Where to see music

Madison Square Garden

© Rock 'n' roll travel / William David Wilson

Madison Square Garden is often billed as “the world’s most famous arena” and has been a premier New York venue for sports and entertainment since opening in 1968.

Not only does the Garden host the home fixtures of local ice hockey heroes the New York Rangers and the city’s NBA basketball representatives the New York Knicks, it also finds itself welcoming the great and the good of the rock ‘n’ roll world.

The list of major bands who have played here in the past is exhaustive. Just expect almost all of them to stop here on their world tours, as U2, Foo Fighters and Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers all did in 2011. Indie heroes The Arcade Fire also played an acclaimed two-night stand here in 2010.

All in all, the imposing Madison Square Garden is a great venue for ambitious live shows.

Location: Madison Square Garden, 4 Pennsylvania Plaza, New York City, New York 10001

Website: www.thegarden.com


Knitting FactoryCreative Commons / Knitting Factory

The Knitting Factory has been a key venue for experimental rock and jazz since it first opened its doors in the late 1980s.

The Factory is actually in its third different New York location, having initially opened back in 1987 on Houston Street, before its growth saw it relocate to the hip Tribeca area in 1994 before the summer 2009 move to Williamsburg.

Over the years its operation has grown into Knitting Factory Entertainment, encompassing four clubs, several record labels and other ventures.

The factory’s other venues besides the one in Brooklyn are in Boise, Reno, and Spokane, and the renowned venue is not only committed to showcasing experimental music but also performing arts and comedy.

The likes of Sonic Youth, Gil Scott Heron and Yo La Tengo have graced the stage inside the incredibly hip club in the past.

The Knitting Factory is a great venue to see an up-and-coming band or have a taste for the avant-garde.

Location: 361 Metropolitan Avenue, Brooklyn, New York City 11211

Website: www.knittingfactory.com


Irving Plaza

Creative Commons / Beyond My Ken

Though the historic Irving Plaza has found itself under many different names and incarnations in recent times, whatever it’s name has been it has remained a great venue to see live music.

The 1,200-capacity ballroom has been a home to Polish War Veterans and church services, but is primarily known for hosting great bands and artists.

New York rock scene mainstays The Ramones and Talking Heads played there regularly when gigging in their home city in the late 1970s and 1980s, and British punk rockers The Clash were regulars at the Plaza too.

The venue books a real variety of bands and artists each year, ranging from indie-rockers just starting out to golden oldies on their reunion or comeback tours.

Worth checking out if you have a bit of time to spare in Manhattan.

Location: 17 Irving Plaza, Manhattan, New York, NY 10003



Café Wha?Creative Commons / Brian Lauer

Café Wha? has been at the heart of the Greenwich Village music scene since it opened in the 1950s.

The historic venue was one of the early stomping grounds of American greats Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and Bruce Springsteen.

In the 1960s, with Greenwich Village heavily immersed in the folk scene, Dylan and Peter, Paul & Mary were among the many folkies to take to the venue’s stage and showcase their talents.

The Velvet Underground also appeared here, their noisy, avant-garde rock appealing to the local Village hipsters.

Cafe Wha? also built itself a reputation for being a home of cutting-edge comedy, with the legendary Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor starting out their careers at the venue.

So not surprisingly the cafe became a cool place to hang out as well, with Beatniks like Allen Ginsberg regularly spotted sipping cocktails and downing beers back in the day, and in more recent years film director Quentin Tarantino has been among those to take in the unique atmosphere.

Understandably, the Café Wha? is proud of its connection to the Beat Generation and continues to hold tight to its free-spirited ethos.

Café Wha? is still going strong and its three house bands continue to entertain the many visitors. A must visit cafe if you find yourself in The Village.

Location: 115 Macdougal Street, Greenwich Village, Manhattan, New York City

Website: www.cafewha.com


Apollo © Rock 'n' roll travel / William David Wilson

The Apollo is one of the most famous and storied music halls in the United States.

The Harlem, New York venue is a listed building, and was the home of the long-running Showtime at the Apollo, a national TV variety show showcasing new talent, almost exclusively African-American.

The Theatre and its alumni are a source of great pride for many in the Harlem community.

Billing itself as a place “where stars are born and legends are made,” The Apollo played a key role in launching the careers of artists as diverse and important as Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, James Brown, Diana Ross, The Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin and Ben E. King.

Jimi Hendrix won an amateur night competition here in 1964, and rock ‘n’ roll – as well as soul, funk, jazz and pop – has always been welcome here.

After falling into disrepair throughout the 1980s and 1990s, The Apollo re-emerged in 2005 after much needed renovations and a major refurbishment.

Put simply, it is is one of the world’s very best music venues and has arguably made a bigger dent on popular culture than any other theatre of its kind. Go and see it for yourself.

Location: 253 West 125th Street, Harlem New York, 10027

Website: www.apollotheater.org

Places of rock ‘n’ roll interest

Greenwich Village© Rock 'n' roll travel -William David Wilson

“The Village”, as it is known locally, is much more than just a picturesque neighbourhood on the west side of Lower Manhattan.

