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RIP CMJ, if You Are in Fact Dead, Which You Seem to Be, so RIP

NYC's long-running music marathon is dead, probably?

by Patrick McNamara
Oct 3 2016, 4:54pm

So long, CMJ Music Marathon.

Well, probably.

The multi-day music festival that's been happening every October in NYC since circa forever (in this case "forever" = 1981 A.D., a quaint time when the movie-loving public couldn't get enough of this badass archaeologist named Indiana Jones and every wedding reception couldn't stop spinning this new jam called "Celebration" by Kool and the Gang, my how times have changed) is possibly, pretty sure, almost positively over.

Please forgive my slight hedges, but CMJ (which stands for College Media Journal, originally a magazine for college radio programmers back when "college rock" was still a thing) are the ones who appear to be ghosting their own music festival. Technically, those in charge of the thing haven't yet definitively said it's not happening (maybe they'll do a massively scaled down version? maybe they're taking a year off? maybe they're born with it? maybe it's Maybelline?), but nobody seems to be booking venues and bands and frantically running out for party supplies, either.  

To be fair, as of this writing (10:13 AM / September 30 / 2016 A.D.), the fest normally wouldn't even start for two more weeks, so I don't know, maybe that's enough time to organize a hundred shows and start selling tickets and send out all those laminated badges (please note: wearing your badge at a music festival is like wearing the band's shirt at the band's show, and in the immortal words of whatever cocksure character Jeremy Piven was playing in that one movie PCU: "don't be that guy") and work on schedules and lineups and sponsors and presenters and riders and rollers and guarantees and fees and overs and unders and cuts and butts and coconuts. But I doubt it.  

At the very least, if something does happen under the banner of CMJ, it will be markedly different from the CMJs of years past, and that's a bummer because it was always a blast.

I've attended CMJ for years (my first one was in 2000 A.D., a quaint time when Tom Hanks was about to be get an Oscar nomination for chilling with a volleyball and doing something regular but heroic, and every shitty radio station couldn't blast "Smooth" by Santana featuring Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty fast enough, my how times have changed). It's one of my very favorite music festivals and just because I happen to live in the city where it takes place, thus not having to make much of an effort since all the good bands come to me, doesn't make me, an inherently lazy peep, biased towards loving it in the slightest. I even like it better than CMJ's more famous step-cousin twice removed, SXSW. Bold words, but true.

SXSW (which started six years after CMJ in 1987 A.D., the year everybody was "getting too old for this shit" thanks to the smash hit buddy cop picture Lethal Weapon, which I hear is now being rebooted as a brand new TV show and that sounds great just really really great) gets all the press and the glamour and POTUS hangs out there and stuff​. It's also in Texas in spring and it's usually warm and sunny and everybody's in a good mood, mostly because it's the first time many of the attendees have walked around in mild weather in months and the music is simply added gravy to the glow one feels wearing a "Keep Austin Weird" t-shirt in March, even though the weather still smacks of death back home. (Just kidding about wearing "Keep Austin Weird" shirts at SXSW. I've never seen anybody do that. That would be too weird.)  

CMJ, on the other hand, took place in mid-fall and was usually chilly and cloudy and rainy and shitty. NYC didn't shut down for it or anything, and if you didn't know it was going on, you could walk right through it without ever knowing it was even there. Not that there weren't tons of shows going on. There most certainly were. A hundred. And to get to them you didn't need to doggy paddle through a sea of street teams who wanted to paint your face (even though they clearly saw you were a grown-ass adult) or give you free bags of triple extreme heat potato chips or take you for rides in corporate sponsored pedicabs driven by unpaid interns hoping to pick up valuable music industry experience.  

At the shows themselves, there always seemed to be a heavier local component to the crowd compared to CMJ's more famous step-cousin twice removed (although peeps certainly come from all over for it; because of CMJ, I now have friends in such far off places as England and Norway and even New Jersey!) and the general mood was more complicated than "happy" since most peeps weren't on vacay and had to work the next day but they were out there anyway, raging the night away. Why? For the music, man. For the music.

