The Seventh-and-a-Half Floor (Part III, 1998-2001)
the lounge, looking towards the stage. (photo by Carol Wade)
DAVE MASUCCI (saxophonist, The Authority): Downstairs had its own
vibe. It was a different kind of person who favored the downstairs area. You
could pretty much listen to the whole show on those speakers, smoke a joint,
and kick back on those couches all night.
PETE SHAPIRO (owner, 1997-2001): One of the things that I'm most
proud of is that I really strongly advocated the use of the lounge for
bands. They didn't really do that before five or six years ago. It was just
a lounge, really. I thought "how can we make Wetlands different?" In the
last five years, it has really become a pretty significant part of Wetlands
and the development of bands. It's got its own feeling down there. I love it
when there's two bands going on at the same time. You can just go up and
down. That's one thing I'm really proud of.
ANDREW SOUTHERN (bassist, RANA): That space downstairs is almost as
cool as the upstairs. If it had a better P.A., it'd be cool to play there
DAN LEVY (editor): I think there was a big change when they started
having bands downstairs, a really negative change. I assume the only reason
they did that was to stop people from just staying down there and smoking
pot all the time. It's totally uninteresting and uncomfortable to be down
there at exactly the moment when you need respite from the intensity of
what's going on upstairs.
RICHARD GEHR (writer): I respectfully disagree with Dan about the
downstairs at Wetlands. I think the downstairs at Wetlands was really great.
Some of the best shows I saw there were downstairs shows. I thought it was
like the seventh-and-a-half floor of clubs. It was a zone. It was a weird
little zone. It had a feeling that you didn't get at any other club. It was
like a private club within a private club.
JESSE JARNOW (writer); It took me a while, but I eventually warmed up
to the downstairs. When they first started doing it, they usually had really
mellow bands down there. The first time I remember seeing groups down there
were a bunch of Slip shows. They're one of those bands that's really good at
adapting to their environment, and they tended to play really chill shows
down there. I remember everybody sitting on the floor. It didn't seem too
different from when they had no live music down there, just that there was a
band in the corner. Gradually, the bands got a little more rocking down
there. For the last two years, it really felt to me like a social club,
like a very old-fashioned social club.
RICHARD GEHR: Between sets, during sets, while bands were playing
upstairs. The first New Deal shows I saw were down there, the first Uncle
Sammy shows. Who else did I see down there?
2. "We Don’t Just Book Bands, We Develop Them"
JERSEY DAN (intern, 1999-2001): I think it's the greatest thing about
the Wetlands. Jake always says "we don't just book bands, we develop them".
ANDREW SOUTHERN: I remember reading something that Jake put up "we
don't just book bands, we develop them" and I realized that we were on that
same track. And the minute that happened, I felt like I was really part of a
family beyond just people saying that. We've got Noah [Chase, Wetlands
intern] as our tour manager, Jake as our manager, Randy [Taber, Wetlands
soundman] as our soundguy (whenever we can afford him).
JAKE SZUFNAROWSKI (employee 1994-1999/talent buyer, 1999-2001):
[Developing bands] just involves putting a lot of interesting bills
together. If you're coming to see Lake Trout, there's a good chance that
you're gonna like Cancer Conspiracy, even if you've never heard of the
Cancer Conspiracy. The tricky part about doing that is that if you like Lake
Trout, you might also like ulu. So, you book ulu to open for Lake Trout and
people will come early because they want to see ulu. You have to take a band
that draws well, and convince them to play first, so that there will be
people in the room for the second band. That was tough a lot of times.
The lounge is a great tool for developing bands, because they get to play
from midnight 'til 3:30, 4:00 in the morning and plenty of people will get
to check them out. A lot bands, especially touring bands – Jacob Fred Jazz
Odyssey was a recent one – [resist at first]. I was like "yeah, you can
play in the lounge". The agent was like "lounge? We're not playing in a
lounge! We're gonna play on the mainstage. I was trying to explain to him
that if they played on the mainstage, no one was gonna be there to see them
play. He still said "absolutely not".
They came and played and drew, like, three people from 8:30-9:15 on a
Thursday night. The place was totally dead. After the show, I explained to
the band what happened and showed them the lounge. The next day, the agent
called and he said "hey, when they come back through, they wanna play in the
lounge". "I told you, man. It was a waste of a show for your band: a
night they could've played for people but didn't."
3. The 10th Anniversary Celebration
PETE SHAPIRO: [The 10th Anniversary run] took a lot of work.
