BY BOB KRASNER
Lower East Sider helps capture great street music scene despite the pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic turned the world upside down and the music scene inside out, literally. For someone like music writer Charley Crespo, who long ago earned the nickname “Everynight Charley” for his nightly dedication to the NYC music scene, the lockdown was a shock to a music lover for whom live concerts were part of his daily life.
Crespo, a lifelong resident of the Lower East Side, jokes that while in high school he “majored in Fillmore East.” One lesson that he learned well was how to get in for free, enabling him to see the Jefferson Airplane, the Doors and Jimi Hendrix, as well as every other show he could find.
In 1974, he began writing about the music, contributing to The Aquarian and eventually becoming a fixture at Hit Parader magazine, among others.
“The tag ‘Everynight Charley’ was given to me in the mid-1970s by a former editor because I went to concerts every night,” he recalls.
Although he’s been through some changes — including taking an extended break from NYC life — he returned and resumed his old habits, justifying that moniker nightly until COVID-19 forced a shutdown of the concert scene.
Forced to work his day job at home, and with nowhere to go at night, Crespo was climbing the walls.
“I have come to understand why dogs chew on furniture when they are left home alone for a long time,” he notes.
Luckily, around the time he grew sick of sitting on the couch watching live streams, musicians began to play again outside. Like the music fans, the musicians were also going crazy. More than one musician told us the same thing: “We miss playing out like everyone else.”
Crespo is once again finding himself fulfilled with the abundance of available sounds. Walking nightly (and on the weekends, daily too), he encounters an extremely diverse choice of tunes.
“Many restaurants that never featured music before now have a music series, which unfortunately they cannot advertise due to governmental regulations. Several musicians found unconventional places to play, including a laundromat, a school yard, and a pickup truck,” Crespo says.
He mentions several favorite night spots, including Marshall Stack (Rock and Roll), Nomad (World ), Anyway Cafe (Jazz, Flamenco), Pinky’s Space (Jazz and Blues) and the Drom (Greek, Turkish).
Crespo notes that one of the highlights of the non-commercial venues has included Tompkins Square Park, where Chris Flash has been producing Punk Rock shows, Jazz can frequently be heard and a somewhat unclassifiable act called Pinc Louds has been the “hit of the summer.”
Claudi, leader of the band (and sometimes a solo performer) has been thrilled with his weekly appearances there, usually on Saturdays.
“This is a perfect situation for a musician — outdoor shows are my favorites,” she tells us. Aside from a man with a baseball bat absconding with the tip money, “everybody has been so nice, it feels like a real neighborhood! I’ve met all kinds of crazy, wonderful people.”
Though the Latin quartet PANDEMIC!! was encouraged to leave the park by the Parks Department as the result of an intermittent crackdown on amplified performance, they have happily settled into a spot in front of the cube at Astor Place, where they are attracting all kinds of dancers on Tuesday and Saturday evenings.
“We’ve gotten multi-cultural support,” says bandleader Carlos Acevedo. ” It feels like the world is coming together to support us. We even got tipped by a cop!”
Further west in Washington Square Park, Eyal Vilner’s 15-piece horn band was playing to an enthusiastic crowd, many of whom were well dressed swing dancers. Vilner admits that “playing in a club is easier” and that “playing in the park adds a lot of responsibility and stress for me as a big band leader.”
“But,” he continues, “when the weather is nice and the band swings and you see the joy in people’s eyes, it feels wonderful.”
Walking across town with Crespo, it becomes apparent that he knows most of the musicians who reside downtown. Stopping to chat with Jazz guitarist Piers Lawrence, who plays Saturday evenings at David’s Cafe, we were informed of another piece of the new reality. “The Venmo tips went over the cash! ” he exclaims.
Another Jazz guitarist, the renowned Leni Stern, has played a few gigs at The Front on 11th Street and has enjoyed the experience immensely. Despite the reason for the unusual gig venues, she feels that ” the old spirit of the East Village has come back.”
Crespo can always be seen jumping to the front to take a few shots of the artists, although he doesn’t claim to be anything like a pro photographer.
“I have no professional equipment, training or experience. I am a local music fan who walks around with a point-and shoot camera.” What he does with those pics is illustrate his frequent posts on his blog, “Everynight Charley’s Manhattan Beat.”
“As is evident on my blog and Facebook page,” Crespo explains, “my passion for live music is translated into journalism only so that I can help expose, support and promote the local music scene that I enjoy so much.”
And so, he continues to wander the streets soaking up every kind of music he can find. As he explains , “I have no Netflix, no cable, no TV. I live in the most exciting city in the world and I refuse to live a boring life.”
Most of the bands listed can be found on Instagram, Facebook or both. Charley’s posts are at themanhattanbeat.