An Epic NYE | Six Shows, Six Venues

Words & Images by: Adam McCullough

6 Shows :: 6 Venues :: 12.31.13 :: New York, NY

Check out Adam's epic tale of his dizzying New Years Eve romp around NYC below the gallery!

For the third year in a row, I decided to continue my tradition of hitting as many shows as I can in one night in New York City on one of it's busiest nights of the year. My initial goal was to beat the eight shows I hit last year for JamBase, which can be seen here. I was going to try for nine shows, but I had trouble hearing back from a couple of the bands and unfortunately due to that and one scheduling conflict, I was only able to get six, but included were the two biggest shows of the night at the Garden and relatively new Barclay's Center.

The last two years my adventure started at the beautiful jazz club Dizzy's to see legendary trumpet player Wynton Marsalis. I thought I'd shake things up a bit this year and start my night with a different jazz club and artists, so I selected the Jazz Standard, which was hosting trumpet extraordinaire Steven Bernstein with legendary New Orleans piano player Henry Butler and their band the Hot 9. The Jazz Standard is like most jazz clubs in New York City, on the smaller size with a lot of tables, so it's not filled with a lot of open space. But they do a good job of laying out the tables in a way that most have very good sight lines and there are different levels, which makes it easier to see as well. The club also sits below the Blue Smoke BBQ restaurant, so the Jazz Standard serves a pretty full menu of very good authentic BBQ, so you can really have a good meal and see some great music all at the same time. And the folks who chose this as their New Years Eve event were treated to some great music. Steven Berntein filled his Hot 9 band with quite a few players that I had heard of, am I'm not jazz aficionado, including Peter Apfelbaum, Curtis Fowlkes and Erik Lawrence. I was only able to stay for about 15 minutes, the first two songs were Steven with the Hot 9 running through a couple uptempo numbers before Henry Butler joined them on stage and took the show up another whole gear. Henry Butler just exudes New Orleans and his playing really encompases other NOLA legends like Professor Longhair and James Booker, but with a twist all his own. Team him up with such great musicians and an amazing arranger like Steven Bernstein and this is going to be a great band to go see if they put together a tour in 2014.

But unfortunately it was time to leave this show and as I packed up to head to stop two of the night, I was sad to leave as I felt like I was leaving New Orleans, not just a show of NOLA music. I had to be at Madison Square Garden at 8:15 to meet my escort, not of the good variety, the kind that brings me into to photograph than kindly kicks me out after my 15 minutes. As I walked from the Jazz Standard to the Garden, most people were starting to head out to their destinations for the night, some walking in nice straight lines and others not quite no straight. As we were escorted up the huge elevator below the Garden, which I call the elephant elevator b/c I assume that's what they use for the circus, you could hear the rumbling of the Phans excited to see their favorite four musicians hit the stage for yet another New Years Eve at the "World's Greatest Arena". As I walked in the pit and got settled, even the people against the rail, who I assume had been waiting for many hours to get that spot, all looked in good spirits and ready for three sets of great music. As with last year, the 15 minutes I heard of Phish sounded great, with a fiery AC/DC Bag, a second song I did not know ("A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing") and into a Wilson, which got the 20,000 fans all screaming Wilson at the top of their lungs, and a few folks yelling out the name of Russel Wilson, the Seattle Seahawks Quarterback that has been using Phish's song as his introduction. While mid Wilson jamming, my time was up and I walked out again wanting to hear more, a consistent theme through the years of me doing this trek through multiple shows. And unlike other years, I didn't have to be rushing off to another venue as I would not have time to get to the Barlcay's for opening act Ben Folds. So with my hour break I went to go visit a friend. I had a Brooklyn Lager. I don't think you guys care about that, so back to the music.

A short subway to the "new" Barclay's Center, which has one of the coolest facades that I've ever seen on a venue. Tonight's headliner was local favorite Billy Joel. I had seen Mr Joel at JazzFest this year and have to say I was really impressed, not only that his voice was still strong, but his piano playing was much better than I expected. The guy can just flat play the piano. As I was escorted through the arena, a much different kind of crowd seemed just as happy and eager as the Phans at the Garden. Lots of people smiling and having a good time waiting for the local boy to play his first show in Brooklyn in a long time, according to what Billy said after his first song. Unfortunately for me, photographers were set up in an absolutely awful spot as you can see in my pictures, directly across from him and pretty far away. And with only getting the first two minutes of the first two songs, photographic-wise it was a waste of time, but the little I did hear sounded just as good as he did at JazzFest and I think gives a glimpse into what people should be expecting in 2014 as Billy does a monthly residency at the Garden. His first song was the well known Miami 2017, with a nice "Long Island" reference that got the crowd cheering. For his second song, Billy said he was going to dig deep and played "Everybody Loves You Now" a song I definitely had never heard. The Piano Man promises that each MSG show will not be the same and it seems like he's ready to really dig deep into his catalog while also playing a lot of his hits. I did not have a lot of time to try and prolong my visit to the Barclay's as it was less than an hour to midnight and I was to be at the Beacon at 11:45 for Gov't Mule.

