100,000 Miles Flown This Year. Boy am I jetlagged.

For the first time ever, I’ve flown 100,000 miles before November. Back when we were aggressively growing the company in 2001, I barely hit 100K by the end of the year. This year has been ridiculous in regards to my travel and I still have a lot more to go.

So what makes up my 100K? This is not scientific, but, from what I can recall:

  • Providence, RI (multiple times – I often travel by train, but sometimes make the quick jump in the air)
  • London (6 times)
  • Maui, HI
  • Sydney, Australia
  • Atlanta (Multiple times)
  • Cincinnati (Multiple times)
  • Mobile, AL
  • Dallas
  • Houston (Multiple times)
  • New Orleans
  • Los Angels
  • Las Vegas
  • Chicago (Multiple times)
  • Raleigh, NC
  • Aruba
  • ….other places I can’t remember.

Still to go this year:

  • Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  • London (again – 2 times)
  • Amsterdam
  • Providence, RI
  • Cincinnati
  • San Francisco
  • Hopefully someplace out west for snowboarding…

Breakdown on Airlines:

  • Continental Airlines: 63% of miles flown
  • Delta Airlines: 8% of miles flown
  • Qantas Airlines: 10% of miles flown
  • EOS Airlines: 19% of miles flown (See my review on EOS Airlines)

As a frequent flyer, Continental OnePass is my primary program and all miles from the above airlines get deposited into that account. I currently hold Gold status on Continental, but will achieve Platinum after my trip to the UK in December.

Number of delays: Countless.

Number of cancelations: 1

Number of missed flights: 0

Haircuts at the Virgin Upper Class Lounge at Heathrow: 3

New York Times: Suburban Bands Stay Out of the City

Just a few weeks after I published my essay on the New Brunswick, NJ music scene in the 90’s, after I finished reading
“New Brunswick, New Jersey, Goodbye: Bands, Dirty Basements and the Search For Self” and after publishing my summary of NYC Music Venues in the 90’s, the New York Times published a piece on how up-and-coming bands from the NYC suburbs are turning more and more to suburban audiences rather than the (perceived) “big stages” across the river in New York City. (See Regional Section: “Shunning the Bright Lights”, NY Times, October 21, 2007).

The sub-headline reads:

Suburban bands once flocked to the city. Now many seek success closer to home.

It’s an interesting little piece, although, those of us who came-of-age in music-centric towns have seen this type of thing happen for years. Hell, Ronan Kauffman wrote a whole book about it. I guess life in New Brunswick was a little different, as it was a self-contained music center – a musical destination, if you will. Bands knew to come to New Brunswick to play, and kids knew that New Brunswick was a place to turn to when they wanted to hear some tunes, whether they were part of the local scene of not. If we couldn’t find it in New Brunswick, we quickly turned to New York City for our fix. New Brunswick was first, New York was secondary.

The most important point made in the article is probably about how the entire musical landscape has changed since the proliferation of the Internet and its bastard children, such as MySpace. Back in the 90’s If you were a band, you only had two options to create a fan base: put out an album and distribute it or play live. These days, of course, bands don’t need to be too geographically-focused and can acquire large masses of fans much quicker than they ever could. (Which makes me wonder: Is the Internet pulling attention away from music hubs like New York City, because people from Jersey, for example, may be discovering bands from out-of-the-way Pennsylvania or Delaware? Perhaps they’re taking road trips to see shows in places they would have never, ever heard about before the Internet came along? Furthermore, are less and less young artist flocking to big cities, which may no longer be their only key to “making it”, as those cities might have been 10 years ago? I’ll leave that question for now…maybe a topic for another day.)

The lead singer of the band Last Goodnight, who is featured in the article, even gives a nod to my favorite musical venue, the basement:

We used to play in the basement every weekend, and we loved it,” Mr. John said. “It’s really hard to keep a band together in the city — everybody wants to do their own thing, and then you start splitting up and changing members. We grew up together, and we stick together. Why move to the city when you live two hours away?

