Wetlands Preserved: The Story of an Activist Nightclub recounts the inception and eventual closing of the legendary New York Wetlands Preserve club. Founder Larry Bloch wanted to open a place for environmental activist groups to convene that was supported by live music. He ended up creating a venue that has been memorialized by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and is credited for saving the jam band genre, as well as others.
In 1989 when Wetlands Preserve opened, the Tribeca neighborhood in Manhattan basically didn’t exist. As one of the Wetlands staffers interviewed says, “Robert De Niro hadn’t discovered downtown yet”. The area was mostly abandoned warehouses and factories. Bloch bought one, had some of his artistic friends come in and paint murals on the wall, and opened Wetlands. It was originally meant to be a place for activist groups to hold meetings and plan demonstrations from. And this was all before “going green” was cool.
The club became renowned for being the place where Woodstock never ended. In an interview with Warren Haynes of the Allman Brothers he says, “You could play as long as you wanted, but never as short as you wanted”. Bloch would require all bands to play at least two sets during their concerts, but encouraged three. Sounds a bit like heaven to me.
Interestingly though, Wetlands hosted more shows than just jam bands. ?uestlove of The Roots says that if it weren’t for Wetlands’ weekly open mic Jam Session, The Roots probably wouldn’t exist. They would load the whole crew into vans and drive up from Philadelphia, and eventually developed a loyal following from those shows. Wetlands would also host ska and punk concerts every Sunday, and many consider it to be the birthplace of the third wave of ska. Even one of Cypress Hill’s first shows in New York was at Wetlands.
Rightfully so, the film features amazing music throughout. All of the music is original recordings from shows at Wetlands. It’s a real treat to hear Blues Traveler, Dave Matthews Band, Ben Harper, and Pearl Jam, each in the beginning of their career. There are countless musicians interviewed in the film as well. Everyone from former Grateful Dead member Bob Weir to members of local New York punk bands.
Bloch sold Wetlands to Peter Shapiro in late 1997 so he could be with his family more. Shapiro was successfully running the club until Tribeca residents began petitioning to have the club closed. They were complaining about the large crowds and noise after the club would close at dawn. One could probably argue that Wetlands was the only reason Tribeca became a desirable neighborhood, so it’s ironic that they were forced out. The club was scheduled to close on September 15, 2001. But the last show played there was DJ Logic featuring Mike Gordon of Phish, Warren Haynes, and Stanley Jordan on September 10th, 2001. Seven hours after the show ended, the Twin Towers collapsed.
The Rock and Roll history is continuing, however. Shapiro is now the owner of Brooklyn Bowl in Williamsburg. Many of the same acts that regularly played at Wetlands now play there. Hopefully the good people of Brooklyn won’t force the new place to close. Wetlands Preserved is currently available on Netflix streaming, and definitely worth checking out if you have any interest in the history of music.