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Published: 2012/10/29

Larry Bloch 1953-2012

Bloch and John Popper at Wetlands

On February 16, 1989 Larry Bloch and a team of novices achieved something unique in a former Chinese-food warehouse just south of the Holland Tunnel in Manhattan. Not only did this inexperienced collective open a nightclub in the mostly-undeveloped Tribeca region but they created one that fused music with activism in an altogether distinctive manner. As part of the club’s monthly operating budget Bloch created and funded a not-for- profit Center for Social and Environmental Justice to a tune of $100,000+ per year.

This self-styled “Eco-Saloon,” would come to embody a spirit, a community, an ethos. People still rave about the time they first encountered Blues Traveler, Phish, Pearl Jam, Dave Matthews Band, moe., The Disco Biscuits, Ben Harper, or Agnostic Front at the club. Others never visited, but have seen the signature Wetlands bus in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, or have listened to the celebrated live recordings that originated from the club’s intimate stage. Still others participated in Wetlands’ working groups for social and environmental advocacy and remain tethered to its influential Activism Center.

Bloch, who passed away on Sunday in Brattleboro, Vermont, eight months following his initial diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, was inspired to open Wetlands by his dual passions for improvisational music and grassroots activism. He founded the club in an effort to realize both goals. Undeterred by his lack of experience as club owner, in such a challenging environment as New York City, Bloch simply put his head down and realized a vision that many dismissed as impossible.

Given his perspective, the venue was idiosyncratic. For instance the stage did not face out into the room but was tucked away in the corner.

As Bloch later recalled, “I wanted a place that had lots of nooks and crannies, at least two levels. I didn’t want a long rectangular room where one end was the stage and the other end was the bar and in between everyone would be sitting or standing and that would be the nightclub…The stage was first of all always envisioned to be a low stage, to create intimacy. Even though I understood that most stages were higher than our stage and higher meant you could see the band better. I regarded that as less important than the intimacy of band and audience. As well as everything else was supposed to be less ego-oriented and when a band is up on stage, it’s more like band worship. I wanted it more like people playing cool music for their friends.”

He achieved such a goal with numerous acts doing just as he intended. Bob Weir reflected, “I remember a place that had a lot of different spaces, a lot of different rooms and stuff like that-unusual for a concert facility but from every little nook you could still see the stage somehow, which was kind of cool.’

Dave Matthews added, “I don’t necessarily want to go back to having to play clubs every night but certainly Wetlands has got to be my favorite memory of a club if there’s going to be any.”

In the documentary film Wetlands Preserved: The Story of An Activist Rock Club, Rob Barraco (Phil Lesh Quintet, Zen Tricksters Dark Star Orchestra) shared a memory that speaks to this as well: “I’ll tell you what I loved about Larry. One day he was yelling at the soundman, ‘The bathroom mixes are not right. The left and right balances are not correct, fix them.’ So I go up to the soundman, ‘There are stereo mixes in the bathroom?’ And he says, ‘Larry.’”

Another signature feature was the Wetlands bus, which currently is located in the Rock and Roll of fame of Fame. Bloch’s vision for the Volkswagen was “I wanted it to be functional, where someone could sit inside and eventually sell tickets, sell merchandise and facilitate the Earth Station,” which was the focus of activism in the club.

Peter Shapiro, who purchased the club from Bloch in 1996—and has gone on to open Brooklyn Bowl and The Capitol Theatre along with his role as the publisher of Relix—offers, “Larry Bloch’s life had a direct and positive impact on the lives of tens of thousands of people. Wetlands was a wholly unique place, there was nothing like it when it first opened and there still is nothing like it today. It was Larry who single handedly brought Wetlands to life and caused it to flourish. There were others that played important roles at Wetlands, but it was Larry who was both Wetlands’ mother and father. Just given the amount of married people that I have met over the years that say they first met at Wetlands (in the basement, of course), it is not an overstatement to say that Wetlands caused the world to be a better place.”

John Dwork, longtime supporter of the club and former publisher of Deadzine Dupree’s Diamond News once stated rather evocatively, “I will remember Wetlands Preserve as a beautiful flower growing in a crack of concrete.”

Dean Budnick, founder of Jambands.com, executive editor of Relix and the director of Wetlands Preserved, adds, “I don’t think it’s hyperbole to suggest that there would not have been a Jambands.com, a Jammys or even a present-day Relix without the effort and inspiration of Larry Bloch. He created a gathering space for both sacred and profane communion with an enduring legacy.”

Shortly after learning of Bloch’s death, moe., posted a message on their homepage which reads, “Today at 5:30pm, we lost a mentor to many. Larry Bloch was a great man who brought a great vision to life. Those who frequented the Wetlands in New York City got a chance to see someone build a scene like no other and understood the significance; they got to witness and be part of the vision. Nobody has been able to duplicate what Larry did. In a way, moe. lost their Bill Graham today.”

John Popper, whose band Blues Traveler, was Bloch’s favorite from the early days of the club, contributed his sentiments via Facebook, “So sorry to hear about Larry Bloch,founder of Wetlands… He fought his cancer really hard&lived 8months longer than predicted in pretty good health&went peacefully by all accounts… We all love him&wish him well on the next phase of his journey…”

After selling the club Bloch moved up to Brattleboro, Vermont where he became deeply involved in local affairs. He maintained his focus on activism by opening the store/gathering space Save The Corporations From themselves. He also co-founded Brattleboro Community Radio and remained focused both on local initiatives and such national campaigns, such as the effort to legalize hemp. Earlier this month, Building a Better Brattleboro honored Bloch as the recipient of the Larry Cooke Memorial Service Award, which is “presented annually to an individual whose committed and tireless volunteer work has helped to make downtown Brattleboro a more vibrant place.”

