Remembering the Wetlands, One Night at a Time

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Wetlands Preserve, better known as Wetlands, the much-loved music club and activist center that existed at 161 Hudson from 1989 to 2001. The club has hardly been forgotten, with the VW Bus now in the care of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and a 2006 documentary, Wetlands Preserved: The Story of an Activist Rock Club. But now there’s a new, highly entertaining book—Wetlands NYC History: A Visual Encore—created by Laura Bloch Bourque, who created the club with her then husband, Larry Bloch. From the book’s website:

When Larry was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in early 2012 he left his collection of Wetlands memorabilia with the strong request that Laura look into producing a book. With a degree in graphic design and a BA in journalism, Laura Bloch Bourque had the skills required. It was through a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds [over $18,000!] to take the book to press that she learned just how much Wetlands lives on in the hearts of both fans and bands.

The main thrust of the book is the 95 calendars that were mailed out every month from 1989 to 1997, when the Internet became a more viable option (the list had grown to more than 12,000 recipients) and Peter Shapiro took over the club. The list of the more than 3,700 performers who played the club is incredible: The “first notable NYC plays” include “Pearl Jam, Counting Crows, Blind Melon, Rage Against the Machine, the Wallflowers, Sublime, Derek Trucks Band (he was 15 years old!), Travis, Incubus, David Grey, Ben Harper, 311, and Oasis.” But it’s even more fun to view the names in calendar form, with the kind of hand-lettering that seems to have been abandoned in recent years.

Wetlands NYC History A Visual Encore Mar91Wetlands NYC History A Visual Encore color photosThe book also features over 700 photos, the “eco notes” from the back of the calendars, highlights from the comment cards that patrons filled out, and more. It’s $33, with free shipping until December 1. Order a copy here.

Besides letting me run some sample pages—they’re below, and do click on them to enlarge—Laura answered a few questions via email.

Who designed the calendars?
From the start, Larry demanded that all graphics for the club be hand-done, whenever possible. The calendar art was by….
••• Cheryl Liguori / Feb. 89 – Jan. 90 Cheryl managed to produce the calendar art, while managing a new club.
••• Laura Bloch / Feb. 90 – May 94
••• Glenn Hidalgo / June 94 – Feb. 97 By this time the mass-mailings had stopped and the calendars were photocopied, mostly for in-house and publicity. Glenn also produced all of the Village Voice weekly ads through this time period and for Pete Shapiro’s years. You’ll see these used to show the line-ups for March 1997-Sept 2001.
Most staff members had their hand, at one time or another, in getting these out in a timely manner.

Have you found any surprises as you’ve gone through them all?
Since I produced the calendars for many years there were no real surprises there. While I was looking into where the bands and performers are now I was amazed to see that so many are still doing their thing on a regular basis, saddened by stories of those that have passed or struggling with illness and touched by how many still hold a place in their hearts for the Wetlands’ days (daze?). The real surprise for me was realizing that Larry was right when he said that there was still a lot of love and interest in the original monthly calendars, most from about 20 years ago!

Any especially good comments (from the reader comment cards) that you’d like to share?
“Can I live here?”  “Please, save the world.”  “Take the Bus on tour.” “Change the name to Wonderlands.” And there were many contradictions: “Please survive.” / “You’re too crowded.” And “Your door dudes are groovy.” / “Get rid of the heavy’s at the door.” And “More DEAD” / “Less DEAD.”

You must have a billion memories from Wetlands, but is there one that stands out as really capturing the essence of the place?
The essence of Wetlands is best captured in the faces of those in the crowd. I’ve tried to put a lot of those shots into the book. No matter what tribe was inhabiting the space on a given night, the people look at home and having fun. This was not the vibe of the nightlife at many of the “hot” venues of the decade where looking blank or unhappy seemed in vogue.

Wetlands NYC History A Visual Encore Sept92Wetlands NYC History A Visual Encore Mar93Wetlands NYC History A Visual Encore Apr93Wetlands NYC History A Visual Encore Sept93Wetlands NYC History A Visual Encore July94Wetlands NYC History A Visual Encore Aug95Wetlands NYC History A Visual Encore Nov95Wetlands NYC History A Visual Encore Dec95Wetlands NYC History A Visual Encore Peter Shapiro years 1998Wetlands NYC History A Visual Encore end story

6 Comments

  1. Thank you Erik. I thought it appropriate to start media mention in the area that had to put up with us. The book is on its way to being sold at The Rock and Hall of Fame in 2015. :)

  2. I purchased this book. It is one of the most thorough published histories of NYC music. It’s amazing that Larry Bloch had the foresight to archive this info. The cool thing about the Wetlands was that it was a home for almost any type of music- a somewhat groundbreaking concept at the time. Man, it could get really hot in there….

  3. Really great to read this. Thanks for posting Erik. I miss those days.

  4. Thank you so much for the great interview with Laura Bloch Bourque and also all the positive feedback from this wonderful book. The calendars were fantastic and fun to read while reminiscing good times and the positive influence this club made to the world! The pictures were fabulous! Thank you to Larry, Laura and to everyone involved that worked so hard to keep the club alive and running for so many years. Keep the memories going……

  5. Nice to see!

  6. I took my sons down to where I spent my childhood. I wish they had a place like this for their generation. Miss the shit out of that space !

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