BY EVERYNIGHT CHARLEY CRESPO | Sara Bareilles is leading an effort to help prevent Rockwood Music Hall from closing. On June 30, the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter will headline the first in a series of benefit concerts over the summer at the independently operated music venue in New York City. Chris Thile and Michael Daves, Amy Helm, Elle King, Ingrid Michaelson and the Lone Bellow also will headline benefit concerts at Rockwood Music Hall, Stage 2.
“In 2007, I played one of the first shows of my career at Rockwood Music Hall on the Lower East Side, a venue that then and now represents the grit and determination of New York’s aspiring musical community,” Bareilles said in a statement posted on the venue’s Web site. “At that point, I had only ever played ONE show in New York. I was green and scared. I knew I loved playing music for people, but New York was the Big Leagues and I wanted to prove myself, even if I didn’t know who that was yet. So I pretended, and of course panicked that no one would come.
“Thankfully, people came. Not hundreds of people, but enough people came for me to get to play there again. And a few more people came. And I got to play again. And again. And that is the whole precious gift of a place like this. Nurturing a relationship with the community, and more importantly with myself. I genuinely believe that for emerging and developing artists, sacred places like this are the heartbeat and lifeline of the New York music scene. Who else is finding themselves on those stages?
“My Rockwood story is not unique — despite its small stages and humble footprint, Rockwood has hosted an almost mythical list of first or very early shows by some of the world’s now best-known artists. Amos Lee in 2005, Lady Gaga in 2006, Jon Batiste in 2010, and in the decade that followed, Elle King, Gary Clark Jr., Rachel Platten, Lucius, Lewis Capaldi — the list goes on and on. Every one of these people walked onto the Rockwood stage with a dream, and walked out one step closer to the world hearing their songs.
“Now, like many small, independent music venues across the country, Rockwood is struggling to emerge from massive financial burdens imposed by the Covid pandemic. Interest on loans secured to keep the doors open in recent years is compounding already sky-high Lower Manhattan rents, and without the support of artists and the music community at large, Rockwood will soon permanently close. This would be a devastating loss to the vibrancy of the New York music scene.
“I am hoping we can come together and try and give back a fraction of what has been given to us over the years by our beloved Ken Rockwood and the community he built.”
Rockwood Music Hall, which opened at 196 Allen St. in 2005, helped launch the careers of Lady Gaga, Jon Batiste, Gary Clark Jr., Lewis Capaldi and others. For much of its 18 years, Rockwood Music Hall operated three adjacent music venues simultaneously, two venues on Allen Street and one on Orchard Street. Stage 1, the smallest of the venues, continues to have robust programming of folk, jazz, pop, punk and rock musicians. The larger Stage 2 never completely recovered from its pandemic closure, and has seen a diminishing number of bookings in recent months. Stage 3 closed permanently about a month ago.
“Over the past 18 years, Rockwood has hosted over 75,000 shows on its three stages, helping to launch and develop the careers of thousands of artists,” reads the announcement on the venue’s Web site. “It has also been the site of hundreds of appearances by Grammy, Tony and American Music Award winners. Along the way, Rockwood has become an iconic NYC cultural institution and a foundational part of America’s independent music scene. In an era where live music is dominated by corporate interests, venues like Rockwood — which focus on new and emerging artists — have become increasingly rare.”
The Web site says that unless Rockwood receives immediate help, it is in danger of closing permanently. The statement continues its plea for support:
“Like many small, independent music venues across the country, Rockwood is struggling to stay open. Without the support of artists, the music community and fans of music, Rockwood is in danger of permanently closing, shutting off a vital place for independent and up-and-coming musicians to develop their artistry and give fans the opportunity to discover new music in a live setting.
“We can still save Rockwood! By rallying together, we can help preserve Rockwood as a vital cultural institution, combat corporate influence on live music, and support the independent music scene in New York City.”
The venue’s Web site proposes three ways the public can help save Rockwood Music Hall:
- Contribute to the “Preserve Rockwood” GoFundMe campaign at www.gofundme.com/f/preserve-rockwood. As of this writing, 526 donations totaling $50,675 were made toward the $250,000 target.
- Attend the Preserve Rockwood Benefit Concert Series. All proceeds from the concerts will be donated to Rockwood Music Hall. Tickets are on sale for concerts by Sara Bareilles (June 30), Chris Thile & Michael Daves (July 1), Amy Helm (July 6), Isabel Hagen (July 10), Ingrid Michaelson & Friends (July 20), Elle King (July 31) and the Lone Bellow (Aug. 10). Additional benefit concert announcements are forthcoming. The venue’s Web site invites musicians who have played at the venue in the past to be a part of the benefit concert series in July.
- Share the Preserve Rockwood campaign on social media. The venue’s Web site offers graphics and other creative assets.
Crespo covers New York City’s live music scene on his The Manhattan Beat blog.