CMJ Music Marathon 2005: The hipster experience

NEW YORK – Where can you find Reverend Run (of Run-DMC fame) promoting both his new reality show and the sweet love of Jesus? Or, where can you hear John Hall, former King Missile lead singer of “Detachable Penis” – now a lawyer – discussing the relative merits of Beyonc?? What about seeing funk legend George Clinton just chillin’ on a bench in between activities?

Try New York City, circa one week ago. The annual College Music Journal Music Marathon took place Sept. 14 to 17 at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall. Held every fall in New York, the Music Marathon is the brainchild of the College Music Journal, which claims to be the “best magazine you’ve never heard,” given their habit of including a CD of new music with every issue. Aimed at an audience composed of music industry hacks and the college radio station geeks who aspire to be those music industry hacks, CMJ gave birth to the concept of a festival 25 years ago in 1981, after a northeastern fall college radio conference was canceled. It was called the “East Coast Convention,” took place in one hotel ballroom and registration was $15.

Fast forward to last week, where students who paid $295 for laminated badges (and those unfortunate non-students, who had to cough up $445) amble through the lobby of Lincoln Center’s famed Avery Fisher Music Hall, pawing through canvas bags of corporate-sponsored swag (OK, mostly magazines and CDs … but still free.) Over the course of four days, attendees choose among 50 panels, saw keynote speaker Reverend Run and had the option of attending any number of as-yet unreleased films, including “No Direction Home,” Martin Scorsese’s Bob Dylan biopic, and “Walk the Line,” a new movie starring Joaquin Pheonix and Reese Witherspoon as Johnny Cash and June Carter, respectively.

Making ample use of New York’s famous music venues, the Music Marathon hosted shows at the Bowery Ballroom, Irving Plaza, CBGB, the Knitting Factory and the Mercury Lounge, as well as lesser-known spaces, to showcase this year’s talent – more than 1,000 bands culled from some 5,000 submissions. Audiences at each show consisted of mostly students-all of the hipster variety, of course. Hair colors that spelled out the rainbow, Converse One-Stars that stomped in unison and enough little pins on blazers to bleed the population of New York.

The Music Marathon’s history of showcasing bands on the brink of stardom is evident from looking at past lineups: Busta Rhymes in 1991, Green Day in 1994, Red Hot Chili Peppers in 1984, Beastie Boys in 1985, Modest Mouse in 1997. However, the Music Marathon does not shy from music legends of days past – in fact, far from it. Its guest list of performers and speakers in years past is every music fan’s dream: Sonic Youth, David Bowie, June and Johnny Cash, Lou Reed and Andy Warhol, to name a few.

This year was no exception, with soon-to-be-indie superstars The Arcade Fire, The Hold Steady, Regina Spektor, the New Pornographers and Devendra Banhart filling the rosters. Keep an eye out for these groups-they are all coming to D.C. soon.

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