MATT IARRABINO (lighting director, 1998-2001): That whole week had
the excitement that these last two weeks kind of have. Though these last two
weeks have a more somber note attached to them. The 10th Anniversary was
great. It was Frog Wings, with John Popper and Derek Trucks, Butch Trucks,
JAKE SZUFNAROWSKI: They did [a song called] Down At The
MATT IARRABINO: moe. played a show, Deep Banana played a show. Two
nights of Ratdog without their keyboard player, RD3.
PETE SHAPIRO: Late at night, with a buzz on, usually brings the best
thoughts. I spent a lot of time trying to get Bobby [Weir] to come to those
three nights. I knew we had to get Warren [Haynes]. That was automatic. He
was perfect. That was cool 'cause that was the first time that Warren played
with anyone from the Dead. I thought it was cool that it was my idea to get
him down for those two nights and it just clicked so much. Then, he
obviously went on with the Phil thing.
When I got that, I was like "what's the most bizarre thing we can do?" I was
thinking for a while. I just woke up one morning and was like "fuckin'
Hanson". In a dream, I heard their name and I woke up and thought "if
we can get the Hanson kids, that would be about as bizarre as it could get.
And I knew someone who knew their management. Their management were all
Deadheads and we got in touch and it was like "we're in". To their credit,
they flew in to do it, and they rehearsed the tunes, and I was very clear
that we had to do just Dead tunes and some classic songs. We kept it a
pretty good secret.
MATT IARRABINO: That was exciting, 'cause I got to do lights for Bob
Weir for two of the three shows and Hanson. I came in to soundcheck, two
days before the first show, and they came into soundcheck that day with Bob.
I knew they were coming, but – until I walked into the room and saw them
onstage with Bob Weir – I just couldn't believe it. There they are, you
After soundcheck, I was talking to them and they were like "look, there's a
VW bus in the club! That's the coolest thing I've ever seen! Can you show it
to us?" I took them over and showed them the bus. I showed them the inside.
They were like "This is great! I can't believe there's a bus in a house, in
a bar!" That was pretty interesting. "Go check it out!" Back then, they were
still little kids. It was crazy; that night, Rolling Stone was here taking
photos in the backstage room with Hanson with Bob Weir. The next week, it
was in Rolling Stone.
CHRIS ZAHN (talent buyer, 1994-1999): Shapiro engineered the Hanson
thing. I take no credit nor blame. I engineered the Tuvian throat singers.
That was by accident. I remember opening the paper and seeing them playing
that same night at World Music Institute or Town Hall or something and I
knew Gary who works at their label down the street, Shanachie. We were
putting together the Power Jams that weekend. It'd be kinda cool to have the
Tuvian throat singers. It wasn't to sit in with Bobby. They get out uptown
right around the time we were gonna hit setbreak. And they were game for it,
they were into it, their label talked them into it. And they brought buses,
van after van, two or three of 'em outside. It was insanity inside.
Everybody was up their neck dealing with the show.
I remember getting called out, and all these Russian guys were out there,
plus these Tuvian guys, out in the street. "Where do we go? What do we do?
What do you want us to do?" "Holy shit, they really showed up! What am I
gonna do? Come in the back door." So, I ushered them into the backroom. It
was right at set break. Perfect timing. We bring 'em back. They walk in and
peek their heads in, full garb and everything. So I engineered for them to
meet Bob Weir. "This should be interesting."
I remember telling Wasserman that "the Tuvians are here, they wanna meet ya"
"sure, bring 'em in". Weir greets them and he puts his hands together in a
prayer position and starts bowing and they bow back, and Bobby does it
again, and it's like "enough already". Bobby's is an bowing mode with his
hands clasped together. You could tell by the look in his eyes that he was
4. The Disco Biscuits
MARC BROWNSTEIN (bassist/vocalist, The Disco Biscuits): Coming to the
Wetlands taught us a lot as a band, but you have a very, very different
perspective of the club as a fan. I have, sort of, an interesting take on
this pertaining to this particular club because I was coming for years, and
I've been playing here for years.
I kind of see both sides of it very clearly. I know the way you can perceive
the club from both angles. They are very different. Anybody who has played
here a lot can tell you that. At one point, I was so in awe of the place.
But there's difference between being in awe of Wetlands and being a Wetlands
regular, being somebody who works at the club or who hangs out here on a
constant basis. It's great that way. I didn't know very much about the
Wetlands family, per se, when I was coming to see shows here. I'd see the
same people around.
What's great is that Leon [a former security guard] is working here this
week, the security guard working the back door. I haven't seen that guy in
years. When we saw each other it was like "hey, how ya doin'?" "Hey, how ya
doin'?" He didn't that I was in the Biscuits. I knew him as the guy who at
the door, the security guard at the Wetlands when I was comin' here. Seeing
him now, coming back, it's a real trip.
