Despite changes and challenges, the Hoboken live music scene is still rocking.
The phrase “the day the music died” might be associated with oldies radio, but in Hoboken, many considered it to be July 31, 2013. That’s when Maxwell’s, the legendary rock club at the corner of 11th and Washington, held a farewell block party and concert. Since 1978, the intimate venue had hosted bands such as R.E.M., the Replacements, Nirvana, and local heroes Yo La Tengo. As recently as March, 2013, Maxwell’s was named the third-best rock club in America by Rolling Stone. But four months later, it was gone. Was music finished in the Mile Square City? (And was it just a coincidence that Ira and Georgia from Yo La Tengo suddenly moved out of town?)
What Brooklyn has been to music in recent years, Hoboken was in the mid-1980s. Affordable rents and a welcoming scene had drawn countless musicians and artists to town. Bands such as the Feelies, the Bongos, and the dB’s earned national attention. With owner Steve Fallon and booker (and future co-owner) Todd Abramson, Maxwell’s was the center of it all. Hoboken-based filmmaker John Sayles, later nominated for two Academy Awards, even used the club in Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days” video.
And though the glory days may be behind us, and demographics have radically changed, music is alive and well in Hoboken. Bar-None Records, headquartered here since 1986, remains a top indie label (having released albums by They Might Be Giants, Of Montreal, the Front Bottoms, and many more). Artists from Beyoncé to U2 have recorded at Water Music studios here. There’s Pete Martinez and his Drum Den shop. If not as legendary as the old Pier Platters, we have a terrific record store in Tunes (most towns don’t even have a record store anymore.) David Bowie’s frequent guitarist, Carlos Alomar, is director of the Sound Synthesis Research Center at the Stevens Institute of Technology. Of course, there’s the twice-annual Geri Fallo-organized Hoboken Arts & Music Festival.
And that just scratches the surface. Make no mistake: Hoboken still has people and places committed to music and helping it thrive—now and into the future.
Dave Calamoneri and Maxwell’s had been very close—literally. He’s lived upstairs from the club since 1998. Initially, Calamoneri was content to immerse himself in the town’s music scene simply as a fan. But about a decade ago, he grabbed his guitar and headed to an open-mic co-run by Dave Entwistle at the former Rue de Jardin coffee shop. “That’s the first time I played my songs out for anybody,” Calamoneri recalls.
By 2007, he was playing bass in the band Nipsey, and a couple of years later, started fronting his own band, Davey & the Trainwreck. But even as he played out more and more, Calamoneri noticed intensifying changes in Hoboken. Rents kept going up, people moved away, and venues changed hands and changed focus. “There are less of those [musical] people in town,” he says, “and there are fewer places to play.”
When Maxwell’s closed its doors, it was a shock to his system. “My initial reaction was depression and anger,” Calamoneri remembers. “I jumped right on the bandwagon, beating up my town a little bit more than I probably should have.”