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A Scene Grows in Brooklyn
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Add N to X recently played North Six

Arena Rock's Brooklyn Compilation

by Grant Moser

Disclaimer: This article should not have been written merely because of three large clubs opening in Williamsburg. This article should have been written a long time ago about what the neighborhood offers for musicians and music-lovers alike. Nevertheless, it is being written now - the end of the summer of 2001 - and the fact is things have been changing around here. It was merely a matter of time before the music scene was influenced as well.

Williamsburg Grows
One of the new music arrivals to Williamsburg, North Six has opened right next door to Galapagos. Another, Luxx, has opened across the street from The Stinger Club.

However, Robert, the owner of Galapagos, says he is not upset. “Any
business on this street is business for us. And besides, we don’t really focus on music per se, but rather a wide spectrum.” Galapagos features a variety of performers, from DJs to live bands to movies, dance, and performance art.

Cathrine Westergaard, co-owner of The Stinger Club, also is fine with her new neighbors. “Good luck for them. This will give musicians around here more opportunity to be seen. I’m not worried since what we have here at Stinger is unique. It has its own vibe.”

LUXX

New music venue Luxx
 
The little burg is growing up. Things change and new people come. The difference is what people bring with them. Are they coming to latch on to a rising tide of profit? Or are they coming to add their own take to the atmosphere?

North Six, the new 400-person club next door to Galapagos, is there for the music. “This place is here to add fuel to the local scene,” said Jeff Steinhauser, owner. “We’ll showcase varied tastes, from rock to jazz to world to salsa.”

Steinhauser grew up in Brooklyn, and had always talked about opening a club. Creating this labor-of-love took him almost two years. “We want to bring in national groups and have local groups open for them. I’m not looking to make this place larger-than-life. I’m just a guy from Brooklyn who opened a club. I just want to make this a space to see good shows.”

As opposed to the wide-open music hall of North Six, Luxx reminded me of a Coney Island bumper car ring. Reflective wallpaper, clear plastic tubing, lights, and a smash of colors came from all directions. “Altered perception was the idea,” said Ebenezer Luxx, designer and creative director. “The experience of a nightclub should be escape or fantasy.” Luxx will feature local, national, and international DJs and live music seven nights a week.

Luxx also is familiar with the area. “I saw what was happening from visiting my art friends out here over the years. It’s the most creative neighborhood in the whole country. Williamsburg is a viable neighborhood and it’s natural for music to move out here to it.”

“Brooklyn is a haven for musicians. There is so much talent in our borough,” said Greg Glover, president of locally-based label The Arena Rock Recording Company, which released This is Next Year-A Brooklyn-based Compilation in July. The CD features 42 artists; over 50 percent are from the Williamsburg area. “Brooklyn seems like the underdog; always in the shadow of Manhattan. I like underdogs. The compilation was my way of showing people, ‘Hey, we have stuff happening here.’”

And with the arrival of these larger venues, the CMJ Music Festival has decided to expand to Williamsburg during its four-day run this September.

Williamsburg Growing Pains
 
Polish National Home
The Interior of The Polish National Home
Perhaps most evocative of the changes occurring in the area is the Polish National Home. As of September, it will become the rock club Warsaw on specific nights. PNH has been around since 1904 and serves as a cultural center for the Polish community in Greenpoint and surrounding areas. They hold Polish folk dances, classical concerts, dramas, and traditional functions like Christmas and Polish Independence Day (November 11).

However, they “didn’t fully utilize the main ballroom,” said Anton Chroscielewski, president of PNH, which holds 800 people. Enter Steve Weitzman. He is the man responsible for both Tramps and Village Underground.

Weitzman came to them with the idea of using this large space as regularly as twice a week for big-name concerts. Those nights PNH will transform into Warsaw, with the restaurant and bar open for patrons.

The PNH board has final say on all acts Weitzman wants to book. “We will be very selective about the bands coming in. We are not CBGB or Irving Plaza. We are looking for indie music, for alternative, even acoustic. No hip-hop, no punk. We are looking to cater to the Williamsburg community with these shows,” said Chroscielewski’s son, Mark.