I always laugh when people complain about the subways in NYC. I'd really like to see another city have such a big system operate as well and all night as the NYC subway. Maybe they exist, but I'm always amazed that there are not more issues and delays. I was able to get right on a subway and even with the subway switching from an express to local for no apparent reason, I made it to the Beacon right on time. My third escort of the night brought me in, stage right with not a great view as there was a stack of speakers and lots of standing patrons in my way. But that's life of a music photographer, especially at the Beacon, which doesn't have a photo pit. A few minutes before midnight, Mule took the stage with Doors guitarist Robby Krieger. They did the 10 second countdown to midnight and as the ballons on the ceiling dropped, the band kicked into their second set with the Doors classic "Break on Through" into "Peace Frog" and "People Are Strange", which took me to my three song limit. As always, Mule sounded great doing another band's music and did a good job of incorporating another musician. Warren always seems ready and willing to let other people shine, something not all musicians are willing to do, no matter how big a legend they may be. Warren traded both guitar and vocal leads with Robby and once again as I left, I wanted to see more.

As I left the Beacon and headed towards my fifth stop of the night, Roseland Ballroom in the heart of Times Square, I knew I was going to be fighting herds of people leaving that area after the ball dropped, so I hit the subway for the short ride to 50th and the platforms were packed with people who had been standing in one spot for hours, so there were as many happy, cheery people as there were extremely tired and cold looking folks. Last year when I went to the Roseland Ballroom, Pretty Lights was the headliner and I've never seen such a crowd outside a venue trying to get in. This year's headliner was Big Gigantic and I think because of my later arrival, my entrance into the venue was very smooth. But like with Pretty Lights last year, I was walking into the craziest, loudest scene probably in the entire city. While not as packed as it was for Pretty Lights, which was probably unsafe crowded, Big Gigantic definitely filled the place and while the duo was probably only 30 minutes into their set, the crowd was loving every second of what they were doing. The place was hot and sticky, the sweat of hundreds of dancing fans sweating their tails off made it feel like you were walking into a jungle in the amazon.

This was going to be the last New Year's Eve at the Roseland, which is unfortunately set to close in a few months and Big Gigantic was tearing the roof off, figuratively of course. I walked up into the photo pit, all by myself like a big boy with no escort, and I've never been front of speakers so loud. Even with ear plugs my ears were hurting and I didn't know how these folks were standing in front of these speakers for the 4-5 hours of music they were hearing. But there wasn't a single person not smiling from ear to ear, dancing to every beat, drum and sax note the duo from Colorado were putting out there. As the EDM scene quietly takes over the music scene in the world, Big Gigantic is carving out a nice niche for themselves and while I'm certainly not an EDM fanatic, they've been a lot of fun the two times I've seen them. I didn't plan on staying long, but my last show of the night wasn't going to start till 1:30, so I hung out for an hour, getting a second wind not only from the music, but the people just having a great time. And I must say this crowd was filled with some really genuine, nice people. Three different people wished me a Happy New Year for no apparent reason. But I must say the best part of the show was something I believe Big Gigantic organized. Inside the photo pit was probably 10-12 people all with Big Gigantic T-Shirts on, having a good time dancing but also making sure everyone up front was safe and hydrated. They were pouring water into the mouths of anyone who seemed like they needed it or asked for it. After the deaths at Electric Zoo, I thought it was great to take the time to organize this and to make sure everyone can have a good time and be safe.

Big Gigantic was ending as I was walking out and at 1:30 in the morning, you wouldn't have thought there had been a million, or whatever the real number is, people in Times Square for the ball drop. It was mostly empty and the cleanup was in full swing. My last stop of the night was the legendary Blue Note jazz club in the West Village. Smaller than the Jazz Standard, the Blue Note is just as crowded as any other NYC jazz club and while not packed, there was a good size crowd for up and comer James Casey, best known by JamBase readers as the sax player for the funk band Lettuce. On this night, James led a group featuring BIGYUKI, Randy Runyon and Daru Jones with special guests Chris Turner, Jennah Bell and Greg Osby.

While I expected this to basically be a funk jam, it was a nice blend of jazz, soul, and some funk, with James singing as much as he was plaing the sax. While the venue was having an issue with the sound system, James' voice was definitely better than I expected, but he obviously shined when he was playing the sax and flute. The best vocals of the night were by special guest Jennah Bell, who's voice was a beautiful compliment to the wonderful group of musicians James had put together, highlighted by a musician I had never seen but will be on the look out for, BIGYUKI, a wonderful piano and synthesizer player. But as 2:30 approached, my body was ready to call it a night and start 2014 like I did 2013, a nice stack of chocolate chip pancakes at a lot of sleep.

JamBase | 6 Shows 1 Night
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[Published on: 1/7/14]

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