In the late 19th to mid 20th centuries, Greenwich Village gained a reputation as being a bohemian capital of sorts, with artists, actors, musicians  and many of the Beat Generation leaders all residing in or frequenting the area.

Jack Kerouac and other ‘Beat Generation’ poets and writers arrived here in the 1950s, and “The Village” (and surrounding New York City) played a central role in many of the writings of the Lowell-born novelist, as well as his contemporaries Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Truman Capote, and Dylan Thomas.

Greenwich Village has long been associated with a cutting-edge music scene, and its many clubs and coffeehouses became important to the burgeoning jazz and folk rock scenes of the late 1950s.

Venues such as The Village Gate, the Village Vanguard and The Blue Note have hosted some of the biggest names in jazz. And clubs like Gerde’s Folk City, The Bitter End, Cafe Au Go Go and The Gaslight Cafe played a huge part in the growing popularity of folk across the United States.

Folk singer Dave Van Ronk lived in The Village for many years, and you might know that his protégé Bob Dylan did as well. By the mid 1960s the latter was well on track to becoming one of the most prolific and celebrated songwriters in the world. And the keenest Dylanophiles will surely know the cover to his first masterpiece, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, in which the troubadour walks arm with then girlfriend Suze Rotolo, was shot on the corner of Jones Street and 4th Street in the West Village.

But dozens of other popular culture icons got their start in the Village’s nightclub, theatre, and coffeehouse scene from the 1950s to the early 1970s besides Bob Dylan. Jimi Hendrix, Peter, Paul, & Mary, Simon & Garfunkel, Jackson Browne, Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell just a select few of the other notable  names.

Greenwich Village continues to be cultural and musical force to reckoned with. A must-see destination for music fans travelling to New York for the first time.

Location: Greenwich Village, Lower Manhattan, New York City


The Dakota BuildingCreative Commons / Daniel Torres Bonatto

The Dakota is undoubtedly one of New York City’s most famous addresses.

The multi-storey apartment building, which was built from 1880 to 1884, has long been the home of the city’s affluent and has housed many notable tenants; Judy Garland, Paul Simon and Leonard Bernstein among them.

But rock ‘n’ roll fans will know it best as the place where legendary Beatle John Lennon lived during the final years of his life, before he was tragically shot dead in December 1980 by crazed fan Mark Chapman at the front entrance of the building.

Fans of Lennon and The Beatles still visit here regularly, as well as congregating at the neighbouring Strawberry Fields, which was set up in his honour just across the street into Central Park West.

Movie buffs may recall that scenes from Roman Polanski’s classic horror movie Rosemary’s Baby were filmed here as well.

An important building in rock ‘n’ roll history that should be glanced at by discerning rock tourists.

Location: 1-13 West 72nd Street, Manhattan, New York City, 10023


Strawberry Fields© Rock 'n' roll travel / William David Wilson

Named after The Beatles song “Strawberry Fields Forever”, this 2.5-acre landscaped section of New York City’s Central Park is dedicated to the memory of John Lennon.

The memorial was designed by Bruce Kelly, and was opened and dedicated to the slain Beatle on what would have been his 45th birthday on 9 October 1985. Then Mayor of New York Ed Koch and Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono were there to officially open the site.

Strawberry Fields is located directly across the street from the Dakota building where Lennon lived and was fatally shot. Its focal point is the circular mosaic which is inscribed with the sole word ‘Imagine’, from Lennon’s most famous solo record.

Fans both local and from around the world regularly visit the park and its famous mosaic on a daily basis, but expect many more people to congregate here on the anniversary of Lennon’s death, as was the case on the 30th anniversary in 2010.

You will likely see musicians strumming Beatles classics and plenty of tourists taking photos all day long should you make the trip here in the height of summer.

Location: West 72nd Street, Central Park, Manhattan, New York City


Former site of CBGBCreative Commons / Sbazzone

CBGBs played such a major role in NYC rock ‘n’ roll that it was a very sad day for many New Yorkers and rock fans when it finally closed down.

The Country, Blue Grass, and Blues Club – abbreviated to CBGB – was founded by Hilly Kristal in 1973, and soon became a Mecca for punk and underground rock music.

The Ramones, Television, Talking Heads, Blondie and Patti Smith all played the venue in their illustrious careers, as did many hardcore punk bands like Reagan Youth in the 1980s.

Fittingly, the final gig at the club was played by long-time associate Patti Smith, with guest appearances by Television’s Richard Lloyd and the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s bassist Flea.

The influential club has been immortalised in song too, with regular alumni Talking Heads mentioning it in the hit ‘Life During Wartime’. Local Electro-punk star James Murphy also name dropped the club as the place he first played “Daft Punk to the rock kids” in the sensationally witty single ‘Losing My Edge’. Others to give a shout out to the club include hair metal favourites Bon Jovi and seductive songstress Lana Del Rey.

Now a high-end men’s fashion store, it is worth making the trip to pay tribute and look at what is left of this historic building.

