The end of the 1960s brought an end to hippie musical stylings and spurred a phenomenal new wave of musical genres. From the rubble of the love-era tunes came new styles of rock and pop, including pure punk music. But where did these wild, noisy, fresh, in-your-face punk bands get their start?
The purpose of CBGB
I’ll give you a hint: it wasn’t in a concert hall. Punk groups turned to smaller, more inclusive musical venues to perform. One such venue was the historic CBGG. In fact, many hold the opinion that the CGBG was where genuine punk music was born. So, what is CBGB?
Put simply, CBGB was a music club in Manhattan Village. Founded in 1973 at 315 Bowery (a former biker bar), CBGB’s owner, Hilly Kristal, hoped to showcase an uber-specific musical style: country. The club’s full name was CBGB & OMFUG, which stood for (Country, Bluegrass, and Blues & Other Music For Uplifting Gormandizers).
Kristal was determined to feature CBGB bands with original, unique music…yet the result of his efforts wasn’t exactly what he expected. Rather than booking country acts, Kristal welcomed a new wave of American stars, intent on producing a fresh type of music: punk.
Where were these punk stars coming from? Many classic rockers were sick of the disco age. They were eager to produce tunes that put a fresh spin on classic rock. Punk/art-rock was birthed from this desire. After all, what’s more rocker than the intense vocals and wild instrumentals associated with punk?
Launching new genres of American music
While Kristal was originally eager to showcase country music, he wasn’t disappointed with the talent that came through CBGB. Many musical acts were hardly known before performing at Kristal’s club, yet the impression they left on CBGB’s patrons was long-lasting.
CBGB became the place for emerging punk stars. It was the venue where many of today’s famous musicians rocked their way into the industry. CBGB was the perfect venue for the punk scene because it was a spot where stars to express their full individuality onstage without limitations (except, of course, playing only original music).
So long as they wrote their tunes and carried their own equipment, these punk rockers could go full dark, no stars. Fresh audiences ate it up.
This tantalizing opportunity drew in future stars such as Patti Smith, Talking Heads, Blondie, Misfits, Joan Jett, The Dead Boys, and the Ramones. At CBGB, these rockers didn’t have to concern themselves with catering to a soft audience.
The earliest era of punk
When the Ramones hit the CBGB stage, the audience was in awe. After the hippie era, the leather-clad stars of the Ramones were a culture shock. However, those who attended CBGB came to expect this musical style: punk, rock, and everything in between.
As the 1970s progressed, CBGB earned a reputation as the heart of the New York punk scene. Hard punk hit the stage in the 1980s, and CBGB became the spot to go to bask in the glory of the aggressive genre. The venue hosted everyone from Patti Smith to Bad Brains, providing a space for strange and spectacular performers to define the new era.
CBGB earned a reputation as the heart of the New York punk scene
Despite hosting popular bands like Green Day in the 1990s, the venue was forced to close its doors in 2006 due to a rent dispute. Patti Smith played a killer closing show. The loss of the venue was a slap in the face to those who witnessed the punk genre evolve within its walls. However, it’s impossible to erase the impact of the historic musical joint.
A deeper dive — Related reading from the 101:
The people who frequently attended CBGB’s punk shows likely sustained some hearing loss.
Hilly Kristal would have hated these unoriginal tunes.