A History of The Bartenders Ball

Circumstances beyond my control prevented me from attending the 2011 Jameson Bartenders Ball, which was held just a hop, skip, and a jump away from my abode, at the Knitting Factory in beloved Brooklyn (like me, the Knitting Factory used to have a home in downtown Manhattan). The idea of a Bartenders Ball has been around for a while. The RSVP for this event had a short application that asked which venue you worked at. They were keeping it real, keeping it industry.

Previous incarnations of this type had corporate sponsors like Camel cigarettes–when they were allowed to be smoked in clubs and restaurants–and were held at mega spots like Roseland Ballroom or the Hammerstein Ballroom. Thousands of club employees attended and drank and ate for free, while being entertained by incredible entertainers. I wrote about this in June 2009 as I produced The New York Nightlife Association’s Nightlife Preservation Community event, which was held at the now defunct M2.

A long time ago, a very bright guy named Jon Deitlebaum over at KBA Marketing sat with me, and together we came up with the idea of an end-of-year party for club/bar personnel. The Bartenders’ Balls were not just a magnanimous gesture from R.J. Reynolds (of Camel Cigarettes fame) and the liquor brands that sponsored them, but rather an attempt to project positive thoughts about specific brands into the minds of those pushing them on the street level. Even though the balls–like all corporate endeavors–were rooted in greed, the enthusiasm from corporate executives trying to make the event better each year was simply unreal.

The first Bartenders’ Ball was held at the ancient Roseland Ballroom. I remember going with Michael Blatter to see the ancient venue. Gray-haired couples slow-danced to ancient music as we did our tour. The first Bartenders’ Ball also featured Grace Jones and Run DMC. In later years, Debbie Harry performed, plus Ru Paul, the B-52s, James Brown, and Lenny Kravitz. These affairs were eventually held at the Hammerstein Ballroom as the acts and crowds got bigger. Open bars and free food made this annual post-Christmas affair a must-attend soiree for club staffers that hadn’t had much of a break during the preceding holiday season. In time, however, they kicked cigarettes out of the clubs, and the Bartenders’ Ball faded away. Every so often somebody does an event and they use the name, but these were the winners.

The M2 Bartenders’ Ball-inspired event of June 2009 was designed to show invited political figures the faces of the people in the nightlife community, which at the time was under tremendous pressure from enforcement agencies. Joints were being harassed out of business, in what was seen by many, including myself, as an attempt by real estate interests to reclaim neighborhoods. The formerly derelict hoods that had been set aside for nightclubs were now attractive to the co-ops and condo development crowd. The dream — now turned reality — of The High Line was invigorating areas traditionally interesting only to whores, pimps, scum, and the people who find those types interesting. Ironically, M2 fell victim to this assault. The area which it anchored — the West Chelsea club district — has little of the vibrancy that it did at that time. Gone as well are Cain, Bungalow 8, Home, Guesthouse, Pink Elephant, Bed, and Stereo. All of these joints had their moments — and sometimes years — in the sun and moon. While the negative types out there will say “good riddance,” I say that they were good businesses directly and indirectly employing thousands of people. In a city where jobs are often as scarce as good manners, the virtual closing of this hood to nightlife was a painful game. Only Marquee still stands of the relevant places. Its location just off the main club strip on 27th Street and the uber-diligence and professionalism of its staff weathered the imperfect storm that devastated its’ neighbors. It still makes money, still packs them in on weekends. Rumors abound that the whole hood is about to make a comeback of sorts. The Home/Greenhouse/Bed/Spirit building is to be a Box-related, performance-based joint. There are maneuvers up and down the block with the Cain space transforming and even action over at Marquee. The economic downturn is a seam in the real estate bubble that gives new life to previously licensed places that aren’t going to be made into housing …in the short term anyway

Throughout Manhattan, and in Brooklyn and Queens, nightlife has learned to live within communities for the most part. Although everyone complains about how impossible it is to get approved for licensing, people still manage. It takes more time and costs more money, but in many areas it certainly seems easier than two years ago. Places are still popping up. Every week this or that writer speaks of a new joint launching. The process surely favors the pros and the deep pocketed, but even the adventurous have adapted and many just give new birth to failing joints. The people who hosted that one-off at Jobee this past Saturday told me yesterday that they’re coming back for more, probably a weekly. All of a sudden a place we never heard of is a viable choice for the creatures of the night.