In my own homage to the basement, I wrote the following two weeks ago:

The Melody Bar was just one of the “commercial” venues which helped put these acts on display, but the basement shows that were scattered throughout the town’s dilapidated houses were what truly fueled its musical fire. This would often be considered the “underground” scene in many cities but, in New Brunswick, this *was* the scene…

The lead singer of the Long Island-based band, Envy, share the following:

“For a while we hated coming to New York to do shows,” he said. “We had to deal with parking and all these mundane details when we were so close to home, where you don’t have to deal with that stuff. There would always be this awkward buildup, no real climax…”

Interesting stuff. Interesting perspective. In a world where the Internet has taken the reigns of the music industry, just how important of a role do the big cities still play in the initial success of a band?

Hmmm…

New York City Area Concert Venues of the 1990’s

Thanks to our good friend, Google, I’ve been receiving some good feedback on my recent article about the New Brunswick, NJ Music Scene. One of the emails I received spawned an interesting conversation about the music venues of the mid-90s where many of the punk, ska and hardcore concerts took place in the NYC area. This inspired me to put a list of these venues together and even do a bit of research on a few of them, as I had no idea where some disappeared to. What amazes me is that, although some of these venues are considered to be “legendary”, there are few traces of their existence on the web, other than concert reviews and tour schedules. Here’s my attempt to re-capture some of those venues.

(Please note that I only focused on the “commercial” concert venues – There are tons of other small bars, basements, fire houses, banquet halls, etc. where lots of concerts took place. Most of these were come-and-go places and I have not included them)

Coney Island High (St. Marks Place, New York City) – Boy do I have some crazy memories of this place. Like most small venues in NYC, this was a true shithole, but that was half of the charm. I remember that my friend was able to get into Joey Ramone’s birthday party there sometime back in the 90’s and referred to it as “the greatest night since he was ejected from the womb”. It shut it doors in 2001 and is now the site of some condos (welcome to gentrified New York!). I stumbled upon a great blog entry from someone who used to work at CIH, which gives you a great insider’s view of the venue.

Wetlands Preserve (Hudson St., New York City) – This legendary venue closed its doors just days after September 11. Another victim of NYC gentrification, the building was converted to condos. We didn’t understand who would want to live there, but that was before TriBeCa earned its status as the most expensive ZIP code (per square foot) in the City. I saw a variety of bands here and was always fascinated by the VW Bus in the middle of the floor (I’m easily entertained, I guess). There’s a good article about its closing here.

The Cooler (W. 16th St., New York City) – It wasn’t open too long and didn’t achieve any sort of legendary status, but I saw 7 or 8 shows here around 96-97, my first being H20 with Inspector 7 and The Insteps (very, very memorable for me. The Insteps broke up a few years later, but I still believe their album, Eleven Steps to Power, is amazing). What was most interesting was the fact that it was actually the one-time basement walk-in refrigerator of a meatpacking business upstairs.

Roseland Ballroom and Irving Plaza (New York City) – Every band in the world has seemed to pass through these venues. Owned by the same company, they are the most commercial of all the venues I mention here, but worth a mention just because of the fact that they will go down as true legendary parts of the NYC scene. They are still both alive and kicking. Very Commercial venues. Roseland capacity is now up to 5500, so you can jam a lot of people in here.

The Pipeline (Newark, NJ) – Legendary Newark venue, which was a true home to punk over many years. The first time I went here, I was scared shitless – both for the neighborhood and the people it attracted. I eventually acclimated to that type of crowd as I got more into the scene, but it was quite an experience for me. The venue is dead, but the founders maintain a MySpace profile, which contains some great photos.

The Melody Bar (New Brunswick, NJ) – Legendary dive bar that accommodated thousands of bands which passed through its doors over the years. Indie wonder-boy Matt Pinfield once DJ’d there. The Bouncing Souls attracted masses to its stage over the years. Its grunge was complimentary to the downtown New Brunswick area before it began to gentrify and, as Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital began to expand, we knew that its days were doomed. The building no longer stands, but I was brought back many years when I stumbled upon the Flickr set from DJ Shaggy, which show The Melody in its final days.

The Court Tavern (New Brunswick, NJ) – A quintessential dive bar, the entire space is about as big as my current living room and dining room. That didn’t stop band after band from playing there over the years. Much like The Melody Bar, Court’s days were numbered as construction and gentrification threatened to destroy it. The difference, however, is that the owners refused to be shut out and stood their ground. Developers, literally, built high-rise buildings and parking decks around it. Those who are living in the $800K condos next door probably find the building to be a eyesoar, but many of us consider it to be a rose in the adjacent concrete desert. Still going strong, their website recounts its history, along with a number of very interesting pictures, both past and current.

