CMJ ‘01 Oct. 10-13 @ the Hilton Hotel. NEW YORK CITY

A month after the attacks at the WTC, DC and PA, CMJ went on a month late, but it happened. Get it? The crowds were thinner than any year I recall, walk-up registration limited, out of town visitors fewer in number. There were also fewer showcases than originally booked with artists elsewhere due to prior commitments. The exhibition floor was about half the size of normal, with a handful of tables thinly disguised CMJ fronts. But folks came. Anthrax hit NYC during the convention, but no tornadoes. I’ve heard the company has its share of troubles. Certainly the hit on NYC, and the ripple effect on conventions originally booked for September, couldn’t have helped, but CMJ was right on track from day one. Beginning hours after the attack, I think, the Website had information about the postponed event. While the company’s phones were largely down, since before the Sept. 11 attacks, their PR firm rose immediately to the challenge. While a third of the city was shut down, literally, they were all working on getting the thing back on track. CMJ used their Website to deliver messages quickly and accurately at a time where even if the phone were working most circuits into NYC were busy. It certainly wasn’t the most important thing to be thinking of that week, but at a time when people want to go on living in the face of hatred, information is power.
So less than a month after the towers collapsed, the devoted made it to town for the film fest and music marathon. On the first night, I considered a off-showcase show at the Bitter End, but was so turned-off by the doorman’s attitude that I ended up taking a walk. Later, seated on the west steps of a pedestrian bridge crossing the West Side Highway, I watched an endless parade of dump trucks roll into Ground Zero empty and out loaded with gray debris. “They’re working 24-7,” said one cop who looked to be born after King Kong climbed the World Trade Center in a 1970s remake. The smell of the smoldering site was stronger here than when it pulled me down from Bleecker Street. Proximity will do that to you.

I hadn’t intended to gawk, and didn’t really, but that night I walked around the site along the West Side developments, hearing and smelling more than I saw. Eventually, I reached a point where a police escort past the center was the best option, and I boarded a van driven by an officer with eyelids far heavier than mine have been in months. Midway to Battery Park, we stopped so the wheels could be hosed down, to reduce contamination overflow. When I got out, I wondered about my own “wheels” and walked through a puddle. The Staten Island Ferry was free, and the round-trip from lower Manhattan afforded me time to think.

Later in the week. I did sit through a handful of panels on publicity, journalism and indie labels – and a short zine “how-to” session I was drafted to lead at the last minute. Discussion was refreshingly frank across the board. Persistence pays was a consistent message, and established relationships still make the difference - that about sums up the panels. Oh, and the notion that the era of the vapid pop phenomenon could be ending. Let’s hope.

The CMJ music I did take in was mostly on the day stage at the Hilton, where Laurie Cantrell said she was glad to play because she was ditching work. (her drummer was on a lunch break) She hit the stage with an explosive start at 1:05 p.m. Looking a little like a coal-miners daughter, her tunes were more upbeat than melancholy. Settling into a more fragile stance, Cantrell told stories in most songs that ranged from folk rock to a sad slow waltz. “I’ll be with you when the roses bloom again,” she sang. I liked it. Cantrell said she’d been sneaking in to CMJ shows for 15 years and it was nice to finally have a badge. I think that she would have played even if the thing had been held on schedule in September. I know I would have attended.

These folks are from and Visit them.

CMJ Film Fest I didn’t see much this year, but at the film fest booth in the exhibit hall, a volunteer said I would love the music in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch. They couldn’t have known I’d love the movie too. The thing has been well documented, and live versions are being performed across the country, so I won’t say more than it’s a sort of punk rock opera about a sex change gone bad. After the flick, Steven Trask, one of the creators, gave an acoustic performance at the Director’s Guild theater. See the movie if you get a chance!
There was some speculation that this might be the last CMJ Music Marathon. But the show will go on, this year Oct. 30 - Nov 2. . New York needs all the music, energy, and out of town interest it can get. The last of the overstuffed NYC music festivals, CMJ is in a unique position to dominate the next wave of College Music and Indie Rock promotion.