Before the opening of its exquisite Stage 2—and that’s a modifier that this writer does not use too often—Rockwood Music Hall was already part of the conversation concerning the best small listening rooms in New York City. Since then, however, there’s been no doubt. Rockwood Music Hall is the place to go for serious lovers of music and, more specifically, the singer-songwriter genre.
Most likely, showcasing singer-songwriters was more of a pragmatic choice than an aesthetic one. Rockwood Music Hall Stage 1, which was the only stage until a few years ago, is tiny. Fitting an entire band on the stage is virtually impossible, especially with a baby grand taking up much of the space. Forget about bringing in Marshall Stacks or a pack of horns. Right from the start, the solo singer-songwriter (occasionally with minimal accompaniment) was Rockwood Music Hall’s default setting. And both musicians and music-lovers alike have absolutely no problem with that.
What exactly is a singer-songwriter? At Rockwood Music Hall, it’s a far cry from the generic, nondescript acoustic pop stuff normally associated with the term. Google it and see what comes up. The good people that curate Rockwood expand the notion of the singer-songwriter to include more eclectic and innovative artists. They filter it through the sieve of a discerning ear. They’re like fine wine connoisseurs. They are tastemakers. They know what they like and they’ve built the best possible acoustic environment for it—two environments, actually.
Want tiny and super intimate? Go for Stage 1. Want a bit more spacious and rocking? Go for Stage 2. Either way, the talent is typically pretty good, the sound is almost always pristine and the cover charge is usually zilch. The latter means you may feel more compelled to purchase a cd before you leave, which helps the mostly local acts that perform at Rockwood. Don’t get me wrong; touring acts come through all the time, including the occasional star who sets up a “secret” show. This was the case when I saw Amos Lee on Stage 1 a few years back. Those nights are magical and reminders that New York is still the best city in the world for live music.
Rooms like Rockwood Music Hall help it earn the ranking.