CBGB (Bowery, New York City) – Trying to summarize the history of this venue would be a disservice, so I won’t even try. But in it’s final years, even the Bowery could not stand up to the pressures of big real-estate development (If you walked around the corner in 1995, you’d be afraid for your life. Now, there’s a Whole Foods Market just blocks away). The end came fast: Joey Ramone died in 2001. Patti Smith closed its doors on October 16, 2006; and its founder, Hilly Kristal, passed less than a year later. cbgb.com tells all.

Knitting Factory (Leonard St., New York City) – Still going strong, but has branched out and grown significantly over the years (opening a venue in LA, starting a record label, strong web presence, etc.).

Birch Hill Night Club (Sayerville, NJ) – The building known as Birch Hill still stands and was re-opened as Starland Ballroom in 2003, owned by Concerts East. An article in a local paper documented the transition. Still booking every type of act under the sun (including lots of punk and emo).

The Stone Pony (Asbury Park, NJ) – What can I say? It’s still there and still considered a landmark. New condos are popping up all over the place as Asbury Park is in the midst of a renewal – at least on the waterfront. Also still booking all sorts of acts year-round.

Trocadaro (“The Troc” – Philly, PA) – Still going strong.

Electric Factory (Philly, PA) – Still going strong. Very commercial (Livenation venue). Last time i was there was for a Primus concert in 1998, so it’s been a while for me.

Theater of Living Arts (“The TLA” – Philly, PA) – Still going strong. Now known as The Fillmore at TLA. Very commercial (Livenation Venue)

Maxwells (Hoboken, NJ) – Still going strong (and I can vouch, since I only live a few blocks away!), although not as influential as the days when Husker Du and Nirvanna were on its stage. Yo La Tengo still rent it out for the 8 days of Hanukkah. It still attracts bands from around the world and manages to survive just fine within uber-gentrified Hoboken. The original sign, donning its namesake Maxwell House cup of coffee, is no longer there.

The Saint (Asbury Park, NJ) – Still there. I always admired this place for it variety. My friend saw Incubus there many years ago and I still hear about it to this day.

Tramps (New York, NY) – This rock haven closed its doors in 2001 and became Centro-Fly. Tramps was a legendary rock venue and, consequently, anyone who ever went there despised the techno-heavy Centro-Fly (even though it did attract the world’s greatest DJs, including Fatboy Slim and Paul Okenfold). As the ultimate insult, it is now Duvet, the Sex-in-the-City-ish ultra-trendy bar/restaurant where you sit (or lay) on beds while you eat and drink. Yes, beds.

Got another good one to add? Drop me an email.

NASDAQ Opening and Breakfast with Scott McNeally

Just a quick entry to document a fun time this morning. We were invited to breakfast with Sun Microsystems Chairman and Co-Founder, Scott McNeally during the opening of the NASDAQ market. Scott was an interesting fellow (as to be expected) and had some very interesting things to say about the future of enterprise computing. I had also never been to the opening of the NASDAQ (or NYSE, for that matter), so it was fun to experience.

Me at the NASDAQ Market Site Podium
Me at the NASDAQ Market Site Podium

Retail Decisions Team - NASDAQ (Times Square View)
John Abella (one of our Senior Engineers), David Nunn (Head of International Operations), Me (CTO, Head of International Development) Mark Goldspink (CEO Retail Decisions, Merchant Services)

Evolution of a Town. Evolution of its Music. My Non-Role in the mid-90’s New Brunswick, NJ Music Scene

A note about this piece: This is the unedited version of an essay I prepared for a writer and an old college friend, who is starting down the long journey of trying to document the New Jersey and New York City indie music scene of the 90’s. Counting the number of bricks on the Great Wall of China might be an easier task, but, nonetheless, here is my contribution…

Before I get going, just let me say this: It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way.