JESSE JARNOW: To me, The Biscuits are kinda the quintessential
Wetlands band, 'cause they grew up coming to the club, came up through the
ranks, and eventually got to the point where they could sell the place out.
MARC BROWNSTEIN: A couple of things [inspired us to do special shows
at Wetlands]. One was that the Wetlands show, because it was your New York
City play, was always considered the most important show of any northeast
run. The Wetlands show is the most important show for all the bands.
Everybody knows that: you play at Wetlands, that's gotta be the show that's
most important. You like to do something special. The easiest thing special
to do is to write new music and put it in the set and debut it for your
I think the ones that stick out most in my memory are the first two
two-night runs; the ones on December 28 and 29, 1998; and then April 30th
and May 1st of '99. Those shows were turning points in the evolution of the
band in a lot of ways. I think you cannot discount the power of having a
good young band put in the position of playing New Year's run shows. Those
shows were pivotal in the evolution of the band. There were kids from all
over the country in New York City that week and lots of kids saw their first
Disco Biscuits show and they were ridiculous shows. We played great. We play
great here. There's no question about that.
The other thing about it was that the sound was always much better at
Wetlands than at other clubs of this size. When you're playing six
Wetlands-sized clubs in a week, and you have some new music, you're going to
want to play it first at Wetlands because you know that it's going to sound
really clear, you know that it's going to sound great, there's not going to
be any question about whether the song is good based on can people hear the
song. Everybody's gonna hear the song, you're gonna get a good recording, a
good crystal clear recording, and go home and fix what's wrong. That's
another thing about it that I think is really appealing.
And the other thing is, it's fucking Wetlands. It's obvious.
5. The Rise and Rise of Jake Szufnarowski
JAKE SZUFNAROWSKI: Zahn quit [in August 1999, to manage The Disco
Biscuits]. He told me he was thinking about quitting about three months
before he was gonna quit. He probably told me a week before he told Pete. He
kind of offered me the job. I said "no way, dude. I've got this record
label. I've seen what it's done to you. You work outrageous hours and have
no personal life!" Then they started about other people they were gonna have
do it. I was hearing the kind of people they were gonna have do it. "That
guy's not gonna work!"
By then, it was a week before Zahn was leaving. He called me up all day, I
was at my house, and said "dude, you gotta take this job". Some weird flash
came over me and, within a fraction of a second, I was like "you're right, I
do". I called Shapiro that day, went down to his house to meet with him and
tell him I wanted to take the job. He said "great".
When I was in high school, I used to have a rap career. I used to run my own
studio. It's an interesting story. I'd played a few shows around, played a
talent show, and put together some shows around my town, and gotten a couple
of other rock bands. I called up a few management companies saying "hey, do
you handle rap artists?" They were suburban music management companies that
handled wedding bands and shit like that. "No, but let us take down your
information. If we ever hear of anything, we'll give you a call."
One day I call from this guy who had a club in Salisbury Beach,
Massachusetts, a club on the beach. He had some ten-act hip-hop show put
together. He had radio advertising for it. It was three days before the show
and the people pulled out and said they weren't coming. So, he called the
management company and they gave him my number. He said "can you put
together 10 hip-hop acts for me?" It was Thursday, and they needed it by
Sunday. "I'll see what I can do." I did and he loved it. I did it once a
month from then on, on Sundays, for the next year-and-a-half.
[I got] a lot from Chris. He was very helpful. We worked closely together
for a while, and we'd become very good friends. [After I started as talent
buyer,] Chris was supposed to stay for a while, a certain amount of time, a
week or two, and work side-by-side with me in the office. He lasted about a
day-and-a-half. He went out for lunch and never came back. [After that,] I
would call and email him constantly.
JERSEY DAN: I'd be considered an intern. Basically, I run around,
answer the phones, go to Kinko's, do stuff that a runner would do in a
bigger venue: go buy cranberry juice and brie and grapes and all that wild
stuff. Somebody's gotta get all that stuff. I've gotta keep awareness up and
spread the word, make sure people know what's up.
The strangest thing I ever had to do was pick the seaweed out of the miso
soup for Mickey Hart's band. The seaweed was not up to their snuff and
they'd spent $225 on various sushi and they asked if someone could remove
the seaweed 'cause they just wanted the noodles and the broth. I was sitting
there backstage, "oh my God, there's a member of the Grateful Dead in the
house! This is a dream!" and he's like "look, couldja take the seaweed out?"
and I'm like (long pause) "yeah". That was also summer of 1999, right before
Woodstock. Mickey did two shows on a Tuesday and a Wednesday.
