believed in supporting live music and new talent. The CBGB Festival aims to continue this tradition for many years to come.

A little stuffed with marketing-speak, and I don’t know if CBGB can still be called “the greatest rock-n-roll venue in the world” (the waning years before the closing was announced and the big names came back were a little rough, lineup-wise), and the whole “do we need branded nostalgia in order to represent forward-thinking music” argument still stands (the genres the festival’s looking for, according to the Sonicbids page, are overwhelmingly guitar-centric—hip-hop and electronic music aren’t mentioned), as does the fact that there’s so much free music in New York City every summer that paying for a four-day branded bender might be seen as a not-very-attractive proposition by potential ticket-buyers. But I guess we’ll see. At the very least, the festival should be fully stocked with branded merch!



Does New York City Really Need CBGB To Return?

So the big punks-not-dead news, that is actually a rumor, of the past 24 hours comes from a post on Gothamist claiming that the people who have access to a bunch of CBGB’s old things (although not the awning) are planning to reopen the iconic punk club “somewhere in Manhattan,” though not at the club’s old space on 315 Bowery because it’s currently being used to hawk expensive menswear and way-marked-up vinyl. So serious are these unnamed folks’ apparent intentions, in fact, that they have set up a Twitter account. Yesterday its timeline was studded with missives asking Courtney Love and Duff McKagan if they’d play a big festival happening this summer; there was also a Shepard Fairey-ish rejected poster for the fest. Those tweets have been deleted.

Also remaining: Questions about this whole enterprise. Namely, is breathing new life into the dessicated husk of CBGB really a necessary thing at this point? And is the club that results from this revival going to be any good—by which I mean “fun to go to, with decent bookings and not too many tourist trappings”—at all?

I’m not so sure. Call me a pessimist, but I suspect that any attempt to revitalize the CBGB “brand” with a club in Manhattan will likely result in a somewhat tourist-trappy club with overpriced drinks, awkward attempts to recreate the old “vibe”, museum-y honorings of punk legends past (even though wasn’t the whole point of punk… oh, forget it)—and, most importantly, lousy bookings studded by the occasional stunt show from a big-name artist that people not affiliated with the media or the biz can’t get into, but that will be promoted to the skies for “brand recognition” on both sides. (I can see the “SKRILLEX TO HEADLINE CBGB” press releases now!) This isn’t to say that I don’t have faith in whoever the people might be; I just think that maybe, at this point and especially given recent history, it’s better to let the idea of CBGB and what punk once was live on in everyone’s collective memory, whether those early notions were forged at Ramones shows in the ’70s or a Tsunami show in the ’90s. And no, it’s not a tragedy if future generations don’t get to share in those memories by going to a show “at CBGB”; let’s face it, the experience provided by a reconstituted version of the club in some other area of Manhattan will be more of a theme-park one that the kids will probably see right through and eschew for events that are more in keeping with their generation’s own ideas of what punk is, and what it can be.

(And real talk: If the people behind this CBGB revival will not sleep until their desire to bring a prismed version of Oldish New York City into the slicker, meaner, more moneyed New York of the present is satiated, why not revive Brownies? Or Tonic? They haven’t been exploited for nearly as many licensing opportunities—but, you know, that’s probably for the best. And during their twilights they generally had better bookings, too.)