And contrary to public rumors, the PNH was not sold. “It was not sold. It is not for sale. It will never be for sale,” Chroscielewski said. “We are still an open hall. We are not committed to Steve only.”

Some disagree with that last statement. John Fitz, a local promoter with The Twisted Ones, sent a scathing email this summer to a group list about PNH. The Twisted Ones had booked concerts at PNH over the past two years and had some scheduled for this fall as well.

“A couple of weeks after we booked the shows we were told that Steve Weitzman from the Village Underground was taking over and that all our shows were cancelled indefinitely… when we demanded an explanation, they told us Steve Weitzman needed the space for events of his own.  He was now in charge and he had the main say in what went on at the club. We had booked the night, paid deposits, etc., and all of a sudden this guy just walks in and starts canceling all events,” Fitz wrote.

PNH came back to Fitz a few weeks later and said he could have the date back, but he refused. “I was not going to start booking shows with bands and then find out that Steve has a bad day and then cancels my shows again.

“It is…apparent that they have no real interest in cultivating any kind of underground music scene like the one that exists in New York today, and their sole objective is to make as much money as possible, as quickly as possible. They are trying to recreate Tramps in Brooklyn and they are dressing it up as some kind of Alternative/Underground venture.”

When I talked with Fitz on the phone, his obvious annoyance with the whole situation was still evident. “They aren’t putting on any cutting edge, relevant bands. They’re not doing anything for the local music community. We will never book another show at the Polish National Home. We’re going to do shows at places like Mighty Robot and Local. And we’ll be doing them with bands that are doing something exciting.”

Williamsburg Up Close
Before these larger clubs came on the scene, there already was music being played here. Williamsburg has long been the home to many smaller clubs, who have nurtured that scene.

“Is there a local scene? Yes. Only local bands bring in the crowds,” said Westergaard. And she books them, even bringing in local acts from the subway platforms on Monday nights. “The club is intimate and a free-for-all. The crowd loves the music and really gets into it. This place would be hard to recreate anywhere else.”

“People are burned out on Manhattan. The scene there is dying and over with,” said John Schmersal, lead singer for Enon. “There’s lots of kids here and now it is its own separate area. Bands here are beginning to come into their own now. There’s lots of potential.”

“The music scene is expanding in the neighborhood,” said Juliana, owner of Pete’s Candy Store. Pete’s cozy back room creates a connection between the performer and audience. And when Julianna books bands, she gives them the reins to dictate how they set up their night – they either can play several sets, or invite friends along and share the bill. “It has always been a more intimate scene in the area. However, these bigger halls will help make Williamsburg more vibrant; more of a music location.”

“The larger places opening will definitely benefit the smaller clubs around here,” said Howard Fishman, lead singer of the Howard Fishman Quartet. “Word of mouth is why people are coming here now. With more options, more crowds will come. And then they’ll discover the rest of what’s here.”

There’s new big clubs moving in and there are still old small clubs too. You can go see who you want. New choices will continue to open up. And the old choices will still be open every day as well. Williamsburg already has what it needs. Williamsburg is looking at newcomers to retain the vitality of the area and not merely to capitalize on it. That’s what will make places good, as well as a part of the neighborhood.

“Williamsburg is more community-based than the rest of New York. That will help develop the scene,” said CeCe Stelljes, director of marketing and promotion for the locally-headquartered label SeeThru Broadcasting. “People are hanging out here and staying in the neighborhood. That means they run into the same people, begin to network, create a social scene. That fosters more creativity. Larger venues are a natural development for this area. And because of them more people will come hang out in Williamsburg, which means spillover and a positive effect for smaller local clubs and local bands.”

Robert of Galapagos said: “The bigger halls opening will provide more choices for both the audiences as well as for the musicians. Now artists and locals have more options and can stay here in Williamsburg, as opposed to having to go the city. This is the gold coast.”

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mail@freewilliamsburg.com | September 2001 | Issue 18
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