20 bands. 9 venues. 3 nights. 1 destroyed umbrella… and a lot of beer.
For the first time this year, I lucked into a badge for the CMJ music festival here in New York, thanks to business associate, blogstress extraordinaire and all around swell gal, Jen Kellas. Previously, the hefty price tag ($500 this year) has engendered a sourish, grapey taste in my mouth, and I’ve assumed that CMJ was just like an average weekend night in NYC — hundreds of bands playing in dozens of rock clubs and theaters scattered across Manhattan and Brooklyn. But once you have that free pass burning a whole in your pocket (because really, who’s going to jeopardize their cool points by wearing it around their neck?) you sort of feel pressure to get the most of out of it.
Theoretically, the badge lets you get into any official CMJ showcase in the city (not to mention the film and discussion panels, but I do have a day job to worry about), so you could conceivably plan some ridiculous itinerary in which you planned to hop from club to club every hour, making your own special live mixtape of super-hip indie. But realistically, you’ve got a lot of barriers that stand in your way. For starters, a lot of bands are just scheduled against one another, forcing you to make the kinds of Sophie’s choice decisions that make hipsters wake up in a cold sweat at night. Dent May or The XX? Hot Lava or The Golden Silvers? Then there’s distance. New York has great public transit and is super dense, but this ain’t Burning Man. Even if you want to blow your beer money on cabs, you’re still going to find it hard to get from Park Slope to the Bowery in less time than it takes the sound guy to get more vox in the guitar player’s monitor. And of course there’s what I like to call “rock and roll time,” the strange chronometric system used by hipsters, musicians, tricky mics and very drunk people that runs much slower and later than Eastern Standard Time.
But my biggest concern was actually just getting into these shows, as most of them are open to the unwashed masses (though to be fair, many of the badge holders could’ve used a shower as well). While many of these shows wouldn’t sell out, several of the ones that were high on my list seemed like they might, and I didn’t want to find myself getting turned away all over town after spending all that money on cab fare to get there on time. So my plan of attack was mostly to just get to a club plenty early to see one band I really was crazy about, even if it meant my options for the earlier time slots in the evening were limited to whatever was going on at the club I happened to be at.
Over the next few days I’m going to describe my three nights of sleepless rocking out at CMJ 2009, along with some closing thoughts about the festival itself.