The event I produced with the guidance and support of so many others at the ill fated M2 in June 2009 had thousands show up to celebrate the idea that nightlife is an integral part of the city that never sleeps. Nightlife has renewed Vegas and Miami, where the local politicos recognize it as a driving force behind their brands and their economies. Alas, a city like New York built tall on an island has had little tolerance for the noise and litter that party animals create. I, and others, asked a bunch of the city’s most talented DJs to play that summer night so long ago, and they all showed up and were impressive. Among them were Louie Vega, Danny Krivit, Junior Vasquez, The Martinez Brothers, Peter Rauhofer, Q-Tip, The Misshapes, Paul Sevigny, Jus Ske, Mel DeBarge, Alex English, Eve Salvail, DJ Berrie, Marky Ramone, and Funkmaster Flex. Chloe Sevigny hosted. A good time was had by all. One of my many beefs with the New York Nightlife Association and New York State Restaurant Association, which sanctioned and benefited from this bartenders ball-inspired gathering, was that no one ever thanked these performers or the interns or so many others that worked so hard to make it possible. I have asked a dozen times and they always mean to get around to it. The Jameson Bartenders Ball stirred my memory and gives me the opportunity to say thanks.

Gig Guide 2/8 – 2/15: NYC’s Top Indie Rock Shows

For some, this week marks the start of Fashion Week, a time when “front row” means sitting stiffly next to editors and celebrities as a barrage of waifs cascade down a lit runway. For music lovers, “front row” this week will mean getting sweated on by The National, Huey Lewis and the News, and Theophilus London. Here’s the best of the week’s musical acts.

Tuesday, February 8th

Who: Deerhoof, Ben Butler & Mousepad, Buke and Gass, Nervous Cop @: Europa Tickets: $15

Who: The National @: The Studio at Webster Hall, 8PM Tickets: Sold Out Details: The “MTV Live in NYC” show sold out in 1 second. Good luck scalping at the door!

Who: Gang of Four, Hollerado @: Webster Hall, 7PM Tickets: $37

Wednesday, February 9th

Who: Nicole Atkins & The Black Sea, The Gay Blades, Mon Khmer @: Bowery Ballroom, 8PM Tickets: $16 advance, $18 door Details: After making some adjustments in her band, which now features Christopher Donofrio on drums, Brad York on guitars, and Anthony Chick on bass, Nicole Atkins has changed the name from “Nicole Atkins and the Sea” to “Nicole Atkins and the Black Sea.” On top of the shuffling, Atkins has severed ties with Columbia Records, and has released her newest album, Mondo Amore, on Razor and Tie Records.

Who: Huey Lewis And The News @: Gramercy Theatre, 8PM Tickets: $49

Who: Soft Landing @: Matchless, 8PM Tickets: Not Listed Details: Here’s a little live bit when Soft Landing played Lit Lounge. Thursday, February 10

Who: Free Blood, Lymbyc System @: Brooklyn Bowl, 8:00PM Tickets: $5 advance, $7 door Details: Brooklyn New York’s Free Blood formed in 2003, and is in the RCRD LBL family. Their catchy dance tunes are more arty than poppy, and are almost sinister in some effect. Bonus point: Their music is featured on the 127 Hours soundtrack, and in this trailer:

Who: Titus Andronicus, Care Bears On Fire, Toy Sugar, Deux Chattes @: Mercury Lounge, 7:30PM Tickets: $20 Details: Shoegaze/Punk rockers Titus team up with the teen rock group, Care Bears On Fire (who started their band before they were 12 years old) for the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls Benefit tonight.

Friday, February 11th

Who: Josh Joplin, Jill Andrews @: 92Y Tribeca Tickets: $12 Details: Josh Joplin’s crooning sounds nearly identical to REM’s Michael Stipe. It’s a little creepy.

Who: Javelin, High Life, Monster Rally @: Glasslands, 8:30PM Tickets: $10 Details: Pitchfork accolades for Javelin, the “Punk/R&B” Brooklyn band, include: “Rising” artist, one of the “Albums of the Year” and has been mentioned under Pitchfork’s “Best New Music” category. They headline Glassland’s “Stuff Hipsters Hate” party.