JESSE JARNOW: Rodney [Speed, Wetlands head of maintenance] is one of
the bigger characters who works there. He's worked there since a few months
after the club opened. At the Power Jam in January he sang Sympathy For
The Devil with 3/4ths of moe. and the usual cast of characters.
RODNEY SPEED (maintenance, 1990-2001): It was Jake's idea to have me
sing. At first, I thought, "what the hell?", as long as it's covers. Jake
said that I should do War Pigs and I said "okay". Later on, I recommended
Sympathy For The Devil and Smoke On The Water. They agreed to that. It was
very wild. I think the jambands kids got a little bit of a dose of rock and
JESSE JARNOW: He's a trip. I was told by Matty [Iarrabino]... we were
DJing and something sounded really fast, and Matty said that when Rodney's
cleaning up the club, he turns up the adjustable speed on everything so it
gives him this rush to work.
MATT IARRABINO: A lot of people that work at the Wetlands, this is
their night job. Most of them are artists. For example, John, who's a
bartender here, had a show recently in New York. He's an artist. Lauren
Marks, she's a bartender here, she does religious art. It's very good. A lot
of the people that work here are in bands, and have been in successful bands
in the past. A lot of them were in punk bands, at one point, including John
and Denise. Denise, who is bartender here – she's in Europe right now, but
she's coming back – worked here the first night. She'll be back. She's in
great band called Lady Luck. They're a punk band. The people that work here
are very interesting. They have a lot going on.
JESSE JARNOW: MC Pauly Ethnic, who worked the door for a few years,
fuckin' rocks. He freestyles with the Conscious Underground and got
up for a bunch of Power Jams. The kid can lay down with some intense
6. The Nude Eel
JAMIE SHIELDS: The first time I was here [with The New Deal] we were
setting up down here [in the lounge]. It was kind of the first time we
played in New York City. We didn't really know what to expect. It was kind
of daunting. We were kind of scared just because, you know, it's New York
City. There was some guy, I don't remember who it was, and he was lugging
something through and we were just trying to keep out of everybody's way,
and the guy goes (tough guy voice) "You guys the band?" (nervous,
meek voice) "Yeaaah"... (tough guy voice) "You the guys from
Canada?" (nervous, meek voice) "Yeeeah…" (super-friendly
voice) "Well, right on! Welcome to New York City, welcome to Wetlands,
hope you have a good time!"
JAKE SZUFNAROWSKI: From [late in] August , 'til December 16th,
they played 13 times in the lounge. After The New Deal start coming down,
Jamie and I became friendly. Jamie was doing his own booking then.
Jamie's a night owl like me. After a show, I'd get home at two in the
morning and call him up, and we'd shoot the shit for an hour or two and talk
about whatever. Then I'd toss in "hey, I've got a show in two weeks… wanna
come down and do a show?" "Yeah, sure." Everytime they'd come down, they'd
get to play for a lot of people. They'd play for more people each time.
Then, they got an agent at a Gamelan named Todd. One day he called me up and
in a half-joking way he said 'Jake, you gotta stop this". "What?" "You gotta
stop giving The New Deal these shows on two weeks notice because Jamie calls
me and tells me they got a Saturday night and he wants to get a Friday on
the way down and a Sunday on the way up! I can't do that on two week
JAMIE SHIELDS: That was, to us, when we realized that Jake in
particular had a vision for The New Deal, as he does for a lot of bands.
I've told him this many times in the wee hours – (drunken voice) "you
wanna know about you? I'll tell you about you". He's such an innovative
booker. He always had these cool ideas, and still does, of how to build an
eclectic roster in a club and still maintain the club's personality.
JAKE SZUFNAROWSKI: The New Deal is a phenomenal instance of
developing a band from scratch, because they had no fan base. From August to
December. Then they came up January 8th. It was Friday night interlocking
sets with Lake Trout and 411 people paid. It was fantastic. Lake Trout
didn't really have a draw at that point either. It was a good gig for both
of them, especially on the main stage.
JAMIE SHIELDS: I liked that. That was pretty cool. It was a bit of a
mess on stage. That sort of thing was very cool to me.
JAKE SZUFNAROWSKI: The interlocking sets, I thought, were fantastic
in general. That was another great way to get people to come early and stay
late. It made people do things that they never thought they could do or
thought they were capable of. I had to twist The New Deal's and Lake Trout's
arms to do it. I had to make multiple calls to Jamie and [Lake Trout
guitarist] Ed Harris.