At some point in the mid-90s, I slouched at my dorm room desk, armed with a dial-up connection to AOL, and knew that the last thing I wanted to do with my life was sit in front of a computer all day. There were way too many things going on in the world that made my mind wander, and understanding how to make computers work just wasn’t one of them. I wanted to be a musician but was talentless, despite over ten years of musical theory and countless hours practice with various lower brass instruments. I figured there weren’t any rock bands looking for a baritone horn player, anyway. So I resorted to pre-med, since I thought that becoming a doctor would allow me to make enough money without feeling guilty – I would be helping save lives, after all. My mother always said that doctors and lawyers made more money than anyone else (this was pre-hedge fund and pre-priviate equity, mind you) but being a lawyer just felt sleazy, while being a doctor felt like I could justify tooling around town in my Mercedes SUV without feeling too bad about myself. The downside of my chosen path of study, however, was that I wasn’t really any good at natural sciences either. It was time for Plan B and, unfortunately, technology was the only practical topic that could keep my interest for more than five minutes.

Fast-forward about 12 years: Sitting in the ball room at the Four Seasons Hotel in Las Vegas, I am the center of attention at a large conference as, earlier that morning, I had just been named one of the top 25 technology executives in the country. I didn’t tell anyone about this, but people eventually found out. As a result, I had to humbly endure accolades from lots of people that I didn’t really know and even more people that didn’t really care about. Having to survive one more afternoon of boring banquet-style lunch and even more boring conversation, I was barely paying attention to those around me when, suddenly, I heard a guy two seats away mention that he went to Rutgers University.

This was my cue to enter and I quickly made a new friend out of “Sacramento Guy”: poorly dressed, thinning hair and a slight lisp, but it made no difference. He was my rose in this desert of horrific quibbles about how the hotel’s bed linens had an inferior thread count for a property of this status.

Sacramento Guy was a bit older than me, but we spoke the same language. He reminisced about the Grease Trucks and late night Fat Cats after the bars closed. He spoke about Greasy Tony’s, a mythical pizza joint which I never experienced first hand, as it had been paved over to make way for a high-rise university housing complex. And finally, he spoke of the Melody Bar, a symbol of everything that the New Brunswick, New Jersey music scene once was. Sacramento Guy had been there and he actually knew the real thing – he wasn’t one of these sheep who simply blurted out useless trivia like “Did you know Matt Pinfield used to DJ there?” (who didn’t know that?) or lifeless accounts like, “I saw the Bouncing Souls there one night, they were AWESOME.” (who hadn’t seen that?) No, Sacramento Guy actually understood what the Melody Bar was and what it meant, not only to the New Brunswick music scene, but to to the larger movement that it and its bands had eventually ignited. We talked about punk. And ska. And Emo before it was Emo and before anyone knew it was Emo. And although they had no fucking clue as to what we were talking about, our ten other lunch companions were fairly intrigued by stories of random Friday night punk shows and tales of my friend Steve getting his head bashed into a loudspeaker during a Mephiskapheles and Toasters show at the Livingston Student Center in 1995. When I shared my involvement in the music scene and how it dominated so many years of my life, I could see a look of surprise in some of their faces, as they wondered how I could go from buying $1 Millers at dirty dive bars on Tuesday nights to the ball room at the Four Seasons, all in such a small amount of time.

“What happened to the music scene?”, one guy asked.

“Why did you decide to go into your current line of work?”, asked another.

I explained how The Melody bar, for example, had been run out of town by its neighboring behemoth of a hospital and its massive expansion plans, along with the majority of the other businesses who sat on the fringe the downtown area, recently made anew with trendy restaurants and expensive housing. I explained that music was a tough business and that I had worked my ass off to, virtually, go nowhere and make nothing. I had to choose a career, and music production wasn’t a good choice.

“Sounds like you gentrified – both you and the city.”, the last guy responded.

This was a pretty fascinating interpretation. How could I have gentrified? The city may have gone through its own phase of gentrification – he was right – but people don’t gentrify.

Or do they?

Had my more humble roots been displaced for a new me – someone who was was more concerned about living in the better neighborhood than I was about following my music-led heart? I contemplated this for a while and realized that I had not, in fact, been a victim of this so-called “self-gentrification”, not because I hadn’t changed, but because I had not really been true to my roots to begin with. The truth was, looking back, I was deeply embedded into the heart of the New Brunswick music scene, but I wasn’t true to it. I was a spy. A mole. An outsider who spent my week posing as one of the locals, but who would diligently put myself to work conspiring towards its eventual undoing.