This is not to say CMJ wasn't a great time to get blown out too. It was! Like its more famous step-cousin twice removed, there were always plenty of free day shows at places like Cake Shop and Pianos where you could waltz in and crush several free pops by noon, and have a moment of musical transcendence by two, and then sloppily wonder where your life went wrong by five ("I'm getting too old for this shit.") before pushing through towards some satisfactory conclusion about yourself (look at you! still out seeing shows! at your age!) by the time the headliner played sometime past midnight.

And the bands! So many "rising" "buzzy" "breaking" "rated" "rookie" "future" "big time" bands played CMJ over the years. In fact, it would be practically impossible to name them all. So in order to spare you from having to read a really long list of good band names and me from having to remember 16 years of lineups I attended with a head floating on a sea of free crushed pops, I won't even try​ (but if you're wondering if ______ ever played CMJ, the answer is yes… unless you filled in The Beatles… or Fugazi… or Beyoncé… or Rob Thomas… or Santana… but pretty much everybody else has probably played it).

*last year alone, literally, at CMJ I saw Shopping, Yung, Mass Gothic, Mercury Girls, Wildhoney, Womps, Big Ups, Yvette, Expert Alterations, Dilly Dally, Infinity Girl, S, Lizard Kisses, The Gotobeds, Weaves, Palehound, Car Seat Headrest, Makthaverskan, PWR BTTM, Nai Harvest, Poches, Downtown Boys, Pity Sex, and LVL UP and I wasn't even trying that hard.

If you really want a bold name, though, I'll give you a bold name. One early CMJ morning (the year was 2004 A.D., a quaint time when the movie-loving public had their hearts tugged by a Mouseketeer in The Notebook and marveled at Jason Bourne's overall badass supremacy in whatever that movie was called) I set the alarm and dragged my ass to tiny Arlene's Grocery (capacity: 150 peeps) on the Lower East Side at lunchtime to see this crazy new Canadian band called Arcade Fire (please hold your applause for me until the end of this piece) whose lead singer was a giant and whose members wore bike helmets and drummed on the rafters and each other's heads and blasted through jams from their month-old album, Funeral, and basically tore the roof off the place and broke through everybody's hangover real quick. During their set, I very quickly called my cousin, Chuck, and told him I'd finally found that new sound he's been looking for. (The lineup of this lunchtime show also included Saturday Looks Good To Me, Q and not U, and Sparta... it's not weird... it's CMJ!)   

*of course, for every Arcade Fire, there were a hundred "rising" "buzzy" "breaking" "rated" "rookie" bands who played CMJ and were quickly forgotten by November, but this really has more to do with luck and timing and the emptiness of hype and the music industry chasing the tail of its own dragon and the ephemeral nature of all things, but let's hold off getting this headiness now as it's not really a good time. 

So... if we've truly come to the end of CMJ as we know it, well, that's a damn shame. Maybe it wasn't quite as worldwide famous as its step-cousin twice removed (even though it's older and could probably kick SXSW's ass if it wanted to but maybe it just doesn't feel like fighting right now and they should just be friends and eat tacos together) but it certainly brought with it some really good new bands—​a few who even became huge (I told you my Arcade Fire story, right? Cool. Just checking.)—​and some fine fall times to a city teetering on the cusp of another cold, dark, lonely, empty, endless winter.

It's going to be weird walking around NYC this October without CMJ going on. Not Austin-weird or anything, but pretty weird. I'll be thinking about the loss when I'm at one of the dozens of good shows that happen in this city every week all the time anyway. But it won't be the same. There won't be a badge-wearing peep in sight. Oh, well. C'est la vie. We'll always have the memories.  

So let's celebrate. Celebrate the good times. Come on!

Yahoo!

Celebration.

Yahoo!

This is CMJ's celebration.

Patrick McNamara has been covering covering CMJ and the New York music scene at his blog Oh My Rockness​ since 2004 A.D. Follow him on Twitter - @ohmyrockness