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Michael Dorf: 20th Anniversary of The Old Knit

By Published: March 10, 2007
For Ribot, a bigger issue than what has happened with any particular club over the years is the shrinking opportunities overall in New York. The Knit went from an occupancy of just over 100 on Houston to a 400-seat main room on Leonard. But after another dispute about musicians' rights and control over webcasts, Zorn left the Knit for Tonic, a small and little known performance space on the Lower East Side. He quickly made that club the new home for Downtown music (despite many rumors to the contrary, however, he neither owned nor opened it). But, Ribot pointed out, that meant a shift down to a 200-person room. And as Tonic turned toward booking more rock acts and The old Knit crowd headed over to The Stone, musicians found themselves playing a room that holds 80 people at best.

And the fact of it is, avant-garde music by any name has rarely flourished in the free market. In Europe and much of the world, government subsidies support composers and festivals. In the US, composers are generally either on faculty at universities or are left to eke out a living however they can.

"I think Michael's efforts at getting stuff produced and getting stuff funded is exactly what's needed, Ribot said. "But we should be fighting to increase the pot of what's available. Why isn't the city donating free space? Why can't New York City do what Cologne and Bern and Lupiana and every other city in Europe does? Let's not have this depend on the pauperization of the people making the music. If you want to talk about the difference between a 400-person room and an 80-person room, you're talking about a big reduction in income for the people playing it. It seems to be part of all these clubs that at a certain point they need to make more money.

The Stone is the exception that proves that rule. Small and simple, it exists with no visible means of support: no bar, no merchandise and no cut of the door. A monthly benefit pays the rent and any losses are assumedly covered by Hip's Road, Zorn's non-profit umbrella that also includes the Tzadik record label, or by larger benefits like The Old Knit anniversary concert. (For his part, Zorn didn't reply to a request for an interview for this story.)

"If any performance space in the world deserves charity, there is no better place than The Stone, Dorf said. "Add to that the element that it's named for the two best customers at The Old Knit [Irving and Stephanie Stone]—there was this poetic element. Still, he said, when he heard Zorn's plan for financing at The Stone, he was dubious. "As a club owner who believes there must be some sales margin even for a non-profit, it was like 'OK, zie gezunt—God bless.'

That lineage, from the Knit to the Stone, about a mile east and two decades later, is what Town Hall will be about on Mar. 1st. For whatever reasons and through whatever calamities, it's an era that's past, even if the players live on.

"Moving to Tribeca was not the end of The Old Knit, Dorf said. "I think The Old Knit period is '87-97. The end of The Old Knit was my going corporate.

"All good things come to and end, I guess, he added, then paused. "I hate that expression.

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