Todd Abramson Talks Maxwell’s Closing: ‘It Just Felt Like It Was Time’

The news that Maxwell's -- the beloved Hoboken, NJ club that's nurtured multiple generations of indie and alternative acts since the early 1980s -- will close its doors at the end of July has been met with regrets and fond reminiscences on a scale far beyond the venue's modest 200-person capacity. Longtime booker and co-owner Todd Abramson said the club has fallen victim to changes in gentrifying Hoboken. “When you find yourself spending more time dealing with parking problems than booking bands, you start to think that maybe it's time to start considering other options,” he told Billboard.biz.

Maxwell's -- Legendary, Long-Running Hoboken Venue -- to Close in July

"With the closing of Maxwell's, the New York area has lost a landmark venue," says the Agency Group's Christian Bernhardt, whose band …And You Will Know Us by the Trail Of Dead will play the club on July 23. "For me, it was the only real alternative when adding shows to a Manhattan/Brooklyn run of dates."

"It's a very sad day where we are losing a legendary music institution," says Eric Dimenstein, an agent at Ground Control Touring. "A lot of touring musicians will miss what they saw as an important play on their touring itineraries. Despite the size, they knew some big and important shows happened there and were always honored to play there and were always treated well."

It's not surprising that the news has pressed so many emotional buttons, since the modest corner restaurant/venue has maintained an international influence, and remained a popular destination for a wide array of acts, in the years since it began presenting live music in its back room in the early 1980s.

Todd Abramson, the venue's longtime booker and co-owner, and his partners, Hoboken musician Dave Post and Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley, recently decided not to renew the club's lease.

"It just felt like it was time," says Abramson, who's booked Maxwell's since 1986 (except for a short period in the late 1990s when it changed hands and was converted into a short-lived brew pub) and has been a co-owner since 1998. 

The club's closing is a reflection of changing times -- not as much in the music business as in the increasingly gentrified Hoboken, which is now a radically different place than the working-class/bohemian enclave it was when Maxwell's first opened in 1978. According to Abramson, such factors as the difficulty of parking, and the long gauntlet of sports bars and associated rowdy patrons that now lies between Maxwell's and Hoboken's PATH train station, have made it a growing challenge to run a live music venue.

"Hoboken has definitely become a very frustrating place to try and operate in," Abramson says of the city, in which he still resides. "And when the issues become so overwhelming that you can no longer operate, and you find yourself spending more time dealing with parking problems than booking bands, you start to think that maybe it's time to start considering other options."

Beyond the parking situation (which has resulted in many bands' and patrons' vehicles being ticketed or booted), Abramson says that Maxwell's has been deeply affected by Hoboken's changing culture and demographics. Much of the club's original music-loving clientele has been driven out by gentrification and replaced by residents prone to less adventurous nightlife choices, while the increasingly rowdy atmosphere of Washington Street's main drag has made the prospect of a nighttime visit less than appealing for non-Hobokenites.

"A lot of my younger customer base, meaning people in their 20s and early 30s, have left, because the vibe of Hoboken no longer appeals to them and the city no longer has much to offer them," Abramson notes. "And the people who've replaced them and moved into the luxury condos don't have much interest in going to see the A-Bones."

Maxwell's became a music venue in the early '80s after the neighborhood band "a" -- comprised of future Individuals leader and Bar/None Records owner Glenn Morrow and the three original members of the Bongos -- asked original owner Steve Fallon for a gig.  Under Fallon's management, the club became an unpretentious, musician-friendly home base for a thriving music and arts scene, as well as a beloved stop for touring bands. 

As Bongos founder Richard Barone -- whose band was one of the first to parlay their Maxwell's-nurtured notoriety into a recording career -- posted on his Facebook page, "Maxwell's was a one-of-a-kind venue when it first started. With its all-embracing loving arms it nurtured bands and customers alike in a unique, non-aggressive, yet totally energized rockin' kind of way that simply defied description or duplication. There was nothing else like it."

Over the years, Maxwell's has played host to virtually every significant alternative rock act, including R.E.M., Husker Du, the Replacements, the Meat Puppets, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins and hometown heroes Yo La Tengo, whose annual run of Hanukkah benefit shows have become a local tradition.

"Even as things have gotten harder in the last few years, I think that we've managed to maintain the club at a fairly high level, and I'd rather go out like that than see it gradually fizzle out and fall off the map," Abramson asserts. "It's better to bow out a year too early than a year too late."

Abramson plans to give Maxwell's an appropriate sendoff on July 31, and plans on having "a," the first band to perform at the club, also be the last. The temporarily reunited combo will share a bill with the Bongos.

Although Hoboken is still home to a handful of small rooms that feature live music, Abramson doesn't expect a similar club to spring up to fill the niche vacated by Maxwell's. "I think that day is gone," he says. 

After the club's final shows, Abramson will continue his other gig, booking Brooklyn's Bell House, while leaving open the possibility of opening another venue elsewhere in New Jersey. He has no interest, however, in reviving the Maxwell's brand in a new location.

"I would never call another place Maxwell's, because it's never gonna be Maxwell's," he states.  "There are a lot of things about Maxwell's that’ll be missed, but you can't just transport that history to another place."

(Additional reporting by Mitchell Peters in Los Angeles)