Wetlands Preserve, also known as Wetlands, The Wetlands or affectionately as “Sweatglands” was a nightclub in NYC from Valentines Day 1989 to September 2001 at 161 Hudson Street. But that’s a throw-away, as they say. To call it “a nightclub” is technically true. It was. I can appreciate that fact. But it’s an understatement, at least, a misrepresentation; fuck that, a sin to call it a nightclub because it was so much more. My experiences certainly color my perspective, but it was tangibly more than an ordinary nightclub in several ways. The live music was incredible and intimate, seven days a week. While Dr. Timothy Leary lectured and Wavy Gravy and a damn near complete cast of psychedelic celebrities as well as a list of accomplished musicians way too lengthy to list here performed there, bands such as The Spin Doctors, Blues Traveler, Dave Matthews Band, Phish and Joan Osborne were practically born at Wetlands. Warren Haynes and Government Mule were regulars, punk and ska, reggae, folk music and hip-hop all found a venue in a place with a Tuesday night “Deadcenter”, where Grateful Dead cover bands performed. It was a focal point for an emerging music and social scene, the likes of which may not have been as vibrant in NYC for a decade prior (this is probably a case of colored perspective, too). The scene spilled out into and drew from other clubs such as Nightingales, the Continental Divide, the Marquis, the 712 Club and the New Music Café. Sure, Wetlands was a lovingly themed celebration of the 60’s complete with black light and tie-dye and “the bus”, but it was also organic, vibrant and alive in the moment. The graffiti inspired artwork of Tim Vega splashed across the bathrooms, the exterior gate and “the bus” (now in the Rock-n-Roll Hall-Of-Fame) in his outrageous fluid swooshes, forming and bubbling. Between sets the dj, Dave Nolan from WBAI, would rock the house playing back choice live sets he had masterfully recorded in the booth, as well as mixing in some of the great classics from the Flower Power generation. At a time when you could smoke cigarettes in nightclubs, you weren’t permitted to do so downstairs in the inner sanctum. Even as a smoker, I appreciated that space, and the vibe at the upstairs bar could be entirely different from the vibe downstairs. What other nightclub has an activist on staff, or daily made its space available for various grass roots meetings covering a variety of political and environmental organizing? [Russ!] Even post-Wetlands, the activism continues on-line. And yes, there were plenty of psychedelics and pot smoking. It was an amazing and transformative place for me, and for many others like me.
Wetlands was my home away from home from spring of 1989 ‘til fall 1993. There were many nights there I planned for and wouldn’t have missed for the world, but even sans plan it was not unusual for me to head on down to Wetlands just to check out the scene. I was there more nights than not; I partied there, drew some postcards for them, and worked some nights here and there doing crowd control. I didn’t pay to get in, and I didn’t pay to drink sodas (I wasn’t drinking alcohol), because everyone there was family. But trouble found me out as it does; I was in la-la land too deep, the universe seemed so beautiful and my karma so comfortably cradled in its embrace, that it snaked around and bit me on my ass. I moved out of NYC for a while, but that’s a different story. I stopped by Wetlands many times after 1993 and had many good times, but the early years are my fondest and most enduring memories.
Hanging out there in Wetland’s infancy, I would hand out my “Dr. Funk adult coloring book”, especially at Blues Traveler gigs. Clearly one of the best things which came out of this was the work I did for ‘The Mad Hatters”, later known as “The Hatters” once they signed with Atlantic records. I handed a Dr. Funk to Billy Jay Stein, their keyboardist, on the line outside the club. He liked the comic strip, introduced me to their manager, Peter Malkin, and thus began a pretty great relationship. The Hatters stuff, you’ll observe, has generally a bit more effort and detail than many of the regular 4” x 5” postcards I otherwise did for Wetlands. It’s because The Hatters paid me a little more money to do their cards. In fact, if it looks like I made a more special effort on a card, it’s almost certainly because the musicians were paying me to draw it.
Wetlands paid me twenty bucks to pick up the card request, draw the drawing, make a four-up at the copy shop, and deliver the four-up back to Wetlands. I tried to limit the time I spent drawing any given Wetlands card to about an hour, as even after sketching out the original 8 ½” x 11” drawing, I was paying for the four-up out of my own pocket (or one could say subtracted from the $20 bill Larry Bloch, the founder and original owner, was going to pay me after I delivered the finished product, then minus my round-trip subway fares to and from). While I’m tickled by and proud of the work, creating my own hand-drawn fonts pre-computer, it’s clearly not consistent or polished, and certainly not up to my best. Looking back, I have sometimes wished I’d taken more time on the cards, offered a better demonstration of what I could do for Larry and for all those bands. This regret has been upgraded to a lesson learned, and now a fable shared. The bigger picture is that Wetlands as a venue for my work should never have been seen by me as an end in and of itself but as a means to an end. Drawing cards for Larry was an opportunity I did not fully appreciate. Instead I wrongly proceeded on the notion that if I was going to live off the going rate of twenty dollar artwork, I needed to speed my whole process up a helluva’ lot, do the job in short order, hone my skills to be able to sit down and churn out several in a day. I never developed this ability. But heck, truth is the cards are still loads of fun as is and bursting with fond memories for many, especially me.
Move the cursor over an image to halt the slideshow, click to resume.