Who: Colour Revolt, A Great Big Pile Of Leaves, Your Skull My Closet @: Knitting Factory Brooklyn, 8:00PM Tickets: $12 Details: The Mississippi band, Colour Revolt, play pretty, expressive indie rock widely considered to be underrated, which has earned them an enthusiastic following. This is their “music video” for “Mattressess Under Water.”

Saturday, February 12

Who: Sun Airway, Nightlands, Warm Ghost, Dinowalrus @: Glasslands, 8:30PM Tickets: $8 advance, $10 door

Who: Screaming Females, Laura Stevenson & The Cans, Shellshag, Lemuria, Byrds of Paradise @: Music Hall of Williamsburg, 7:00PM Tickets: $10 advance, $12 door Details: Don Giovanni Records Showcase

Who: The Forms @: The Rock Shop, 8:00PM Tickets: $10 Details: Mac Randall of The New York Observer described the band as “aggro-artsy trio fond of awkward time signatures, sly rhythmic manipulation, curlicuing vocal lines, and giving one song two separate track numbers for no obvious reason.” This is their album release party for “Derealization + Icarus.”

Who: Josh Ritter and the Royal City Band @: Webster Hall, 7:00PM Tickets: $25

Who: The Library Is On Fire, The Party of Helicopters @: Tliofhq Loft Space, 8:00PM Tickets: Not Priced Details: Loft party alert! See the swaggering, concrete punk rockers, TLIOF at their head quarters: The Tliofhq Loft Space at 114 Forrest St. 3c in Brooklyn!

Sunday, February 13th

Who: Wild Nothing, Abe Vigoda, MINKS @: Bowery Ballroom, 8:00PM Tickets: $13 advance, $15 door

Who: Bear Hands @: In Vino Wine Bar, 7:30PM Tickets: $25 Details: Tickets to see this post-punk/experimental/indie rock act includes 4 glasses of wine.

Monday, February 15th

Who: Theophilus London, PoPo, New Look @: Music Hall of Williamsburg, 8:00PM Tickets: $13 advance, $15 door Details: Theophilus London is a mixtape man (This Charming Man tape mashed up The Smiths and Elvis Costello) and joined Mark Ronson to form the band Chauffeur.

Industry Insiders: Michael Dorf, Wine and Music Maven

Michael Dorf first opened the legendary Knitting Factory in 1987. More recently, he’s built City Winery, a fully functioning winery in downtown Manhattan. Never one to forget his musical roots, the space doubles as a concert venue. Dorf’s vision of music and wine coexisting in the same place has people flocking to City Winery to sample the grapes and sounds.

Point of Origin: I came to New York with $20,000 in 1985. I was managing a band called Swamp Thing and trying to get them booked. I eventually convinced myself that I should rent a small office on Houston Street. With $20,000 we were able to put up the walls and serve coffee and tea for a month and get the ball rolling. I got lucky along the way, met great artists and moved up. I used radio to distribute the name the Knitting Factory, and I was very fair in terms of the door policy. 70% of the gate went to the artist so we were honest about what was coming in. Artists were freaking out about that. We could survive because we kept the bar money.

Concept of City Winery: It was a combination of epiphanies. When I left Knitting Factory, I never thought I’d do another club. I did a few big concerts and festivals, and then one day had a chance to make a barrel of wine with my brother out in California and had so much fun. The ego of being a producer came out when I started giving away the bottles that said, “Michael Dorf” on the labels. It got me thinking that there was no precedent for a winery in Manhattan, bringing grapes in from high quality locations like California, Oregon and South America. I had to do some real homework. What’s really unique about us is that we’ve created a place where people can learn about wine and enjoy it and share. I eventually thought, “Let’s do a winery and let’s do a music venue.”

Choosing wines vs choosing bands: I wish I could get as many bottles of wine as I got demo tapes at the Knitting Factory. The wine list is much more of a pure, artistic art form while there’s some pragmatism that goes into it. In the Knitting Factory days, it was always a balancing act between pure art and commerce. If we didn’t do so well at the door and the bar, but I really liked it, then that’s all that mattered. I’m a big jazz fan and I feel guilty that I’m not able to support more jazz or avant garde performance, but I can’t do as much cutting edge material here because it can’t sell 300 tickets. People’s palates aren’t usually sophisticated enough to know a cutting edge winemaker, but they’ll know if it’s shit, so in that case the two are a little different.