In speaking about the legacy of Wetlands, Bloch once emphasized, “That’s how I view the world now, as a better place as a result of Wetlands. I put my attention on how it has fueled me for the work I’m doing now. And I hope the same transfer of energy can occur for people who were touched by Wetlands instead of focusing their energy on the absence of Wetlands.”

No doubt Larry Bloch would hope for the same from his family friends and anyone who seeks to honor his memory. For those who knew him or simply knew of him, it will be much harder and the hole considerably larger.

Comments

There are 14 comments associated with this post

Jim October 29, 2012, 13:30:41

Started going to The Wetlands in the real early 90’s. It was the coolest night club I’ve ever been in. Never met Larry, but wow, that place was like the birth place of modern day jam bands. There will never be another Wetlands. Too bad!

Pete October 29, 2012, 13:04:59

Will miss you Larry. Thanks to you, I discovered a world of bands similar to, but oh so different than, my beloved Grateful Dead. If it hadn’t been for you, your vision, and your club I might have missed out on Phish (and Blues Traveler, DMB, moe. and more)

Lion October 29, 2012, 12:52:33

Beautiful write up. Very much appreciating reading about Larry. I enjoyed a Robert Hunter reading in the Wetlands one night that was brief but something. That place was a bent flower in a crack of concrete for sure.

Don Strasburg October 29, 2012, 13:03:29

A man whose vision truly altered the musical landscape. He will be missed yet his legacy will live on

Toni Brown October 29, 2012, 15:27:11

I am incredibly sorry to hear of Larry’s passing. It was truly an honor to work with him on the opening of Wetlands. His environmental vision was unique for its time, and we had many long and detailed conversations about the venue’s direction. Relix was instrumental in helping bring live music to Wetlands. Larry had the early inspiration to give space to poets and activists, something we obviously had in common. Live music was ironically an afterthought, but Wetlands went on to become ground zero for so many bands, and, in fact, the jamband scene itself. Larry’s encouragement inspired me to become a professional musician, and I will be forever grateful for his gift. What a long strange trip. Larry will be remembered by the many lives he touched, by the many causes he gave voice to, and the music world which grew under his touch. -Toni (former publisher of Relix 1979-2001)

TCinNYC October 29, 2012, 15:33:33

Sorry to hear of Larry’s passing. The 2 rooms that I saw the most music in, in my life were The Front in Burlington and Wetlands in NYC. I hold both venues close to my heart, and think of them all the time. Why? Probably because they booked great bands, but also because they were places where i felt comfortable, where I felt I could be myself, where it felt like home. I have Larry to thank for that in New York, and I will be eternally grateful. RIP.

Lautenberg October 29, 2012, 16:28:52

SIngle handedly kept the vibe of the sixties in New York City, so that a new generation could stand on the shoulders of genius and find new Transformations

Daniel the dingo boy Morris cincy October 29, 2012, 17:57:19

after visiting the wetlands… my little club had a big brother to look up to. fair thee well my brother rest and tell mark vann I said hello…..

Daniel the dingo boy Morris cincy October 29, 2012, 18:01:34

fare you well …
RIP

John Popper October 30, 2012, 01:22:48

Amen…Look down at what U started U wildeyed madcap!!
U recruited us early to join in Ur quixoitic adventures& brought to life every adventure&enobled our cause beyond our own mercenary like instincts… U actually changed Ur corner of the world&we are greatful still… Just look at what U’ve done…&how we’ll love&remember U!! ;)

James October 30, 2012, 10:24:45

the wetlands was an incredible place. i remember the one of “nooks and crannies” was a small side room downstairs, it had pipes across the ceiling with tinsel hanging down (this was in the mid-late 90’s). between sets upstairs, or just to see what was going on downstairs, this was the place to be. saw some great seapods shows at the wetlands, saved me the trip up north. thanks larry.

Marc L October 31, 2012, 00:38:46

The Wetlands was the best. For an internship during college, I spent the summer of `89 living in NYC. I met friends at the Wetlands every week…and every week we all said “this is the coolest club we’ve ever been in (second only to Amsterdam’s Melk Weg)”. Thanks Larry…for creating something really special for musicians and fans alike. RIP.

Bob O'Donnell October 31, 2012, 10:38:12

Larry, you have earned the love, respect and admiration of so many of us who knew you and even legions of people who appreciate what you accomplished vicariously through the dozens of legendary bands that have passed through the doors of the Wetlands Preserve! I was there on Wetlands’ opening night, and many, many nights thereafter. You created an incubator for a music scene that was poised to spread it’s wings, but you gave it a Home and a Vibe that was conducive to them all flourishing to their fullest. Your Eco-Activist Center was unprecedented in the Rock Club scene, but directly influenced me to become a Redwoods/Environmental Activist in the years I spent in California in the 90’s. We will miss that twinkle in your eye, but I will look for your Star to Shine in the Cosmos, where you undoubtedly will shake the rafters of the next Universe you enter…

Robert Beetcut November 9, 2012, 20:10:03

I have so many fond memories of Wetlands. The booking guys took a chance on my band (The Original Fatty Lumpkin), and that allowed us to take a leap forward into the realm of the big boys. We were fortunate to grace that magical stage on 4 or 5 occasions, and each time, it was the greatest. Thank you Larry for your vision and your hard work, bringing together Eco-Friendly, Activist, Music loving, Humans of all sorts. Thank you!!!!

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