On August 16, 1974 at 315 Bowery on the Lower East Side of New York City, an unknown band called The Ramones took the stage at a fairly new music venue, CBGB. Playing a 12 minuet long set, adorned in black leather, with Blondie watching from the front row, The Ramones played their first of over 70 gigs at the small, yet striking New York club. Creating an outlet for the misfits and musical innovators of its time, CBGB transitioned from a stereotypical music venue into a hub for avant-garde New Yorkers striving to be heard.
Hilly Kristal opened CBGB in 1973 as an effort to reinvigorate the Rock N’ Roll music scene which had experienced a lull due to the immersion of Disco. Kristal named his club CBGB as an acronym for Country, Blue Grass, and Blues. Hopeful the music several of his friends revered would generate a fun and successful club, Kristal was unprepared for the drastic imprint CBGB’s would historically make.
There were two rules bands were to abide by when performing at CBGB’s. One, play exclusively their own music, no covers, and two, move your own equipment. With such few restrictions and encouragement to play original tunes, CBGB created a safe haven for up and coming bands attempting to break into the rock music scene.
In addition to The Ramones, Blondie, the Pattie Smith Group, and the Talking Heads all experienced their first ever performances on the CBGB stage. Also, notably The Police made their US debut on that same stage in 1978. CBGB’s became more than a venue but a mecca for the outcasts and musical trailblazers of the late 1970’s Rock N’ Roll sound and would succeed in providing groundbreaking live music for years to come.
In the 80’s the musical focus shifted to hardcore punk and brought forth bands such as Bad Brains, Agnostic Front, and the Misfits which all upheld the attitude and reputation that CBGB’s had created. In the 90’s acts the likes of Green Day, Pearl Jam, and The White Stripes all performed at the legendary venue but CBGB’s sadly began transitioning from a cultural nuclei to a relic of a time that has since past.
Closing in 2006 over a rent related dispute, CBGB’s impression on music is far from forgotten. Embodying the Rock N’ Roll attitude, CBGB’s remained unapologetically weird, grimy, opinionated, and musically innovative despite what anyone had to say about it. Representing the eccentric and covert music scene in New York City, CBGB’s is largely responsible for the outburst and success of underground Rock N’ Roll music.
— Victoria Shaffer