Membership programs: There’s a very small group of about 150 people who are making their own wine. They get 250 bottles with their name on the bottle. Wired magazine and NBC are doing it as well as some law firms. It’s a unique insight into wine making. Then the other program is called the Vino File membership, which is a rewards program that costs $15 a year and three or four days before we let the world know about a show, we let the Vino File members know. You can buy tickets with no service fees. If you use the Vino File card you can also track which wines you drank and the sommeliers can recommend a wine for you based on your taste.

Future projects: Since 2004, I’ve been doing an annual concert at Carnegie Hall. This March will be the music of The Who. These are benefits for music education for underprivileged children. Springstein showed up and played the encore at one and REM did the same thing. I’m also going to expand to Chicago, I hope, for the next City Winery. Then I hope Paris and London and Shanghai. That’s why I named it City Winery.

Industry Icons: On the music side, Bill Graham really inspired me as a promoter. George Wein from the Newport Jazz Festival. He’s the grandfather of large festivals. As a fellow wannabe megalomaniac, David Geffen has an amazing story. In the wine industry I’m fascinated by these winemakers that are just farmers. They aren’t flashy even though they’re millionaires. They get on a tractor and they get in the dirt and taste it. That, to me, is pretty remarkable.

Go-to places: Now I don’t go out anymore, which is pretty tragic. I could alternate between Nobu and Babbo every night if I could afford it. I dig going to Joe’s Pub to see music, and I do still sneak to the Village Vanguard because there’s nothing like it.

Favorite band: I’m really into singer/songwriters. I lean toward the Regina Spektor world. I could always listen to Radiohead.

Melora Creager Reveals Rasputina’s Secret to Everlasting Youth

In an age when left-of-center lady-rock started flourishing (like that of Tori Amos, who eschewed plucking guitars in favor of tickling ivories), the premise of a cello-centric rock ensemble wasn’t terribly farfetched. And from that germ of an idea, eventually Rasputina formed, a rock band that slyly avoided constraints of a single genre and found itself winning admirers everywhere — even goth rock stalwarts like Marilyn Manson. Despite a constant revolving door of collaborators, the spirit of Rasputina remains sure-footed as ever, with Melora Creager still at the helm. And although Rasputina’s next album won’t surface for awhile, this Sunday marks a one-off recital at Williamsburg’s Knitting Factory, where the setlist has already been pieced together by song requests e-mailed by fans. However, motherhood — Creager is pregnant with her second child and has been combing through her wardrobe trying to figure out attire for the show accordingly — hasn’t mellowed her in the least.

What was the inspiration behind the one-off fan request show? It was by request from Knitting Factory. In a way, this sort of show covers the band’s history. There have been many line-up changes.

What strikes you the most about the band’s current configuration? It’s a real nice change for me. Because these players are pretty young and inexperienced. It’s a good attitude. With people I’ve played with over time, everyone’s looking to make their own career and seeing what they can get out of it. I never wanted to play with a guy, but this guy, Daniel [DeJesus], who plays the cello with me, he grew up listening to the music.

Have any of the line-up changes ever been the result of friction within? A lot of people have thought that the band is going to blow up and get big and they’re going to be there when it does. So in 15 years, that doesn’t come to pass. We have toured so hard, and that’s hard on people. They don’t have the energy for that. Most people have their own project they would have to be doing. They learn things from me, and they’re ready to apply that to their own project. Rasputina has always been my project, and it has always had a passive attitude. I write all the songs and it’s my idea, but it’s like, “How can I please you?” I think that attitude is destructive. Like me feeling guilty. Like someone else can never be satisfied. They don’t want to be in all the pictures — they want to write songs.

Do the line-up changes affect your own relationship with older material when you perform those songs with newer members? To some degree. But also because of this weird fluid passive attitude I have. I was with my drummer for a long, long time. We did so much touring together. From working so closely with him, I went down a rock avenue. He was a metal guy and I enjoyed it.