"No, it's gonna be cool." "What are you saying? We're gonna play but then
they're gonna come up one at a time and then we're gonna get off one at a
time? That doesn't make any sense!" "Yes it does, trust me, everyone's gonna
love it." Everyone loved it. Then everybody wanted to do it. Bands started
calling me. "Can we do an interlocking sets show?"
JAMIE SHIELDS: I think my favorite bill involved me, but it didn't
involve The New Deal. It was Christmas two years ago and Jake had this band
from Jersey, this Pink Floyd cover band called The Machine. They played and
I opened by being in the tap bar, and I brought a couple of my keyboards
along, and I just noodled. Jake spun hip-hop beats underneath me and then
also spun comedy records on top of me. We were our own little band.
JAKE SZUFNAROWSKI: I was in the DJ booth with two turntables going
and two CD players. One of the turntables was hooked up to a chaos pad.
Stich had one, so I used his. Logic has one, too. It makes the record sound
weird. It was really cool, 'cause I was playing techno, house, jungle,
electronic music. I was taking records and scratching those and putting
effects on them. I was playing a lot of spoken word stuff and effecting
that; George Carlin, Father Guido Sarducci.
JAMIE SHIELDS: We played for, like, 45 minutes. Of course, we never
thought about what we were gonna do and I never paid attention to anything
outside of what I was playing, and – at the end of it – the audience
applauded. We did it as kind of a lark, but it turned out to be great.
7. Power Jams
JESSE JARNOW: The Electron show in August 2000 was great. They were a
great band in their own right — Marc [Brownstein] and Aron [Magner] from
the Biscuits, Tommy Hamilton from the BPers, Sir Joe Russo, and DJ Stitch.
Not only that, but that's right when Marc was reuniting with the Biscuits
[after he had been out of the band for seven months], so the energy was
through the fuckin' roof. It might not've been the best set the Biscuits
ever played, but if you tried telling me that at the time, I woulda bit your
fucking head off.
TOM HAMILTON (guitarist/vocalist, Brothers Past): Electron was cool.
The guys from my band were here, obviously the Biscuits were here, and
everybody was so happy. A lot of it was, I'm sure, Marc being back in the
band. Everybody was very into what was going on. It definitely shot my
career in the right direction. It was cool. I met a lot of really cool
people because of Electron, because I played here.
SIR JOE RUSSO (drummer, Fat Mama/Learned Evolution): When Fat Mama
was doing the residency here, we played with James Blood Ullmer, a guitar
legend. We also played with Rufus Capadocio, the cello player for Paradox
Trio, and a couple of the guys from Sex Mob. Being able to play with those
guys, I don't think it would've happened if it wasn't here. The All-Star
jams, for things Jake would put together: getting a chance to play with
great people like Logic, Robert Walters, ridiculous amounts of people that
come through here and set up and play together just for the hell of it.
TOM HAMILTON: You play with different guys that are playing different
stuff. Fat Mama and Brothers Past are nothing alike. It's completely
different. Playing with Joe Russo as a drummer and having Marc [Brownstein]
on bass and, say, the keyboard player from ulu, you don't know where any of
it is going. And it's cool because I don't like being a lead guitar player.
It's cool 'cause I get to sit back in the pocket and just listen to what's
going on, fill in the gaps. It just makes you think differently.
TOM McKEE (keyboardist/vocalist, Brothers Past): We've definitely
played in some interesting Power Jams here over the time. Tom and I both
played one night with the guys from moe.. We wound up playing the song
Meat that we'd never even heard. It was fun to play. At one point,
Tom was soloing and I watched Al [Schnier] give him the raised eyebrows,
like "oh, this kid can play". It was definitely a cool thing to watch Tom
play with the guys from moe..
JAKE SZUFNAROWSKI: This guy Nick Vesucci or something was writing for
the Village Voice's "best of" issue. It was The Best Place To Come and Look
Like A Hippie, and they just trashed us. They said we had all this
hippie-dippy, lovey dovey, stupid shit, outdated murals, and a stupid bus
inside. We called them up. Charley spearheaded calling them up, called the
music editor and said "what's this all about?" The editor said "oh, we're
sorry. We apologize. That snuck in."
It was just the Voice trying to be cool and hip. It's not cool and hip to
trash something like that, especially when that's not what we do. Yeah, we
book jambands, but that's like saying Irving Plaza is the jamband room in
New York City, 'cause look how many jambands they book. But they
wouldn't print a retraction, so we ended up just putting it on our ad. We
sent it back to them with our statement about how stereotyping is foolish
and exacerbates any type of problems you have to begin with.