Location: 315 Bowery, Bleecker Street, Manhattan, New York City

Website: www.cbgb.com


Hotel ChelseaCreative Common / Flippage

A historic New York City hotel and a genuine landmark, the Hotel Chelsea is known primarily for its history of famous residents and incidents, including the deaths of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas in 1953 and Sex Pistol bassist Sid Vicious’s girlfriend Nancy Spungen in 1978.

Built in the 1880s and based in the wealthy Manhattan neighbourhood of Chelsea from which it takes its name, the hotel was a haven for numerous writers, musicians, artists, and actors throughout its existence.

Bob Dylan, Charles Bukowski, Janis Joplin, Patti Smith, Leonard Cohen and Iggy Pop all resided there at some point in their lives. The Beat poet Allen Ginsberg was also known to have stayed there for spells, and reportedly held intellectual debates with others whilst on the premises.

Hotel Chelsea is also associated with avant-garde artist and film director Andy Warhol and his Superstars. Warhol and Paul Morrisey directed Chelsea Girls about his Factory regulars and their lives at the hotel, which included Edie Sedgwick, Holly Woodlawn, Andrea Feldman, Nico and Brigid Berlin amongst others.

The hotel has been referenced in song numerous times, including Leonard Cohen’s ‘Chelsea Hotel No. 2’, Nico’s ‘Chelsea Girl’ and Joni Mitchell’s ‘Chelsea Morning’.

The now closed Hotel Chelsea has definitely earned a place in rock ‘n’ roll folklore, and is worth checking out if you are in NYC with a bit of free time on your hands.

Location: 222 West 23rd Street, Manhattan, New York City


Electric Lady Studios

Creative Commons / Jhsounds

Electric Lady Studios have been a staple of the thriving New York music scene for over four decades now, when Seattle born rock icon Jimi Hendrix and his manager Michael Jeffery purchased the recently closed nightspot The Generation on 52 West and 8th Street in trendy Greenwich Village. Hendrix was a regular at the nightclub, playing sets and jamming on the stage after closing.

Hendrix originally intended to run the club as a live music venue (it had previously welcomed the likes of bluesmen B.B. King and Chuck Berry and  folkie Dave Van Ronk on its stage) before being convinced by businessmen Eddie Kramer and Jim Marron to convert it into a world-class recording studio. Noted architect John Storyk was enlisted by Hendrix and partners to painstakingly design each key structural aspect, and soon after the now world renowned Electric Lady Studios were birthed.

Hendrix hosted the studio’s opening on 26 August 1970, Hendrix with guests Steve Winwood, Eric Clapton, Ron Wood, and Patti Smith in attendance. Sadly, the psychedelic rock pioneer would be dead less than a month later after an overdose of barbiturates.

Nonetheless, Electric Lady Studios has gone on to be a massive success despite the untimely death of its chief visionary. From the 1970s onwards the studio recorded albums by such rock luminaries as The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, and Patti Smith among many, many others. Recent users of the studio include dreamy chanteuse Lana Del Rey, Irish rock behemoths U2 and Montreal-based indie outfit Arcade Fire.

Electric Lady remains the most senior recording studio in New York City still in business.

Location: 52 West 8th Street, Greenwich Village, New York City, New York , United States 10011

Website: www.electricladystudios.com

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Patsy’s Italian Restaurant

This long-running family-owned restaurant is a true New York City classic. Located on the Upper West Side of NYC just south of Central Park, Patsy’s first opened its doors way back in 1944 and has been run by different generations of the Scognamillo family ever since.

The traditional Italian restaurant came to prominence with music fans due to it being highly frequented by Frank Sinatra and other well-known musicians and celebrities of the time. It was reportedly Ol’ Blue Eyes’ favourite eating joint in Manhattan.

The restaurant continues to thrive today with its fine Italian fare at reasonable prices, and has hosted the likes of Madonna, Tom Hanks, and more in recent years.

Guests often chitchat with friendly Chef Sal Scognamillo who is always willing to share stories of the restaurant’s legendary guests and to offer up some of Sinatra’s favourite Italian dishes.

Location: ​236 West 56th Street New York City, New York, United States 10019

Website: www.patsys.com

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Album covers

West 4th Street & Jones Street

(Bob Dylan The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, 1963) 

Creative Commons / Brian Lauer


Bob Dylan’s 1963 breakthrough album and instant folk classic The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan featured a famous cover shot of the man born Robert Zimmerman and his ex-girlfriend, the now deceased Suze Rotolo.

The iconic image was snapped by CBS photographer Don Hunstein in February 1963, on the corner of Jones and West 4th Street in the West Village are of NYC. It was a particularly cold and snowy winter by the look of the cover. Dylan and Rotolo lived closed by to where the shot was taken.

Needless to say, many thousands of love-struck couples have wandered down the road to recreate the legendary pose, just make sure the traffic has died down before you attempt it yourself though!

Location:  West 4th Street & Jones Street, New York City, New York, United States 10014

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Featured image courtesy of John St John