Rock and Red Carpet

Laura Kusnyer, 12/05/2008

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Annex NYC celebrated its opening December 2 in SoHo with a gala that was nothing short of a rock-and-roll carnival—complete with funnel cakes and sliders, fist-pumping beats blasting from the sound system and performances by some of rock’s legends. During the evening event, hundreds of celebrities, locals and visiting music fans circulated among the venue’s two levels of attractions: downstairs in the museum, guests cheered for the rock-montage video that kicked off the tour (Elvis and Queen drew the loudest yelps), while upstairs in the event space, some of rock’s most iconic guitar riffs (the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”) and energizing punk staccatos (the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop”) peppered the night’s soundtrack as guests posed for faux-Rolling Stone covers, hovered near the open bar and waited for Blondie to take the stage.

“[New York City] is the heartbeat of rock and roll,” said Terry Stewart, president and CEO of the Rock and Roll of Fame and Museum. “We had looked at doing spaces elsewhere, but this is really where you want to be.” As he eagerly awaited the evening’s opening act—“Feelin’ Alright” musician Dave Mason—Stewart, who was a longtime Manhattanite before relocating to the museum’s headquarters in Cleveland, reminisced about his nights spent at iconic, now shuttered NYC clubs like Tramps and CBGB, in addition to some that are still around, like Garage Restaurant & Cafe in the West Village.

Just a few paces away from Stewart was one Brooklynite who couldn’t be missed: Justin Tranter, lead singer of popular NYC glam band Semi Precious Weapons, awaiting the appearance of Debbie Harry, whom he seems to revere as much for her cheekbones as her singing. “I wish I could [have them],” he chuckled. “I wear lots of contour to try to get there.” Tranter, 28, whose shock-rock-esque showmanship tends to get the crowds up and going, went on to talk about his NYC rock inspiration: “I romanticized Max’s Kansas City like nobody’s business. That whole time it was okay to be glamorous and still rock. At Max’s Kansas City, if you didn’t look good, you got thrown out.” Tranter’s band channels—and, in turn, sustains—the glam-art-rock scene in the likes of David Bowie and Andy Warhol, that found its home in the City and whose influence on the music (and fashion) industry is celebrated at the Rock Annex.

When Blondie finally did hit the stage, Tranter was the first to throw his arms in the air and cheer. The band opened with a sweet and slow acoustic version of “Call Me” and—with the crowd singing along to their favorite part, “ooh ooh ooh oh oh”—ended with “Heart of Glass.” “Gimme some,” Debbie Harry cooed as the guests applauded the Rock Hall inductee and CBGB veteran, who still lives in the City and continues to support NYC acts at local shows.

Being good to local bands—and hip-hop, jazz, and folk musicians and more—is essential to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s mission: commemorating music’s roots as a way to support and inspire up-and-comers who might now be performing for tiny crowds, but who could very well be the next rock legends. “For the most part, people don’t go and see music unless it’s a national act. We should support our local New York rockers,” said Tranter, whose band has built an audience of fun-loving and dedicated fans in the City. And supporting local talent is one pathway toward strengthening the NYC community. “The economics of the business are hard,” Stewart said. “Stars performing in clubs—can they economically do it? Are there gestation places for young bands on the rise? I hope the live-music scene continues to thrive here in New York. It really is a [vital] part of the City.”