Volume 18 • Issue 23 | October 21 - 27, 2005

Music Downtown
Presented by Wall Street Rising
November 14 though 20
Tribeca Performing Arts Center
199 Chambers Street
(212-509-0300; musicdowntown.org)

Photo by Jan Welters

Paris-based chanteuse Keren Ann, above, is one of the thirteen singer/songwriters participating in Music Downtown, a series of free concerts in November at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center.

Luring people downtown, through song

By Nicole Davis

If you passed the line of people on Monday, October 17, snaking from 25 Broad, around the stock exchange to Wall Street, down to William and all the way to Exchange Place, you were too late, but not entirely out of luck. While some 1500 people snagged free tickets to the upcoming Music Downtown series, there are still a limited number of tickets left for performers like Jeff Tweedy and Ricki Lee Jones, who will appear at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center in November.

Wall Street Rising, an organization founded in the wake of 9/11 to help revitalize Lower Manhattan, spearheaded the November 14-20 series, after former president, Julie Menin, asked Knitting Factory founder Michael Dorf to come up with a music program to lure people Downtown.

“I joked and said, if you give me a lot of money, I could open the Art Exchange,” says Dorf. For the past two years, he’s been trying to raise money to transform a vacant bank near the stock exchange into a concert hall—hence the name, Art Exchange. He’s raised roughly $5 million so far, but needs $2 million more to finance his vision of a “downtown Carnegie Hall with a great wine list.” Of course, that wasn’t in the budget, but Wall Street Rising, along with sponsors like Citigroup and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, did have enough to foot the bill for artists like Cat Power, Buddy Guy, Jeff Tweedy, Ryan Adams, Aimee Mann, and Ricki Lee Jones.

“To be given a good budget to book who I want was rare, and really fun,” says Dorf. In the 16 years he spent booking shows at the legendary Knitting Factory, Dorf always had to balance his musical tastes with the bottom line. This time around, he based his choices on artistry alone. “I was like, who is my favorite female vocalist?” He came up with Aimee Mann, then Ricki Lee Jones, then decided, “Why not both?”

The bigger question of course, was where to host this series. While the summer is filled with free concerts in New York City parks, the idea of hosting a free show in a theater, says Dorf, “ is pretty unprecedented,” particularly Downtown. Tribeca Performing Arts Center was his natural choice. Though it can be tricky navigating your way from the street to its entrance inside the Borough of Manhattan Community College, the theater holds 900, which happens to be the seating capacity Dorf envisions for Art Exchange.

“It’s a good room,” he says, “once you get in.” Plenty of people will on November 14, the first night of the seven-day series. Within four hours this past Monday, roughly 5,000 tickets were handed out. About a hundred more tickets for each show will be available through each artist’s website, and there will be a standby line each night of the series. If a ticket holder doesn’t arrive by 8:15 for the performance—a stipulation Dorf says will be “strictly enforced”—the empty seat will be released to the first person on line.

“We have nothing against camping out [for tickets],” says Dorf, “and my guess is we will see some people camping out for [Wilco’s lead singer] Jeff Tweedy.”

The incredible response has affirmed Dorf’s vision for a downtown concert hall, which he believes will fill a niche for “graying yuppies.”

“New York has great rooms for opera, classical, and jazz, but for the aging rock and roller or pop fan, there really isn’t a room with the amenities that people would like”—amenities like good food, wine served in glasses (not plastic cups), and of course, great music in a 900-seat venue.

The 43-year-old Tribeca resident, who has spawned a number of arts initiatives and festivals, like Downtown Arts Development, Inc. and the annual Downtown Seder, says he felt the need to do something “more meaningful” once he stepped down as CEO from the Knitting Factory after 9/11. He didn’t want to be among the cultural institutions located at the future Trade Center site, foreseeing the political red tape it would soon become embroiled in.

“To me, the solution for the cultural revitalization is going to be off site, and there are so many beautiful, vacant banks—temples built to commerce—that are perfect for a cultural renaissance downtown.”

Music Downtown is a promising step in that direction.

“For me, the most beautiful thing we’ve demonstrated is that if you book it, they will come. People will schlep to Wall Street to see music.”


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