I guess I need to explain.

The Early Years

Sometime in the spring of my freshman year, I took a job with a large music promoter in New York City. I had immediately taken a liking to it, working meaningless tasks around local venues on show nights. Everything from dressing room prep to selling T-shirts to unloading boxes – nothing was beneath me. I was good at what I did and people noticed it enough that I was offered real work from real promoters, most of which I had to turn down due to my studies. Good things came out of that, though: I learned a lot about the business; I got to experience the dirtier side of late-night New York; and I had a met a co-worker who insisted that she was not my girlfriend, even though she would let me fuck her in her NYU dorm room countless nights a week. In the meantime, I had been working with a Rutgers University-sponsored group, known as RCPC Concerts, whose charter was to put on diverse, “large act” concert programming for the University community. At that point in time, RCPC Concerts had a budget of over $120K and its parent organization, RCPC, had a total budget exceeding $500K. I would eventually head up both RCPC Concerts and RCPC, a role that put me in charge of the largest budget in the University, as well as the largest overall student organization, for several years.

Over the course of five years, I had been the producer of over 25 shows with aggregate budgets exceeded $350,000 and was involved in some part of the production aspect of many others (both with my on-campus and off-campus jobs). For me, music was a passion, but, more importantly, it was my business. For about two years, I was considered the go-to-guy on campus for anyone who wanted to play, wanted some money to perform or needed help putting something big together on University grounds. On a daily basis, my email and voice mail would be overflowing with messages from local bands, promoters, middle agents and production companies looking to get a piece of the big pot that I controlled.

In theory, you would think that this would be a great thing. Any big-time music producer wannabe (like myself at the time) would salivate for the type of budget that I had. And the $120K wasn’t all of it – I had the opportunity to directly tap into funds from other organizations within RCPC, as well as co-sponsorship monies with outside groups. You would think that, with that type of money behind us, we would have been the group for which the thriving New Brunswick music scene would have turned to to help foster the incredible local talent that walked the city streets and played in its various bars and basements on the weekends. Unfortunately, this was not at all the case and there was a strong rift for many years between a good part of the general student population, local New Brunswick artists, local venues and our organization. For years, the general feeling among the community was that RCPC Concerts was too focused on putting together two or three mediocre, mainstream acts each year and didn’t use its funds to support the local music scene.

And for the most part, this was true.

The reasons for this, however, run deep and complex, rooted somewhere within the machine that really ran RCPC and the University, together coupled with a dramatic change in the local and college music production market around the mid-90s. I’ll do my best to explain…

The Business of Large-Scale, University Concert Production

To begin, the charter of the organization was to use its funds solely for the student-led production of major concerts. This means that the students own the planning and production of the concert from end-to-end, no different from what a professional concert production company would do. This is a excellent experience for the students who are involved. To the contrary, many other large universities attract first-rate acts by simply renting out their venues to concert production companies and the university simply becomes another stop on the band’s tour. At Rutgers, however, there isn’t a first-class theater or arena available for concerts, as the RAC (the basketball area) and Rutgers Stadium (where the football team plays) are both under the tight control of the Rutgers Athletic Department, who had perennially declined to allow these venues to be used for concerts. When a University has a venue to “rent out” to a production company, it usually means there is very little risk and all upside – the university gets a cut of the ticket revenue and the students get to see a first-class act on campus. In the Rutgers model, however, the RCPC budget is responsible for all costs: Artists fees, audio, lighting, staging, advertising, police and security, etc. With top artists costing $25K and above, and production fees often exceeding $15K, it is difficult to make substantial ticket revenue when your largest venue holds only 1500 people, unless you jack the ticket prices up to the $35+ range, which is considered to be a disservice to the general student population. So what RCPC was left with was typically $20K-$25K acts in the larger venue (the College Avenue Gym, capacity of 1500) and maximum $12K in the smaller venue (the Rutgers Student Center MPR, capacity of 500). The box office return for either of these venues is small, and it’s difficult to produce any sort of profit, which means that you have to budget your shows wisely: Spend too much in the fall and you have nothing left for spring semester or for the big Rutgersfest in April; If you didn’t spend enough early, you start getting lots of shit from fellow students and advisers for not spending students’ money wisely. What usually happens here is that you can pull off one big show in the fall or spring and one or two other medium size shows – the rest goes to Rutgersfest in April. And although $120K sounds like a lot of money to spend, the Rutgers production model makes it easy to blow through that quickly. The net result of this is that you have to severely limit the amount of shows you have each year (2 big shows is realistic) and the acts that you book are are pretty sure to piss off at least half of the 45,000 student population. That’s assuming you’re actually trying to accommodate for the entire student population, which is impossible. The bottom line is this: The economics of the production model employed by the university just didn’t work.