And do those same changes influence the style of the material that’s being composed, despite the fact that you do the songwriting? I think the ideas have been steady. Even when I was a tiny kid and I’d write songs for the piano — the subject matter stays the same. But I do care about what other people want to play. And what their strengths are. And if they’re fast like a maniac.

Despite taking cues from Victorian fashion, are there any contemporary figures in fashion you look up to? I look at the shows online — just for ideas. I look at Comme des Garçons, Alexander McQueen. My best friend James Coviello also. We incorporate a lot of his clothes into our outfits.

What other projects do you have in development? When can we expect your next album Sister Kinderhook? I think realistically it’s going to come out in February. We had a great time recording this summer. We’re going to mix it next month. I think, business-wise, we’re trying to time it so I can play it live. We’re also going to release a collection of b-sides and oddities. We are going to record the fan request show and make it available later. I’m also going to make a three-song CD with ancient folk songs about female cross-dressers. Girls dressed as men.

You’ve performed with Belle & Sebastian and Marilyn Manson in the past — does this, plus Rasputina’s ever-changing line-up, inspire you to pursue other collaborations with different musicians? Who would you like to collaborate with in the future? With Faun Fables — we have similar ideas and we long to collaborate together. Also, Emily Dickinson. I would like to put her poetry to music. It sounds like a good after-baby-get-back-to-it job.

Los Angeles: Top 10 Dinner & Concert Spots

imageGrab a bite and see a show — Los Angeles has a thriving music scene and several great venues to catch local as well as far-flung artists. Here are our top 10 choices, along with great in-the-hood spots to chow down before (or after) you rock out.

1. Father’s Office + Temple Bar (Santa Monica) – Bleu cheese burgers and indie rock chicks. 2. New India Sweets & Spices + The Mint (Mid-City West) – Chicken tiki masala and rock-jazz-eclectic jams. 3. Amarone Kitchen & Wine + Viper Room – (West Hollywood) Pasta, Prosecco and punk rock.

4. Blowfish Sushi + Key Club (West Hollywood) – Sushi first; blow, chandeliers, and loud rock n’roll, second. 5. BLT Steak + Whisky A Go Go (West Hollywood) – Steaks + the legendary Whisky rock. 6. Pho Café + Spaceland (Silver Lake) – Noodles and uber-hipster indie rock. 7. Ammo + Knitting Factory (Hollywood) – Sandwiches, soups, and hip-hop/jazz/rock fusions. 8. Juliano’s Raw + 14 Below (Santa Monica) – Raw foods and raw ska, punk, and metal. 9. Citizen Smith + Hotel Café: (Hollywood) Comfort foods with a twist (jalapeno mac n’ cheese) and the best indie/blues/piano/guitar in the city. 10. Kinara + Troubadour: (West Hollywood) Spa food and indie rock gods.

Kanye West Suprises @ Knitting Factory

After an inside source tipped me off, I hopped on my two-wheeler and raced over to the Knitting Factory, for what was being dubbed as “a secret show by Kanye West.” Blasphemy! Kanye was sipping Veuve at the Prada party with Peaches Geldof. No way he was trading that in for the crud of the Knitting Factory and its sixty cruddy denizens. Upon arrival there was zero line outside, meaning this was a government-kept secret, or I’d been had. Inside, Kid Cudi was finishing up a set, and thirty minutes later, Queens native Consequence came up to spit some verses. Hmm, the same Consequence who had guest verses on Kanye’s first two albums, and who’s signed to his GOOD Music shingle. Curious.

So after chucking much whiskey at the bar and listening to my two female companions discuss their united escapades in mutual cunnilingus, I almost forgot to notice when Kanye West walked on stage to join in his cohorts. He sang a verse or two of his new track “Love Lockdown,” which he debuted at the VMAs a few night before. The track is off of West’s singing-only 808’s and Heartbreak album, due December 16. He then spun into a rendition of “Flashing Lights” and the MIA-sampling “Swagger Like Us,” without T.I., Lil’ Wayne, and Jay-Z. If only. Q-Tip also joined the stage crew (Consequence is his younger cousin), and I tried taking as many photos as possible until my damn iPhone died. Relive my night here.