A Thursday night standby: The Catweazle club brings acoustic screamo and European folk tunes together in hipster harmony at this secluded East Village gathering. What's a regular night like? "The flames dance in sync with the cosmos!"
The above lyric, accompanied by audience-participation maracas, trumpet, and broken acoustic guitar, flies from the mouth of a guy who looks like he would spend his free time coming up with stuff like that: signature 90's unwashed shoulder-length 'do, floor-length olive overcoat, tendency to stand way too close when he murmurs odd greetings...
"Hey," *pant* "just wanted to, um, let you know," *pant* "that I, um, have CDs available for a small donation..." *pant pant, sigh*, exit.
But not all the performers at this week's Catweazle have that sort of elegant je ne sais quoi. The group of kids are mostly the type of shy, IPA-guzzling hipsters that it's now cool to hate; still, somehow, this group is so damn lovable I can't help but give in to the we're-all-in-this-together mentality. There's Cal who belts thick, soulful folk and tells me where to get great pizza on the way home; there's Chris, who lives communally with eleven other people in Bed-Stuy; and there's Becca who croons homemade haunters about holy men and older men.
There's also what appears to be a gypsy who sings about food in Spanish and about love in Dutch, a middle-aged man who canvased the room for volunteers to recite his poem, and a guy with a trumpet who ended up premiering Catweazle's theme song:
"Catweazle, where you can bring your own beer, you can smoke cigarettes but it's not recommended, you can say f*ck and no one gets offended..."
Catweazle is the name of the open-mic hosted by a collective called A Gathering of The Tribes. Inspired by a British group of the same name, Catweazle offers this invitation on the Tribes website:
"The UK’s legendary performance night is coming to the Lower East Side of the Big Apple! Calling all musicians, poets, artists, singers, songers, ranters, ravers, and lovers. The Catweazle Club is a microphone-free open performance space...All performers welcome!"
Catweazle meets fortnightly at 285 E. 3rd St. The venue itself is not, as one newcomer mistakenly thought it, "an actual place, like, where there's music happening". No, this joint between Avenues C and D is a one-bedroom apartment owned by 75-year-old ex-professor Steve Cannon. Steve has lived in the apartment, now commonly referred to as the Tribes Gallery, since the 70's. After his retirement from teaching in 1991 he founded Tribes, offering his home as a headquarters for the slew of artists, writers, poets, and musicians that would become a constant presence.
Steve at his home in Alphabet City; Steve and a friend with Hillary Clinton
"Hey now, Rebecca, what kind of movers and shakers you been talking to these days? Light me, will you?"
Steve puts a cigarette in his mouth, and I touch the flame to the tip. Loud human and trumpet wails waft in from the other room; the show has long since ended, but most of the attendees still linger, swapping recording stories, instruments, and beer-tinged saliva. Sunny From California, who almost ripped the duct tape off of the one shared guitar during his energetic set, wanders by and explains, "It's voodoo, Steve. They're doing ancient voodoo."
"Tell 'em to stop. What they think it's music?"
At that moment the phone rings and I guide his hand to the receiver. Steve has been blind since 1989, making his trust of the masses of young strangers in his home all the more astounding. He hires interns from nearby colleges, Sarah Lawrence and the New School among them, to assist him in running Tribes. The interns bring Steve cigarettes and apple juice and also help operate the Tribes magazine and art gallery. The magazine has published eleven issues featuring over five hundred different artists, among them Gwendolyn Brooks and Kiki Smith.
A Gathering of The Tribes Magazine, Issue 9
The gallery is Steve's living room, the same venue as the open-mic, where upstart and established artists have rotating displays. As of last night's Catweazle, a sculpture exhibit by Alexandra Rojas was being set up, so the audience of the open-mic had to squeeze a little bit. I didn't mind, I made some new friends, like Bernard, the poet who then found a recruit to read his poem.
"She was my winter wheat, but she's gone, she's gone...dark towers rising in the night..." I recited, in between the giggles and croaks, in my throaty lyrical poetess voice. Having technically performed, the standard $5 door fee was waived, but I did indulge in a handful of $2 PBR's and was gifted a congratulatory cigarette from Steve:
"Yo Rebecca, that was beautiful, you did it good, real good."
I must admit my heart swelled a bit. One Catweazle in and I'm hooked, hooked on Steve, hooked on the ash 'n' beer-stained apartment, hooked on the music and the people who ask me about astral projection between crashes of piano chords.
So if you find yourself wandering Alphabet City on a lonely Thursday night, head on over to 3rd between C and D for some love and unplugged magic. I'll probably be there.
Check out Tribes on Youtube HERE
Check out Tribes on Flickr HERE
Check out Tribes on Facebook HERE