Blondie, Public Enemy, Bad Brains’ HR and Institute were among the acts that performed today (Aug. 31) in New York’s Washington Square Park in a last-ditch attempt to rally support for venerable rock club CBGB, but the venue’s landlord, the Bowery Residents’ Committee, has apparently already decided to evict.
BRC Executive Director Muzzy Rosenblatt said in a statement that “it is in the best interest of our clients — the homeless and neediest New Yorkers — to sever this relationship.” CBGB’s existing lease for its longtime home on the Bowery expires tonight at midnight.
CBGB owner Hilly Kristal and Rosenblatt have been feuding for years over back rent, which the BRC went to court to collect. The statement asks CBGB to “vacate the premises both voluntarily and expeditiously,” but rally host Little Steven Van Zandt vowed that the club would not go down without a fight.
“CBGB will remain open,” Van Zandt told Billboard.com earlier today. “Let’s hope they don’t file those papers, because it will be in the courts for months [if they do].”
Kristal told Billboard.com that moving CBGB to a new location is not his preferred solution to the dispute, which centers on five years worth of back rent that the BRC went to court to collect.
“CBGB started here and it was nurtured here,” Kristal said. As for moving the club elsewhere, he observed, “Moving to Times Square wouldn’t be the same thing. [A rock club changing locations] has never worked in New York. I’ve been here for a lot of years and it always fails.”
Institute leader Gavin Rossdale reflected fondly to Billboard.com about his former band Bush’s debut U.S. show at CBGBs in January 1995. “This was our first sold-out show,” he said. “It was the first time I’d played to an audience that knew my music.” Beyond that thrill, the artist emphasized how CBGB remains a beacon for young, developing acts. “It’s such an incredible place to foster talent,” he said. “The way to be in a band is to get out and play.”
It was a sentiment echoed by director Jonathan Demme, who shot a video for Steve Earle’s “Rich Man’s War” at CBGB on the night of the 2004 presidential election. “Young people can go for a very modest admission price and see other young people,” he said, adding, “I still see a lot of great music at CBGB.”