CMJ in one day

The Gray Lady of indie music fests ain’t what she used to be
By CHRIS FARAONE  |  November 30, 2008


VIDEO: Chris Faraone's CMJ video diary

WEDNESDAY
I step off the bus in Chinatown and walk a few blocks before dashing up through SoHo – my homecoming routine since I moved from New York to Boston four years ago. I enjoy punching through the foot traffic with no regard for middle class materialists who troll Canal Street hunting for imposter handbags; a few months ago I swatted down a woman’s golf umbrella after she impaled my ear while talking on her cell phone.

Main Street Americans can stop worrying about Wall Street folks. They’re laughing up and down lower Broadway wielding fistfuls of bailout bucks; one woman draped with Apple and Adidas bags can’t fit through the door of a café. Shops that exclusively sell miniature Japanese robots are extremely busy, and there appears not to be a single empty table, booth, or barstool at Balthazar. I turn the corner and piss behind a dumpster. Someone has to keep this place grimy.

I’m not here to shop. I came to experience the CMJ Marathon for the first time in two years, and to do it in less than two days. Still, this plastic gentrified aroma that masks Manhattan’s spirit is more pungent than ever, and I’m sure this trip will reflect that seemingly sudden shift. It’s not possible for a festival in contemporary Gotham to be more about the music than the scene itself.

My friends can never find apartment keys that I borrowed on previous visits, so my buddy Brian cuts a new set every time I come for CMJ. If you ever find a keychain near Washington Square Park, they’re probably for his MacDougal Street studio. No complaints though – I have a place to rest within stumbling distance of the fifteen-or-so venues that I plan to crash before bouncing early Friday morning.

CMJ organizers spell my name wrong every time. This year my badge reads “Chris Faronee / Boston Phoenix.” Such errors used to aggravate me – particularly when I was “Chris Fartone” at a newspaper convention three years ago – but it’s a certainty that I’ve come to accept as a victim of the four vowels in my last name.

After checking in at NYU, I roll to 1849 on Bleeker Street, where my super rude bartender treats me like a tourist and snarls as I laugh at Onion headlines. As far as she’s concerned, I’m a Boston native named Chris Faronee who’s here to hit on her and leave a cheap tip. I suppose she’s right about at least two things.

I approach three dudes who also have CMJ badges: “Where’s the free booze boys?” The frail noir hipster on the left tells me there’s a Dewar’s party sometime tonight, though he’s not sure exactly where. This is an ongoing joke at recent music fests; aware that diehard Dewar’s drinkers are dying at alarming rates, the company relentlessly markets to trend-setting urbanites who will gladly sip free scotch and ginger ales until they vomit.

My first official CMJ stop is a showcase at S.O.B.’s, which is one epicenter of my hometown’s rap scene. Just about every renowned New York MC has engaged in some sort of brawl, fight, or altercation here to the point that one might call it an unwritten rite of passage.

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