Some folks look at the New York City of the 1980s through rose-colored glasses, remembering the rock explosion of the Lower East Side, but forgetting a landscape marred by crime, poverty and rapidly rising rates of AIDS deaths.
Two decades later, Tompkins Square Park has been cleaned up, the Ramones are legends and the LES proudly claims the moniker “cradle of the counterculture.” August 17-24 marks the second annual staging of the Howl! Festival, a weeklong celebration of arts, music and performance, and downtown legend Murray Hill is smack dab in the middle of it all, staging a week of gay and lesbian performers paying homage to Gotham’s thriving East Village.
“There is always this kind of mumbo jumbo that the East Village is over, that Manhattan entertainment is dead, and I just don’t believe that,” Hill told Gay City News. Hill said he was so pleased to be a part of last year’s event, he wanted to become even more involved. “The vibe was so cool it was almost like a reunion of Lower East Side artists from the past 20 years. But there wasn’t that much mixing going on through the ages So I wanted to play bigger role this year to perpetuate that, and include a wider range of stuff. To make sure I got ladies represented—you know how I love the ladies—and gay guys, too.”
The artists in this series have all played, worked and perform regularly in the East Village. Hill’s stellar lineup of both established and emerging artists, who will perform at Fez below Time Café at 380 Lafayette Street, includes Joan as Police Woman, Bitch, Julie Goldman, Echo Lane, Neal Medlyn, Fisherman’s Savage Lounge and Tracy + The Plastics.
The weeklong extravaganza launches on August 18 with a double-bill of the talented monologist and performer Mike Albo and singer Echo Lane, presenting a raucous night of comedy and song.
On August 20, Murray Hill is ready for another double bill of foxy singers, Joan as Police Woman and Bitch of the duo Bitch & Animal. Joan Wasser of Joan as Police Woman is a classically trained violinist cum rock-jazz-punk-folk-soul-R&B singer, songwriter, keyboardist and guitarist. Her style has been compared to Nina Simone, Dusty Springfield, Prince and Chrissie Hynde, and her attitude is pure rock and roll. Wasser’s dynamic arrangements, composed on guitar and Wurlitzer, are complemented by poetic, emotional lyrics sung at one moment in a deep throaty swoon and the next in a high wail. Wasser recently opened for Rufus Wainwright’s North American tour.
Following Wasser is Bitch, making her debut solo New York performance playing songs from her forthcoming solo album, “Almost to the Water.” Bitch is known for her unapologetic political love (and hate) songs, backed by electric violin and bass.
On August 21, after appearing at Wigstock, Hill debuts his one-man show, “To All the Girls
I’ve Loved Before.” This polyester-clad downtown personality presents an hour of laughs, accompanied by swing band The Stiff Gimlets and the Murrayettes, both cohorts from his Atlantic City days. The night will be jam-packed with Murray’s off-the-cuff humor, with soft-shoe, some drink wrangling and heartfelt mangling of cheesy love songs.
“Dirty Martini will be in my show with me, and a little band,” said Hill. “This is a big deal too, because I’m always doing variety shows, but this time it’s just me and the band.”
After, it’s showbiz as usual with fabulous burlesque and the Fisherman’s Savage Lounge. A talented lineup featuring Julie Atlas Muz, the World Famous *BOB*, Miss Saturn, Magical Madness, Lady Ace, Delerium Tremens, Scarlet Sinclair, Veronica Sweet, Bunny Luv, The Red Hots and more shake and shimmy for your pleasure. The Fisherman’s music borrows from the instrumentation of mid-century Exotica practitioners such as Arthur Lyman, Les Baxter, and Eden Ahbez, with the screaming baritone sax of Las Vegas Grind.
On Sunday, August 22, pay tribute to the punk stylings that made the Lower East Side famous with Tracy + The Plastics, an electronic art/new media punk band conceived and performed by lesbian feminist video artist Wynne Greenwood, who started the band in 1999, while running ‘The Murdra,’ an underground movie house dedicated to showing independent films and videos by women and queers. Her new record “Culture for Pigeon” features drum sounds sampled from Rachel Carns of King Cobra, bass grooves and beats with Le Tigre’s JD Samson and vocals recorded at Studio G by Joel Hamilton and Tony Maimone of Pere Ubu.
It’s big laughs on August 23 with lesbian comic Julie Goldman. Whether performing as lesbian folk rocker Indigo Etheridge, as horny, all-American male Mike Hunt, or simply as herself, you’ll never know what will come out of her mouth. Goldman is known for her loud, physical humor that will find you still laughing days after the show.
Later in the evening, meet the reigning Mr. Lower East Side, Neal Medlyn. For one night only, this lanky 29-year-old downtown celebrity will “waste expensive cosmetics, spill blood, make out with unicorns and dance himself to death,” to music by R. Kelly, Kylie Minogue and Khia. Medlyn said he calls his show “Neal Medlyn, the Paris Hilton of Performance Art” to indulge his obsession with “hard partying Prada-wearing heiresses” and his own desire to “wear my ladies clothing about and go to exciting places like the Hole, and not some place in the Hamptons.”
“I grew up in Texas and read about all the New York things and wanted to come so desperately,” said Medlyn. “Finally I did, and far from the doom that a lot of people tried to feed me about the destitution of New York performance today or how great it used to be, I was astonished to see so many truly bizarre people and the world’s greatest performers hanging out in the same space. It blew my mind and immediately let me know that downtown New York is still unbelievable and viable.”
“The Lower East Side is the place all of us started, and we all continue to play there, so it’s not over,” echoed Hill. “It’s gentrified, but it’s still a place that people really cultivate their showbiz act, and get an audience. When you think downtown, you think the East Village, and I want to make the statement that it’s still kicking.”