How to Be the Old Guy at the Music Festival

PORTLAND, Ore. ( TheStreet) -- Longtime music fans felt a bit older this week after it was announced that long-standing Hoboken, N.J., rock club and music cornerstone Maxwell's would be closing for good in July.

It was a small room of 200, but Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth, Peter Buck of R.E.M., Bob Mould of Husker Du and Sugar all thought enough of it to serve as investors at various points, with Shelley owning a piece of it to this day. Nirvana played there and did a photo shoot there. The photo behind the cover of Fugazi's Repeater album was taken at Maxwell's. Guided By Voices and The Meat Puppets recorded live albums there and the video for Bruce Springsteen's Glory Days was filmed there. Basically, if you have gray hair, a dresser full of black T-shirts and jeans and an extensive vinyl collection, you may have heard of the place.

So what killed it? Did rising rents kill it, like they killed legendary punk club CBGB's just across the river on The Bowery? Nope. Did it have a tough time selling out shows at the end? Nope, Titus Andronicus, We Were Promised Jetpacks and Mountain Goats shows all sold out within the past month. The main culprit is The Old Guy At The Rock Show. We'll let Todd Abramson, the club's co-owner who has booked acts there since 1986, explain in detail.

"Parking has always been difficult in this town," Abramson told Star-Ledger writer Tris McCall. "But now, for all intents and purposes, it's been outlawed. I've had bands whose vans have been booted because the signs are so unclear."

Yep, that's right, it's closing because there isn't enough parking. Oh, and because The Cake Boss, JWoww, Snooki and various cast members of The Real Housewives of New Jersey have turned the town's nightlife into a sea of LED screens and cheap cocktails.

"The culture in Hoboken is driven by TV now," Abramson continued. "A lot of the bars downtown are fighting with each other for who has the most giant TVs. That's what Hoboken nightlife has become."

If those explanations sound a little cranky, there's a reason for it: It's just reflecting the mood of the clientele. The people who came to shows during Maxwell's punk and alt-rock heyday in the '80s and '90s are, at best, in their late 30s by now or, at worst, are putting kids of their own through college. They left Hoboken, Jersey City and Lower Manhattan for the surrounding suburbs years ago and found parking in Hoboken a tremendous pain when they came back in for Feelies shows or Yo La Tengo's annual Hanukkah parties.

And while younger audiences still make it in for Titus Andronicus, Ted Leo and Miracle of '86 shows, most of the action has shifted over to Brooklyn and left Hoboken to a crowd that prizes table service and fantasy baseball scores over indie bands and pre-set pot pie at Maxwell's restaurant. The venue's core audience, Gen Xers, are as former Gizmodo writer Mat Honan so honestly put it two years ago older, more exhausted and less prone to put up with nonsense like circling the block for parking. Even Portland, Ore., alt-weekly Willamette Week advised fans "older than 32" heading to the Sasquatch! Festival in Washington to "probably just get a jump on traffic" rather than checking out the Postal Service's 10 to 11:30 p.m. Memorial Day set.

Gen X, in short, is The Old Guy At The Rock Show. Even without Maxwell's recent announcement, this is usually the time of year when Gen X gets its annual reminder of just how long it's been since it first saw Sebadoh at (insert long-gone venue here) or when it saw (insert long-gone band here) at the 40 Watt Club in Athens, Ga. It's when punk legends such as Black Flag hit the road (albeit as two different bands, each without Henry Rollins) for pass-the-hat reunion tours and when indie rock bands including Neutral Milk Hotel reanimate and start collecting a cover charge again.

More importantly to the bean counters on the summer festival circuit, however, it's when the music industry drops any pretense of cool it may have used to lure Gen X decades ago and, instead, does whatever it can to pry this weary demographic out of its Netflix ( NFLX)-and- Pandora ( P) cocoon. It needs them, too. According to Billboard, global concert grosses and attendance each fell 10% last year, with concerts in North America alone drawing 6% fewer people than they did in 2011. Even Billboard admits the damage is likely far worse, as numbers have been much tougher to get since they took a nosedive in 2010 and companies such as Live Nation ( LYV) cut back on reporting their attendance and income figures.

Armed with those numbers and the knowledge that cranky Gen Xers are getting used to their creature comforts, even Sasquatch! began pairing older-skewing acts such as Cake, Primus and Built To Spill with nearly $400 ticket package upgrades including better stage access, showers and views of the Columbia River Gorge. While Tennessee's Bonnaroo festival in June has always courted such older, jammy acts as Phish and Gov't Mule, this year's lineup featuring the Wu-Tang Clan, Nas, Wilco, Billy Idol and "Weird Al" Yankovic and Tom Petty all playing until a reasonable hour seems like a nice concession to the 31-to-45 set Nashville Scene tried to warn about this fest a few years back. The festival is also willing to throw in air-conditioned buses and VIP lounges to wilting concertgoers willing to pay grown-up money for an upgrade or a ticket, hotel and shuttle package.

Even Lollapalooza knows Gen X isn't up to crowd surfing during Jane's Addiction sets anymore and sells "Platinum" and VIP packages for its early August fest in Chicago. That includes air conditioning, free drinks, spa treatments and golf cart transportation to cordoned-off viewing areas where Lolla's Gen X targets can see The Cure, New Order, Queens of the Stone Age and Nine Inch Nails without bumming out kids pushing their way to the front for Tegan and Sara, Beach House and Vampire Weekend. It's a bit degrading and automatically presumes that people who've been following music religiously for something close to three decades don't want to see post-'90s acts including The National, Grizzly Bear and Band of Horses, but festival organizers are just working with what they have.

If older music fans aren't going to drive around looking for parking to see one of their favorite bands with only 200 other people at Maxwell's, booking agents are wagering they won't have the patience to deal with lots of new bands and younger fans without a whole lot of perks thrown their way. And, let's be honest, the long periods of standing, the spots on the floor right by the speaker and the constant bumping that makes it feel as if people are aiming at you all lose their novelty around age 25 or so.

Does that necessarily mean people have have to plunk down $545 for a three-day VIP ticket, polo club seating, massages, special viewing areas and $39 shuttle service when you head to Outside Lands in San Francisco this August? No, but if the options are to woo The Old Guy At The Rock Show with these things and a bill with The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nine Inch Nails, Camper Van Beethoven and Fishbone or to shut it down and give Dawes and Bombino fans one less venue to see their favorite acts in, the venues will have to pander and the old folks will have to play along.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.

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