CMJ Marathon Provides Music to Your Ears

The lights are dim. Stale smoke and anticipation filter through the air, leaving behind a thick fog and an even thicker suspense. A hush has fallen over the previously chatty crowd. The anxious guests stand elbow to elbow all waiting for the same moment. The moment before the first chord is struck, and the first cymbal is crashed, your heart begins to race with excitement, and you achieve that feeling of peace that you came in search of. A smile slowly spreads across your face and you shut your eyes, never wanting the feeling to leave.

As I stood in New York City’s trendy downtown Knitting Factory on Nov. 2, the closing night of the CMJ Music Marathon, I held my breath as that feeling took over. The four-day festival had accomplished its mission.

The CMJ Music Marathon is the yearly fall event run by CMJ Music Magazine, which overtakes approximately 66 venues in New York City, showcasing some of the most talented signed and unsigned bands in the world. More than 10,000 music professionals, artists and fans converged together to celebrate music in New York City from Wednesday, Oct. 30 through Saturday, Nov. 2. The marathon was divided into both night and day activities, allowing for attendants to have the fullest experience possible. Fans had the opportunity to create their own schedule via the magazine’s online site.

During the day, one could have caught dozens of panels covering topics affecting all corners of the music industry. Led by key industry players, CMJ Music Marathon Talk Shops offered specialized 20-minute lectures that defined music industry terminology, issues and ideas. Mentor sessions also offered unique, one-on-one information sessions with music business professionals from every aspect of the music industry. Hopeful musicians had the opportunity to meet people who could answer their questions and share career advice.

Not only were music professionals attended to, but movie lovers were as well. The CMJ Filmfest explored the current relationship between film and music with a plethora of distinctive independent features and documentaries, as well as major studio releases. This year saw the CMJ premiere of “Friday After Next,” starring Ice Cube, alongside “Disasterpieces: Live in London,” featuring live footage from the band Slipknot. Over the years, many films that have debuted at the festival have become box office successes and cult classics in the hearts of many fans. In 1994, “Pulp Fiction” debuted, and 1997 saw the premiere of “Boogie Nights,” marking Mark Walberg’s rise to fame.

After the sun went down, and a chill began to blister through the air, the CMJ Music Marathon’s night time entertainment was underway, and it was yet again nothing short of incredible. For the past 22 years, the marathon has showcased thousands of artists representing the worlds of rock, electronica, hip-hop, loud rock, Americana, International, blues, jazz and any other genre that one could possibly conjure up. Performances were done in the city’s premiere clubs and venues, all different in their own way. Shows were put on at larger venues such as the Hammerstein Ballroom, Irving Plaza and the Bowery Ballroom. Close knit and more intimate venues such as the Elbow Room, the Village Underground and the Mercury Lounge provided a more low-key setting where as hip clubs such as the Knitting Factory, the classically vintage CBGB’s and the modern art based Galapagos in Brooklyn gave concert-goers more to look at and enjoy than just the bands performing.

The magazine celebrated opening night with a seven-hour long party at the Bowery Ballroom. This year the big name performers included Jurassic 5, Box Car Racer, Thursday, OK GO, My Morning Jacket and headliners The Chemical Brothers who once again proved why their live show is a must-see when they closed out the marathon Saturday night at the Hammerstein Ballroom.

Although it was the big names that drew the largest crowds, local acts such The Gossip, Come Down, Hot Hot Heat and Stiffed proved they were deserving of their place in the festival. It is considered an honor and a privilege to play during the CMJ Music Marathon, for the venues are highly selective about whom appears on the bill. The marathon is a great opportunity for local acts to get their name out there, their music heard and possibly even into the hands of a record label.

Since the festival’s beginning, many acts who have debuted there have gone onto major label success. The marathon has produced an impressive timeline of performers that could easily occupy a full month of MTV viewing. The Red Hot Chili Peppers were the first band to go onto a great career after debuting in 1984. Two years later, rap phenomenon LL Cool J appeared, and his debut album went gold not long after. The year of 1991 saw the first appearances of Cypress Hill, Busta Rhymes, Blur and Naughty by Nature. Green Day and Rage Against the Machine were among the acts in 1993.

Perhaps the biggest year for breakout artists was 1994 when Marilyn Manson, Everclear, Hole and Ani Difranco all took the stage. Rock fans can be thankful for the 1995 CMJ Music Marathon, for it helped launch the careers of both the Deftones and Korn, as well as the introduction of the first internet panels. In 1997 there was Incubus and in 1998 there was Eminem. CMJ hosted the 10 semi-finalist event for the first American Music Awards’ Coca-Cola New Music Award in 2001. Perhaps 2002 could have seen the debut of next year’s artist of the year. We can only wait and see.

Overall, the CMJ Music Marathon lived up to the hype that surrounded it. Each night venues were packed to capacity and the crowds went home happy. Music is without a doubt an art form; one that comes in every different size, shape, color and style imaginable. Ironically, its large diversity only adds to the unity between the people who cherish and celebrate it. In a world where there is much to fear and less to value, the 2002 CMJ Music Marathon brought about the togetherness, originality and compassion that our society so desperately needs right now. It also featured some hard rocking performances as well as a glimpse of what is to come musically in the future.

The CMJ Music Marathon comes but once a year, but the impact it leaves behind has the possibility of lingering for years to come. To revisit the events or to catch some of the highlights you may have missed, check out the magazines official website,, to get your fix.