Which brings me to the next problem: For most of the early and mid-1990s, there was a top-down racist policy among the Rutgers College administration when it came to R&B, rap and hip-hop. Even years prior to the college and insurance industry crack-down on many artists (I’ll get into this later), Rutgers College refused to approve any true rap or hip-hop act for years. Time and time again, myself, my predecessors and my successors proposed first-rate rap acts to the University administration, only to be immediately shot down. On various occasions, I was read lyrics from the group I proposed, only to be asked nonsense like, “Do you think this sends a positive message to the student body?”. On another occasion, a Rutgers College dean told me that a rap group would attract “a certain type of person” that would cause unwanted trouble (ummm, would this certain type of person be black?). The results of this were quite clear: For years, much of the University’s substantial minority population was ignored when it came to spending the aggregate millions of dollars of student fees allocated for major concerts, mainly because the final word was in the hands of a couple of forty-something white guys.

Finally, one of the biggest issues we had to deal with at the time, had to do with kids getting their heads bashed in. Listen, I don’t like kids to get hurt, but there is a big difference between a kid getting his face popped in a street fight and a kid taking an elbow to the nose in a mosh pit. I won’t digress and get into a cultural history of moshing and crowd surfing, but trust me, it had been going on a long time before the first guy decided he was going to sue a concert venue because things got a bit too rough in the crowd. Unfortunately, insurance companies were just starting to really pay attention to this and, as a result, the cost of insurance riders required to hold concerts around the country began to skyrocket. The University, as well as thousands of small venues, began to see this as a real risk and, regardless of whether the risk was true or perceived, the risk assessment process which “cleared” bands to play in our venues became cumbersome, ridiculous and, ultimately, a total roadblock. At a national level, the insurance industry was keeping precise records of incidents that occurred at every concert.

Kid get kicked in the face at a Mighty Mighty Bosstones concert in Boise? One demerit for the Bosstones.

Police called in to break up an out-of-control pit in California? The bands and the venues would be duly recorded.

At one point, it got taken to such an extreme, that it didn’t matter whether a band was associated with an “incident” – if you played the type of music that might come within a mile of mosh pit, you were banned. As a result of this it became nearly impossible to produce larger-scale punk or hardcore shows on campus for many years. This might not be a big deal if we were going to school in Kansas City, but New Brunswick had indisputably established itself as an east-coast punk and hardcore mecca over the years. Stronger than any other musical force in town, the punk and hardcore scene was woven into the fabric of the city and taking punk bands off the menu was equivalent to banning Mozart at Julliard.

Given all of this, I soon learned that my job was not so much about concert production as it was about learning to work the system and trying to get as much out of it as I could. And, although I was good at what I did when it came time to actually put a show together, the greatest value that I provided to my peers and constituents was my ability to navigate through the ins and outs of the machine in order to, ultimately, just put a band on stage. I could get an audience with the dean in no time. The chief of police would enjoy bullshitting with me about our then-crappy football team. I could source a 48-channel board, a flatbed generator and a stage with 12 hours notice. When I finally got through all the bullshit required to actually get the music playing, I liked what I did and I did it well.

Outside of the Ivory Tower

When I wasn’t busy doing important things, like figuring out what brand of throat-coat tea Paula Cole wanted in her dressing room (true), I was deeply distracted by the local music that surrounded me. The amazing thing about New Brunswick was the fact that the music scene didn’t need the University at all, it only needed the kids for whom it attracted. The scene didn’t really revolve around the university and it managed to progress just fine on its own. To the thousands of bands who passed through its city limits over the years, the fact that New Brunswick was home to Rutgers University was an afterthought, if they even knew so at all. Furthermore, although it was only thirty-five miles from the capital of the world, the 1990’s New Brunswick did not play second fiddle to New York City scene, particularly when it came to punk and hardcore. A quick car ride or New Jersey Transit train could have whisked music fans to CBGB in a matter of minutes, but for tons of regular kids and bands from around the country, New Brunswick was often a destination in itself.