8. Attack of the Killer Misters from New Jersey
SCOTT METZGER (guitarist/vocalist, RANA/Flacanticide): The first time
I ever came here was when I played with Amfibian about three years ago. It
was our first gig. We sold it out. There were 700 people here. It was a
crazy, crazy place. I immediately knew that it was an insane place. Too many
people, everybody loving it. Everybody having a good time. Amazing
ANDREW SOUTHERN: We were on tour with Amfibian, Scott and I were, and
we were going into rooms I'd never been in anyway, but Wetlands was the one
where I was like "it'd sure be great to play Wetlands". Sure enough we made
It was everything that I'd read about or heard about from people. I'd heard
that Phish had played here so that gave me a little bit of heads up to what
the scene might be like. Every club in the city has stickers everywhere,
that's a standard thing, but this place had stickers everywhere and ugly
couches and a couple of other things, including the wood in that other room,
which we really struck me: wood in a club, it's well kept up. It makes you
feel like your inside a tree.
JAKE SZUFNAROWSKI: Andrew [Southern] was calling me and pestering me:
"I'd like to get a gig for my band RANA." "Whatever, dude." I think they
sent a tape. I might've listened to it once. It didn't strike me as
anything, really. Then I was at a Phish concert, oddly enough — one of the
two I've attended in my life. It was in Philadelphia, on December 10th, at
The Spectrum. I came up with an idea for Pete. I said "Pete, let's do the
freebie threebie right after New Year's. Let's do three free shows. We've
got Max Creek, they're booked on one night. Let's do three free nights to
kick off 2000." Pete agreed to it and we were trying to think of bands we
The kid sitting next to me said to me "are you Jake?" "Yeah." "From
Wetlands?" "Yeah." "Hi, I'm Andrew Southern." I guess Pete knew him from his
relationship with Tom Marshall, and they started talking to each other. I
leaned into Pete "hey, I got an idea: why don't we get Andrew to play in the
lounge during the threebie freebie and have him do three sets: first set
solo acoustic; second set, Andrew and Scott Metzger; and third set will be a
RANA show, keeping with the three theme."
They came out and played. I was sick that night. I wanted to watch them,
because I had talked to Andrew a couple times since then and decided I liked
him, but I left early. I heard some of their soundcheck while I was in the
office, but I was sick so I went home. This was Wednesday. On Thursday, he
got home and he had a tape of the show, so he burned it onto CD and FedEx'ed
it to me. I got it on Friday and put it in my bag and took it home. I woke
up Saturday afternoon, was cleaning my house, and thought "oh, there's that
RANA show", so I put it on and I must've listened to it four or five times
in a row. I couldn't get enough of it. "This is fuckin' great." I called him
Monday. "Dude, we gotta talk."
[That summer,] they did Tuesdays in July.
ANDREW SOUTHERN: Each time we played, there were more people. It
started on July 4th, which meant that there weren't a lot of people on that
night. We got better and better every show. We rehearsed during the week and
then we would show up. By the last night that we played, we had 150 people
come out. It was just building it up and getting it going. That number of
people. We obviously built on that, on the following that we gained then.
The residency is when we first figured it out, starting July 4: "let's leave
Wetlands exhausted. Let's make that be our main focus, emotionally
exhausted. Emotionally and physically, in that order." And that's pretty
much what happens.
JAKE SZUFNAROWSKI: It was a good kickstart for them to be playing on
the mainstage four weeks in a row. It was good for their confidence. It made
them make people think they were bigger than they were, because not that
many people got residencies at the club.
ANDREW SOUTHERN: At one of our last lounge gigs, Jake got drunk and
belligerent and Matt [Durant], the keyboardist, got drunk and belligerent
too. And while we were playing, Jake insisted on coming up to the mic or
doing something drunk and obnoxious. During a song, or right between songs,
Matt and him actually had a yelling match: "FUCK YOU! GET THE FUCK OUT OF
HERE!" They were yelling and had smiles on their faces. It made everybody in
the audience all awkward. And, of course, we were all still trying to figure
out what Jake was all about and Matt just took that plunge to fight with
him. The next day we were all best buddies. "You stood up to me!" "Yeah, you
stood up to me!" That's when we realized that Jake might be the man
for the job and also that place might be really cool.
SCOTT METZGER: The last show that we did here, Jake got up on stage
and gave a big speech. He was talking about RANA and saying how "RANA's
gonna be the next big thing, and they're a very serious band, playing very
serious music," and the whole speech he was wearing a Viking helmet made out
of Pabst beer cans.
