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Published: 2003/07/28
by Dan Alford

On Leaving New York

For nearly my entire time at, which has been nearly the entirety of’s existence, I have lived in, loved and hated, and thrived off of New York City, and now it’s time to leave. "How can you leave New York City?" my landlady asked just the other day, and the answer is, it won’t be easy. The City, despite its layers of asphalt and concrete, hundreds of miles of tunnels and tracks, and thousands of miles of plumbing and wires, is an organic creature. It is a strange, breathing, evolving organism, or rather ecosystem, and once it is part of you, you are part of it, and separating becomes a complicated process. There is so much to draw on, so much energy and creativity, and of course in my case, that energy and creativity is most profoundly embodied in the City’s thriving music scene.
While quite literally every genre of music lives and grows in New York, from folk to hip-hop, from choral to gothic death rock, the mainstay of my experience has been the city’s swollen vein of groove jazz. I’ve spent countless nights seeking inspiration, chasing the funky backbeat through the narrow streets of the East Village, or scouring mid-town for a hot organ riff. In fact, just days after moving here I hit two very late nights of Soulive at the now defunct Baby Jupiter (the live "So Live!" With Oteil from Turn It Out is from those gigs), a fine beginning to a now long-standing relationship between me, New York City, and dawn.
More recently I’m reminded of Garaj Mahal’s Eric Levy calling out from the stage at Tribeca at 2:30 in the morning, "So this is one of those late night New York gigs I always hear about, huh?" In between those shows, I’ve loitered outside the main room at The Knitting Factory waiting for a surprise, free Project Logic show, or a late night show with Logic and Medeski guesting with Liberation Theology. I’ve waited in the hot summer sun to see Scofield at the South Street Seaport, and paid outrageous sums to see him at The Bluenote. I’ve run, literally run, from the Beacon to the Makor to catch Soulive, or for that matter, from the Beacon to the Bowery Ballroom (not literally running) for the same purpose. How many times did the Mercury Lounge host my early morning revels with the Slip, or AGP, or again, Soulive? How many times have I rolled into Irving Plaza just before the first set of Sector 9, moe., or the Dark Star Orchestra? And what about the Wetlands?
There is no need for a history lesson here (we covered that in excruciating detail when the venue closed). Suffice it to say that while pop culture bandies around the word Mecca in regard to any fad hot spot, the Wetlands Preserve was the real deal: a place of true significance, the axis around which the jam world turned. From the bus to the beer, the petitions to the black light bathrooms, the Wetlands was not only a quirky and wonderful venue, but a second home. My fellow denizens were like brethren, even those I spoke to at every show but whose names I never knew; even those whose faces I know, whose voices Ive never heard. It was the Wetlands, with it’s midnight starts and interlocking sets , that really pushed me into dawn’s sunny, open arms. And oh the music! The Zen Tricksters’ Garcia Birthday Bashes, moe. and the Disco Biscuits; insanely long sets of Sector 9 or the New Deal; the residencies by the likes of Soulive and Lettuce; the all star jams with Project Logic, Deep Banana Blackout, or Topaz… Remember the benefit show for Robert Walter’s 20th Congress when their equipment was stolen? Or that last night, the unannounced final show, the one that began with Robert Hunter alone on that small stage, evoking majesty? I left that show around five in the morning because I needed to remember the space with music still in it. But by far my fondest memories are the many nights of Percy Hill, watching my best friend and truest companion bust into an ass-shaking go-go dance as Joe led the charge into Sun Machine- "I hope it never ends…"
And yet music in New York is more than crowded venues and late night sets. It’s the roar of traffic and a thousand different languages. It’s the car alarms and jackhammers. It’s quiet Sunday mornings and the Latin percussionist across the street. It’s cruising down Canal with a 96 MMW blaring through your headphones and synchronizing with the pedestrian flow. It’s wading along a snow covered Bridal Path as Kimock climbs to peak after peak of It’s Up To You. It’s being trapped on the East Side in a thunderstorm with Legion of Mary gunning through Mystery Train. It’s waiting in the park, like being stoned.
New York, despite its abuse and parking tickets, its noise and pollution and cacophonous subways, has been good to me. Being near the end of the beginning of the end of my early years, I’ve taken stock and wondered what other musical byways and desert paths I might have wandered if I lived elsewhere. In the end, not only is it a pointless question because of the nature of space and time, but because I wouldn’t want any other set of memories. Like I said, New York’s been good to me.

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