There are far better accounts written about the history and influences of the New Brunswick music scene and I won’t pretend that I can do it any justice at all. But this town that bred such bands as Bouncing Souls, Lifetime and Thursday became a magnate and breeding-ground for influential punk, ska, hardcore and emo musicians who would often mature from their Hub City roots and move on to partake in significant acts on a wider, more national stage. The Melody Bar was just one of the “commercial” venues which helped put these acts on display, but the basement shows that were scattered throughout the town’s dilapidated houses were what truly fueled its musical fire. This would often be considered the “underground” scene in many cities but, in New Brunswick, this was the scene – and it opened my eyes to a whole other world of music that existed far beyond the radio or anything available at the local Sam Goody (may God rest its soul). This scene fascinated me and, although I felt it was my job to keep my eye on every band and every type of music that crossed my path, I remember seeing Ensign during a basement show in 1996 and almost leaving in tears. It was that good.

That being said, the local scene was not everything to us and the bigger acts that passed through the various NJ, New York City and Philly venues often attracted the attention of me and my friends. And with those shows came so many memories. There were countless shows at CB’s, Wetlands, Coney Island High, Birch Hill, The Pony, The Troc and a million other grungy places that either don’t exist anymore or are only shells of what they once were. For some strange reason, some of the oddest things in the world stick out in my head like they happened yesterday: My friend Scott and I going into the (then-untrendy) Meatpacking district to see Inspecter 7 play at a short-lived hole-in-the-wall called The Cooler (literally, the downstairs cooler of a former meat processing shop); Hanging in the bus with the guys from Lagwagon in a mid-90’s Warped Tour (before the Warped Tour featured bands that sang songs like, “Hey there, Delilah”); An hour of drunken bullshitting with Toby, the lead singer from H20, on some corner of the Village on a night in 1996; …and enough stories like that to fill an encyclopedia set’s worth of volumes. Bands like NOFX, Bad Religion, Pennywise, Sick of it All, The Bouncing Souls, Suicide Machines, H20, Less Than Jake, Unwritten Law and 7 Seconds consumed much of our attention.

Punk and hardcore weren’t alone, though. There were countless numbers of New Brunswick mainstays which spent year after year playing every bar and local show they could get a slot in. Bands like Boss Jim Gettys, Bionic Rhoda, Drag Pack and Evelyn Forever were fixtures.

The point is this: I wasn’t a foreigner to the local music around me. I didn’t wake up one day and decide that bringing Third Eye Blind to campus would change the world. But the position I was put in was a difficult one and it was extremely challenging to put any real time or money behind something more locally-focused, when there was so much pressure to deliver something bigger. Sure, I would throw local bands a bone now and then: A battle of the bands here, an opening slot for Smash Mouth there. I paid Midtown $500 to open a show for me once – then the most amount of money they had ever been paid for a single gig. I realize now, of course, all of that was fairly insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

Lost Opportunity

I know I could have made a bigger impact on the music scene during my time in New Brunswick and, looking back, there were a few things that I know I should have done differently.

To start, I should have instituted a program in which we immediately used, say, 5% or 10% of our budget to directly fund local bands and local shows – even if they weren’t taking place within one of our venues. Although the guidelines that controlled how I spent this money forbid such funding, there were numerous loopholes that would have allowed me to do so. $30K a year injected into the local music scene would have done wonders. Maybe it would have stopped a band from breaking up because its guitarist couldn’t find an extra $100 to pay his rent. Maybe it could have brought more bands closer to the general student population. I dunno. But I know we could have done more.

I should have also taken a stronger stance in regards to the racist attitude put forward by the administration. I should have blown the cover off of it and taken it more public. I should have gotten the rap fans and the punk fans and the hardcore fans and the whites and the blacks and the skinheads and the straight-edgers – and everyone else who was getting the shaft at the time – and used the community to rally behind their music and demand that their money be spent fairly and equally on music that they liked.