JERSEY DAN: The Wetlands gives you the opportunity to be the musician
you are and not the musician everybody wants you to be. A great example
would be everybody's favorite: RANA. Those guys could do whatever they want
because it's their chance to grow and develop. One day, when they're playing
MSG, people will be like "I remember when they were doing four encores and
Jake wouldn't let them get off the stage at four o'clock in the morning on a
Wednesday night, and three of them were Backstage Pass.
9. This Is The End
PETE SHAPIRO: When Larry first picked the area in 1988, he picked it
because there was not a lot of residents there and figured it was a good
place for a club. Clearly that's changed. It's become a very upscale
neighborhood. And that's what did us in. I did a lot of work when I took
over the club in '96 trying to appease them, and tried to clean the
neighborhood up, from the graffiti. We were really conscious of people
leaving and making noise and certain issues we had to deal with. I spent a
lot of time on that, with community board. We got known for being really
responsive. I gave every neighbor my cell phone number, when there's noise
they can call me. That's the shit the owner has to deal with that other
people don't. You deal with it. It's just ironic that what did it in was the
CHRIS ZAHN: It wasn't a surprise to anyone. It surprised a lot of
people that don't work here. It was evident that the landlord wanted to sell
the building and was looking for people. It was just a matter of time when
he was gonna find somebody.
LARRY BLOCH (founder/owner, 1989-1997): The neighborhood didn't
change that much. We always had neighbors and the neighbors never
liked the fact that there were 500 people out on the corner when they left
the club at night. How could you tell 500 people to not breathe a word? You
could tell them. But, realistically, 500 people at 4:00 in the morning are
going to disturb the sleep of a light sleeper who lives across the street.
PETE SHAPIRO: Putting condos in, they don't want anything underneath
them. They're selling them for over a million dollars each, the apartments.
They didn't even want a restaurant or a lounge there which, I guess, is
better than nothing. It's better than having a cigar bar or something. That
would've been even more depressing.
RICHARD GEHR: Why would someone want to live 30 feet from the
entrance to the Holland Tunnel? It's a horrible location for a home!
Anyplace else in TriBeCa, I can see. But that's just a ridiculous location.
Think of all the cars that pass there…
DANA MONTEITH (guitarist/vocalist, Ominous Seapods): I was on the
plane flying back from the last Seapods shows, out on the west coast and in
Mexico, and I bought a New York Times in the San Diego airport and was
reading that the Wetlands was closing. I came home. I don't know how it
happened, but I ended up speaking with Richard Gehr. It was a random thing
that we'd gotten in touch. He said "you should get [back] together and play
with Max [Verna, who left the Ominous Seapods at the end of 1998]. You
should do that." The thought had kind of crossed my mind and he solidified
I emailed Max and said "I'm pretty much over my anger, I've pretty much come
to terms with all these emotions and frustrations that I had about it. What
a better way to get back together than to do something at Wetlands as part
of the final run, because it was such an important place for the Seapods". I
thought the fans of the Seapods would really appreciate it. He was totally
into it. It was fun. It was exciting. It was good to come around again. It
was good to exorcise those demons and play together with a good friend of
mine that I hadn't played with for a long time at a venue that we wouldn't
get the chance to play at again. It was special. It was once in a lifetime.
Not to say that we won't play again. We probably will, because we had a good
time doing it.
DAVE MASUCCI: [Our reunion] was bittersweet. It was tough to come
back to Wetlands after so many years and have it be the last time we'll ever
play there. It was almost like nothing changed. Everything felt the same.
There was still a decent amount of people that were from the old Wetlands
that still worked there on the staff. That was very comforting. It allows
you to relax, even though all that time passed.
I went and did my usual thing: I signed certain petitions that I hadn't
already signed. That was my routine. I went to say "hi" to certain people,
certain bouncers. Walked in, and it was sad because this was gonna be turned
into someplace that almost was the antithesis of what Wetlands represented.
To me, that's how I felt. I have a problem with what New York is turning
I would say the gig that we played was bittersweet also because we felt
comfortable but yet there was another time where we were uncomfortable about
something that's pretty serious: our lead singer decided not to join us
again. I was the one who fronted the band for the second time. Wetlands has
helped not only The Authority but each of our lives. It doesn't stop at just
being a musician.. Wetlands helped me as a human being. It helped shaped the
person I am off-stage, too.
MARK WHITE (bassist, Spin Doctors): They asked [us to get back
together]. Everybody knows that we had all these big personal problems. I
figured since they were closing, I didn't want to be the pinhead that said
"no". I decided that I would do it. We got past all our differences and
we're having a great time now because of that.
