Kate Spalla’s CMJ 2014 Highlights

As I’ve mentioned in a couple of previous posts, the CMJ Festival here in New York has become one of the preeminent and important music festivals of the entire calendar year for independent artists and their labels, music industry folks, radio programmers, bloggers, journalists and unsigned artists. Annually careers and livelihoods are made (or broken) during a 5 day period in October, as countless acts are discovered and praised breathlessly, rejected — or far worse, considering the financial investment in coming to New York, ignored. And because of that, the six day period of CMJ is quite an experience if you cover music and if you just love music. Bands, industry insiders, bloggers and journalists spent that period running around between venues Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn.

As a blogger, it’s a thrilling, exciting and ultimately exhausting week of going between several different venues to catch and interview new and familiar bands, networking and meeting people, and catching up with old friends and colleagues. In fact, i ran into my dear friend and colleague Kate Spalla of The Examiner, a couple of times during CMJ although we didn’t cover a show together. For the most part, I stopped by some of the smaller showcases since I didn’t have the proper credentials. 

I had some computer issues which has delayed my official CMJ-related posts but I had wanted to get some of my colleagues thoughts on this year’s CMJ along with their highlights of the massive festival. I’m hoping to get the thoughts of a few other journalists but batting first is the very talented Ms. Spalla. 

This year it was much easier to discover new CMJ artists. The revamped, sleek CMJ.com had embedded artist streams and rollover descriptions. That helped to find bands in advance and it really diminished the chances of getting stuck at lame sets.

Aurora was all over, playing at least one set a day. She had some serious talent and style in all black with a short blonde haircut like a goth Robyn, and with a mature smooth alt voice like Portishead. Just 17 of Norway, Aurora was mum between songs, but she has a long career ahead to work on that presence.

There were many more great femme rock acts like the Joplin style, soulful Mary C & The Stellars. The September Girls and Pins played solid pop punk at the Oh My Rockness showcase.

Among the artists that debuted at CMJ week, a notable space debuted — The Living Room returned, now in Williamsburg. The once beloved, cozy East Village spot now calls a converted industrial space home. It’s unlabeled behind a heavy door. Inside, the wood panel floor is unfinished and there were five to ten school chairs scattered. The steel stairs, exposed brick and enormously awkward rooms just don’t fit the vibe. The Living Room lost its chill.

Across Williamsburg, Public Access TV played Glasslands Gallery. The band has gotten some great press in the last year as an upcoming pop rock act, but their set was bland. They’re preppy men and they sound decent, but don’t  have a look yet.

More seasoned acts were sprinkled through the CMJ roster. Slowdive played an epic, grandiose set at Terminal 5. Mac McCaughan played classic Superchunk jams at HiFi, formerly Brownie’s during the band’s heyday. Now Mac owns Merge Records, overseeing releases of Arcade Fire and a slew of more big names. 

Mac’s solo set was real fun a great treat for nostalgic fans. HiFi was packed with older, unhip men — refreshing to see amid the hipsters who swarm CMJ. 

Halfway through, Mac brought his old college bud, WFMU’s Laura Cantrell on. They sang “Girl with the Carrot Skin.“ Mac said that tune only gets live treatment once a decade. The Hifi set was certainly special.

Once again, CMJ gave NYC’s concertgoers incredible access to great music condensed in one week. CMJ’s roster could show more diversity, or less of the same indie rock. Hip hop’s representation seemed scant on the official schedule. The Fader Fort at Converse Rubber Tracks Studio put on RSVP shows with Kindness, Willow Smith and Mary J. Blige. That was the place to be for hip hop during CMJ week, but it was run separate from the organization.

Badges could have been more well organized at official venues with separate allowance for standard badge holders, artists and press. The lounge area could have had more flexible hours and more open space for its 1,300 artists, but overall it’s a well run operation that consistently brings out new talent.

You can read more of Kate Spalla’s CMJ reviews here: http://www.examiner.com/live-music-in-new-york/kate-spalla