And finally, I shouldn’t have been a pawn in the administration’s game over the course of the years. There were many times that I was the student face behind some of the shady things that they were spearheading. For example, after a police officer received minor injuries from a student carrying a knife at a Livingston College Student Center event, all large university events essentially went into “lockdown” for a period of time. As a result, I co-authored the University’s first policy on metal detector use at “large” events, which mandated that each student be scanned by a metal detector before entering a concert. The move received local and national attention and was scrutinized by everyone from local programming organizations to the ACLU. I wasn’t happy with this policy – it cost student organizations a lot of money and I thought it was a violation of student rights. I did go on record, however, in both The Daily Targum and The Star Ledger, saying that this was a step in the right direction for the University. I knew that, although people wouldn’t like it, this was the only way for us to move forward with large-scale events again.

I am probably too hard on myself, however. After all, we did have a chance to put on a number of good shows and, despite the mainstream nature of them, they were almost always sold out. The experience that myself and hundreds of students gained was invaluable – both in and out of the music industry – and the friends I made along the way really gave me a reason to get out of bed in the morning. I got to see the very commercial side of music: the ridiculous things that bands actually do ask for in their dressing room; the horror of dealing with tour managers; the sleaziness of agents; onerous, 25-page production contracts. It was all fun, though, and I would never take it back.

Epilogue

Looking back, my time in New Brunswick was filled with memories that I will never forget – both music and non-music related. And, although I was mentally and physically drained by a business I started halfway through my college career, the music was always playing and my love for the local band scene never faded. The people I hung out with for the next four years were all involved with the local scene in some way. I met my five-year, live-in ex-girlfriend through RCPC concerts (I had her tend to Soul Asylum’s dressing room in 1996). The experience I gained producing concerts and working with people undoubtedly paved the way for my professional successes later in life. I will never forget those days.

Last year, I was sitting at The Half King (a NYC bar owned by “Perfect Storm” author, Sebastian Junger), sharing a beer and a burger with Brand New’s tour manager, Tom Gates. Tom and I had a bit of “shop talk” about the current state of emo and punk music and, quite frankly, I was a bit teary-eyed. I missed being part of the business and I missed being consumed by something that so many other people found valuable and fulfilling. And although I had been successful in my own line of work, I couldn’t help but think that I’d like to jump back into “the biz” one day. But I know that’s a long shot – a very long shot – so I don’t like to think too much about stuff like that anymore, as it just makes me upset.

…which is probably why it took me four weeks to finally start reading Ronen Kauffman’s “New Brunswick, New Jersey, Goodbye: Bands, Dirty Basements and the Search For Self”. It wasn’t that I didn’t have the time to read it – I spend half of my life in airports, after all. But I guess I was afraid of what I was going to find inside. I was hoping that I would discover a story I couldn’t relate to, or that pissed me off because of its inaccuracies. What I found, instead, was a memoir filled with the true spirit of what the New Brunswick music scene was all about in the mid 90’s: the grit, the sweat, the good times, the crappy houses, the basement shows and the entire cast of unforgettable characters that went along with it. Informally told, as if it was a long bar story being shared over a few beers, it captures what New Brunswick was, and pretty much hits it spot on. The legacy that this period leaves behind will, undoubtedly, be told in the music itself. But, Kaufman’s memoir documents the story behind that music and will stand out, for years to come, as the quintessential nostalgia piece for those of us who were there. I read it in a single sitting and reveled in many of the people, places and experiences that we had in common. And although it contained two hundred pages and a seemingly-endless amount of tales, it only led me to one conclusion:

I miss it all.

Final days of The Melody Bar, New Brunswick, NJ:

Published Travel Photos

It seems that the people over at Schmap have taken a liking to some of my snowboarding and mountainscape-related photos, as they have decided to publish two of my photos in their upcoming travel guides.

The first is one of my favorite photos of The Canyons in Park City, Utah:

IMG_0002-Top-of-Canyons

The second is a shot of Lake Tahoe from Heavenly Resort:

Lake Tahoe, Heavenly - California Side

(click on each to see them on my Flickr site, where you can get them in high-res)

It’s not exactly National Geographic, but I am honored, nonetheless.