DAVE MASUCCI: Whenever we played with The Spin Doctors, we really
felt like we had to prove ourselves, because we were really hoping to get
the same type of success. When we got onstage for our set at Wetlands on
September 7th, it was like we had a mission, but it was different 'cause
we're all older now. It was very effortless.
JESSE JARNOW: The whole [closing] week was building towards those two
Ratdog shows on [September] 14th and 15th. Then, the 11th happened. Wetlands
was about 10 blocks from the World Trade Center. Suddenly, the closing
didn't seem to matter as much. The whole neighborhood was shut down.
Ironically enough, it bought Wetlands a two-week reprieve. Unfortunately
though – again, the least of the troubles – Ratdog couldn't make it. The
last two nights, which were the 29th and 30th, ended up being pretty low
key. To me, the saddest thing about it is that this is one time where
Wetlands is really, truly needed as a community gathering place, and it's no
(photo by Carol Wade)
DANA MONTEITH: At the Wetlands, everybody who worked there was
involved. And I think that makes a big difference in a situation like that,
from the guy mopping the floor in the afternoon to the end of the night to
the people who are there packing up at the end of the night. Everybody had a
stake in it. That's kind of the vibe I got. I think that makes a difference
in the overall experience for the bands and the performers.
ADAM WEISSMAN (Eco-Center, 1997-2001): We're looking into setting up
an all-volunteer office using the revenue generated from the benefit show we
held earlier this week. It's gonna be a real uphill battle. For so many
years, we've depended on the club for funding and while the club hasn't been
able to provide us huge wads of money – none of us have been working on huge
$40,000 a year salaries or anything – they've still been very helpful and
we've certainly appreciated every penny we've been able to get. At the same
time, it's been a real challenge now to start fundraising in other ways;
things like grant-writing and grassroots contributions.
Adam Weissman of the Wetlands Eco-Center (photo by Carol Wade)
We do want to continue the work we've been doing. We've been talking to
other activist groups about setting up a Wetlands-style model of having a
center that encompasses a broad range of issues and concerns, so we could
talk to bicycle activist groups, anti-pesticide groups, groups working on
animal research, anti-sweatshop groups… a range of organizations. We'd
like to set up a big, joint center where groups would share in certain
administrative tasks and the groups would try to support each other as much
as possible and keep things like that going, like the "truth in education"
forums we've been running. At the very least, we want to set up some sort
of office to continue our own work, or at least the groups that have been
TOM McKEE: We've done some stuff at the Lion's Den recently. We'll
probably play another show there at some point. We just got a call from
Tobacco Road. We're gonna do a show there next week. It's a 21 and up venue.
We definitely wanna look for 18 and up or an all ages place. We're looking
for someplace with a little bit of a vibe, a place with some atmosphere
built in, a place where people'll wanna go regardless of the band that's
playing there, not just because there's a band playing there.
PETE SHAPIRO: I'm working on a space now – it's on an empty parking
lot – to build a brand new space from scratch in lower Manhattan. It's a
dream thing, but it would take a couple of years. That's not definite, but
it's promising. I don't really want to move out of the city. The easiest way
to start a club is to go to an existing club that's gone out of business
'cause it's got licensing, 'cause it's tough to get a cabaret licensee in
New York, and liquor licenses, but mostly the cabaret, which is for dancing.
I don't think the ideal way to do a new Wetlands is take over an existing
place and repaint it [and add] new furniture, and okay "it's Wetlands",
after it's been Polyester's or something. Wetlands deserves more than that.
I only want to do something if we can continue the spirit of the place on an
appropriate level. We've looked at putting on some shows at different
venues, which we'll do. We want to be able to put a show on at a different
venue and still make it feel like Wetlands rather than just "The New Deal at
Irving Plaza". I don't want to diffuse the name. How do you do it? You can
put some balloons up, but the club is the club.
CHRIS ZAHN: I told Pete that I'd be happy to put together shows under
the Wetlands name as a "Wetlands Presents". If it's the right act in the
right space. The only thing I'd invoke would be that I'd like to make sure
that the room could have some of our staff working it, like to know that we
can bring in all our people and our sound people. Have our staff working and
be able to control the advertising and the staging of the show and the
length of the show. Every club's got their own rules.
LARRY BLOCH: None of us who were there, working on this vision at the
beginning, had any idea of whether this would happen. We weren't thinking
like we knew what we were doing. We didn't know what we were doing. We just
had a vision. Everyone got behind the idea and walla. Flash to 12 years and
7 months later.