The four-hour rally, which began at 3 p.m., was organized by E Street Band member Steven Van Zandt, who told the crowd of more than 800 that the event was only “one of many things we’re doing to save CBGB . . . to keep it at its original location where the entire genre of punk rock was born.”
With the Bowery Residents’ Committee, the club’s landlord, refusing to renew the lease before it was to expire at midnight, bands like Bouncing Souls, the Charms, Bad Brains’ H.R. and his band Dubb Agents, Chesterfield Kings and Willie Nile performed under the banner “CBGB Forever.”
Without a lease, the thirty-one-year-old venue faces moving from its East Village location, but owner Hilly Kristal doesn’t plan on going quietly, threatening to “cut the locks” if the doors are shut. As for the club’s immediate future, Kristal said that upcoming scheduled shows — which include the Dandy Warhols, J Mascis, Helmet and Circle Jerks — will go on.
“Down the street — I couldn’t do it,” Kristal told Rolling Stone. “It wouldn’t work. We’re known on the Bowery. We’re at Bleecker and Bowery.”
“We’re not going without a fight,” Van Zandt added. “It’s not over ’til it’s over.”
Performers shared that sentiment. Introduced by Van Zandt’s fellow Sopranos cast member Tony Sirico (known on the HBO series as Paulie Walnuts), Rossdale donned a sweaty “Save CBGB” T-shirt and played a boisterous rendition of Bush’s “Machinehead.”
Blondie’s Debbie Harry came out to a patient crowd very close to the rally’s end and playfully performed “Hanging on the Telephone” and “One Way or Another” to a flash of cameras.
But the night was not over, even minutes to seven o’clock, there was one last performance. One time House of Pain leader, Everlast, introduced Chuck D, Flavor Flav, Professor Griff and the rest of Public Enemy. P.E. put on a short but potent performance of “Welcome to the Terrordome” and “Fight the Power” as the crowd created a mini mosh pit in front of the stage.
Among the crowd were members of the B-52’s and Talking Heads, both CBGB vets. “Back in the day you had to play CBGB,” B-52’s singer Fred Schneider told Rolling Stone. “It was just chaotic fun — a smoky, boozy rock & roll joint . . . with the worst toilet in the world.”
“We’re very grateful for everything that CBGB and Hilly Kristal enabled us to do as a band,” Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz added. “It was where our band was born. I feel lousy about this.”
With rallygoers dispersing, Kristal and Van Zandt invited everyone back across town to CBGB, insisting that the club will remain open. “There will be bands playing there tonight and every night until someone drags us out of there,” says Van Zandt.
According to a statement released by Bowery Residents’ Committee Executive Director Muzzy Rosenblatt that might just be the case. “Today, CBGB’s lease expires and is not being renewed,” the statement read. “It is in the best interest of our clients — the homeless and neediest New Yorkers — to sever this relationship.”