It’s been over twenty years since I saw my first live band (Grateful Dead, Giants Stadium). From stadium shows to VFW Halls to basements to bars, I’ve been to countless venues across the country and have seen hundreds of bands since that first time and it will never, ever get old for me. There is just something so thrilling about seeing a live band and the more intimate the setting, the better.
Of all the shows I’ve seen and the places I’ve been, there really is only one place that I truly remember with any sort of fondness and clarity. Whenever I wax poetic about the shows I’ve seen, it almost always starts and ends with that one venue – City Gardens.
(image from here)
City Gardens was a warehouse-esque venue smack dab in the middle of one of the shittiest parts of Trenton, NJ and between 1991 and 1994, I spent as much time there as I possibly could (which really wasn't enough). I still remember how nervous I was the first time I convinced my father to take me there alone and saw a line of kids wrapped around building--just a hodge podge of people who looked like they didn’t give a fuck about anything but getting inside that shithole and listening to some really fucking great music. It was one thing to go with a group of friends but I was just a mousy fourteen-year-old girl who had heard through word-of-mouth at high school that City Gardens was the place I could go to see the bands I liked that didn’t really play anywhere else.
(Image found here - also check out the article!)
It was dark and dingy and if you weren't careful you would find yourself in the midst of a mosh pit the likes of which I have never seen anywhere else. I was hooked from the get-go. For the next few years, I saw countless bands there – Fugazi, Sick of it All, Shelter, Black Train Jack, Rancid, Leeway, 7 Seconds, Henry Rollins, Green Day, Bad Religion… and so many more that I can no longer remember. A lot of well known bands passed through those doors in the 80's and 90's, as well - The Ramones, Nine Inch Nails (I will forever be jealous of my girlfriend who saw NIN at City Gardens), Nirvana (click here for a video - sound is rough but hey - it was the nineties), etc.
Shelter, 1991 (found here)
I was devastated when it closed down. I could never really find another venue like it. I don’t know if it was because I was a teenager at the time--or maybe the time itself--but City Gardens was truly an amazing place, despite the danger and dirt and fights. It was raw and rough and just had that something that made those years of my life that much more memorable. Even today, when I run into people I knew back then, City Gardens is almost always brought up when we venture through nostalgia.
That’s why, when Snarkier Than You recently sent me a link to Riot on the Dance Floor, I was happier than a fat kid with cake. Riot on the Dance Floor is a documentary about City Gardens—a club that changed the lives of so many kids who didn’t quite fit in anywhere else and the man who organized it all – Randy Now.
I'm really excited about this documentary and am looking forward to its completion. For more information (and if you want to throw a few bucks toward the cause on Kickstarter, which is an amazing thing in and of itself) go HERE.
I’m sure many of you had similar venues growing up (and please feel free to share in the comments!); the kind of place where you could just let loose and be yourself, no matter what. I hope there are still venues like this, somewhere, where there are a bunch of fourteen-year-olds experiencing their first hardcore or punk show and suddenly realizing they've found their home.
Okay, that last paragraph was so sappy I just want to punch myself in the vagina. Later days - I'm going to go dig out my old cassette tapes and listen to Mouthpiece or something.