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World Beat: Daily Music Briefs from Around the World
NYC's Legendary Wetlands Preserve Rock Club Forced to Close Its Doors After Almost 13 Years

July 30, 2001 – Live music venue and activism center Wetlands Preserve will be turning out its environmentally friendly lights on September 15, 2001. After close to thirteen years at 161 Hudson Street in TriBeCa, the gentrification of the Manhattan loft set has caught up with the venerable club. The building is being sold and turned into residential condos and the venue is being converted into office and lobby space.

Since opening on Valentine's Day in 1989, Wetlands achieved national prominence as the home of the burgeoning jam-band scene through the emergence of Dave Matthews Band, Phish, Blues Traveler, Widespread Panic, Spin Doctors, and the many other improv-oriented rockers who performed regularly at the venue in the '90s.

While serving as the "must play" venue for jam bands nationwide, the club is also proud of its development of artists from a broad spectrum of musical genres -- rock, punk, hardcore, hip hop, reggae, ska, funk, jazz and electronic music. Some of the most prominent bands in contemporary music were booked at the 500-person capacity club early in their careers. Pearl Jam, Sublime, Travis, David Gray, Counting Crows, and Rage Against the Machine each had their first NYC shows at Wetlands. Oasis's first two shows in America took place at Wetlands.

Konkrete Jungle, the first American weekly drum and bass party, called Wetlands home for its first three years. And, just last year, the Roots hosted a month-long residency at the club that morphed into their heralded weekly BlackLily party which featured an open-mic for female talent, including Jill Scott, Macy Gray, and Erykah Badu. The club has hosted numerous matinee shows on weekends, where the leading ska, punk, and hardcore bands played scores of shows for packed audiences. For the past several years, live electronica bands such as the Disco Biscuits, the New Deal, Lake Trout and Sector 9 have also had numerous sold-out shows at Wetlands. The club was also the home of "Deadcenter," which for ten years was the longest running and largest weekly gathering of Grateful Dead fans in the country.

In an age where clubs are designed to cater to a niche demographic, Wetlands welcomed everyone without the ego of a velvet rope at the entrance. With a capacity of 500, Wetlands is the largest all-ages live-music venue in New York City that is open every night of the week. Wetlands has always encouraged the use of DJs before, between, and after bands' sets to enhance the live-music experience. While most clubs would just have the sound engineer put on a CD between bands, Wetlands prides itself on hiring a DJ for every show to accent the vibe of the evening.

Larry Bloch founded the club as a neighborhood watering hole for activists and a center for environmental activity. Bloch's intention was to open a club and to use revenue from the club, regardless of profits, to fund the Activism Center at Wetlands Preserve, which is still a major part of the club's operations. Since 1989, Wetlands has spent in excess of one million dollars running the center, which is contained in-house and supports four part-time employees as well as an army of volunteers and interns who earn high school and college credit for their work at Wetlands. The activism center works tirelessly on direct actions, letter writing campaigns and petition drives to raise awareness of a myriad of environmental and social justice issues. Every Tuesday since the club opened, the downstairs lounge has been the host of Eco-Saloon meetings. Each week features a different topic, and many nights have featured special guest speakers (ranging from Timothy Leary and Allen Ginsberg to Jello Biafra, Julia Butterfly, and William Kunstler), as well as educators, activists, and indigenous people who would talk about issues and share ideas of how to make the world a better place.

Some of the Wetlands Activism Center's more notable successes have included lobbying successfully with the New York Times to get them to cancel their contract with MacMillan Bloedel, a paper supplier who was clear-cutting the Clayqout Sound, an old growth forest in British Columbia.. They were also successful in persuading Home Depot, the largest retailer of old growth rain forest wood, to cease the sale of wood from environmentally sensitive areas by 2002.

"They don't make rock clubs like Wetlands anymore," says current owner Peter Shapiro (who took control of the club in 1996). "Now it's more about trendy lounges and carpeted live music venues. There's something really special about going to the bathroom where the walls have been graffitied and stickered on for 13 years, and where the bandroom has seen nearly 20,000 guests over the years. There is a special feeling in the air at Wetlands that is hard to describe, it's the kind of thing that only happens after having shows every day for more than a decade in the same room, and it's a feeling that very few other music venues have." Shapiro adds, "At Wetlands, we tried to create a kind of marriage between a neighborhood bar and a live concert hall. A place where people come to meet, socialize with friends, and dance to great music."

Shapiro and the current Wetlands management team (including General Manager Charley Ryan and Talent Buyer Jake Szufnarowski) plan on continuing to use the Wetlands name to promote shows, and are looking for a new space to call home in Manhattan. Recent Wetlands Presents shows have included Sheryl Crow at Shine, as well as last month's Jammy Awards at Roseland. Shapiro also produced the recent IMAX concert film, All Access. Former Wetlands Talent Buyer Chris Zahn has rejoined the Wetlands team to book shows featuring the club's alumni in the club's final weeks at 161 Hudson Street.

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