When Hilly Kristal, the legendary owner of punk Mekkah CBGB’s in New York, was finally forced to give in to the financial demands of a small music venue in a big city and close down the iconic location there was one woman determined to make sure the venue got the send-off it deserved—the punk poet, Patti Smith. Officially closing its grimy doors on October 15th 2006, the iconic New York stalwart was formerly a biker bar but was transformed under Kristal to become one of the most important venues in the country during the late ’70s and ’80s.
The letters CBGB stood for Country, BlueGrass, and Blues, which all speak to Kristal’s original vision. Despite this somewhat wholesome vision, CBGB soon became a famed venue of punk rock and new wave bands like the Ramones, Television, Patti Smith Group, Blondie, and Talking Heads and then on to provide one of the only welcoming platforms for hardcore punk during the ’80s.
It’s a legacy which has seen the venue, once famed for its fearsome reputation and unthinkably sticky floors, transcend from the stuff of legend into a branding powerhouse. A venue with so much clout in the industry that it seemed almost impossible it could ever be killed off—it was the proverbial cockroach of the musical landscape.
One key figure in the birthing of such an infamous scene was Patti Smith and her band. The punk poet is a firm favourite around New York (owing much to her love affair with the city) and she showed what she was made of every time she ever entered the stage. With all of those performances and some others too, she also showed why she was the only choice to be on the CBGB stage back in 2006.
Rather than provide a simple set of her own work, something that we’re sure would have gone down very well with the CBGB crowd, Smith decided to offer up some poignant covers instead. By doing so, she not only gave the audience a good show but paid homage to those who had graced the stage before her.
Covering The Rolling Stones’ ‘Gimme Shelter’ with Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea on bass, only adding to the all-stars on stage, the singer adds her own unique viewpoint on the dad-rock classic. Smith then moved on to not only play a Ramones-medley with an electric and energetic enthusiasm that would’ve made the gruesome foursome proud but then offers a touching rendition of Lou Reed/Velvet Underground’s ‘Pale Blue Eyes’. It makes for a truly beguiling set worthy of the final moments.
The series of covers and the performance, in general, was Patti Smith’s final farewell to the place where so much of what we consider mainstay punk rock nowadays found its first words. From the dirty and grime-filled incubator of CBGB to, New York and then out to the world, this was the place to scream your name hoping to be heard.
Take a look below at the wonderful covers as Patti Smith bids farewell to CBGB back in 2006.