2015 Concerts and Events: A Year in Review

It is almost impossible to believe that we’ve reached the end of 2015 already—it feels like just yesterday we were ringing in the new year! This year was a huge for City Winery, full of extraordinary performances, unforgettable celebrations, and of course amazing food and wine. To look back at all of these amazing events, we’ve compiled a list of just a few of our favorite moments from 2015.

We want to give a special thank you to the City Winery staff, programming team, and event planners for making this year spectacular, and of course our wonderful patrons for making this all possible. Have a great new year, we look forward to seeing you in 2016!

La Paulée Off Grid Wine Tasting & Seminar (2/24)

The official La Paulée festival is one of the biggest Burgundy festivals in the world, and City

Winery had the privilege of hosting their off-grid tasting this February! La Paulée has become a grand gala attended by Meursault growers and producers along with other wine connoisseurs, and Daniel Johnnes, the Wine Director of Daniel Boulud’s Dinex Group, produces the New York festival. It is a privilege to attend and reservations are mostly made a year in advance, so for City Winery to be included in the festival is a huge honor! We also worked with La Fete du Champagne in November, providing décor and barrels for their tasting.

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Farm Aid VIP Reception and Dinner (5/19)

City Winery had the honor of partnering with Farm Aid this spring for an amazing private gala! Norah Jones gave an incredible solo performance, and City Winery provided top-of-the-line service for this great organization. Guests who attended also enjoyed a City Winery wine tasting and seated dinner. Farm Aid is a non-profit organization that has worked to support independent family farms for the past 30 years, and more recently took on the task of supporting the labeling of GMO produce.

Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell (5/21)
After years of collaboration, singer-songwriter Emmylou Harris and country star Rodney Crowell have developed an undeniable musical chemistry, captivating our audience last spring. The duo wowed fans with songs from their Grammy-Award winning album Old Yellow Moon, as well as tracks from their most recent project, The Traveling Kind. We hope to see them continue their partnership and visit us again very soon!

Photo credit: Al Pereira

Photo credit: Al Pereira

Stephen Stills (7/7)
As one of the most prolific songwriters and musicians alive today, we were extremely grateful to host Stephen Stills in our New York City venue – the only City Winery he had not yet played! The set list featured a wealth of material from throughout his extensive musical career, touching on his work with Buffalo Springfield, CSN(Y), and Manassas; as well as his own solo work. If you haven’t had a chance to see him lately, take our word—there is no doubt that Stills can still send a song flying.

Indigo Girls (7/23)
Last July, City Winery was presented with the opportunity to host the Indigo Girls’ album release show for their latest record, One Lost Day, in partnership with one of our favorite radio stations, WFUV. With two packed shows, the band quickly established their groove, and were often joined by the singing and clapping audience. As one of the smallest venues featured on their short tour, City Winery was very fortunate to give fans a chance to experience material both new and old in a very personal, intimate setting.

Photo credit: Al Pereira

Photo credit: Al Pereira

Watkins Family Hour (7/28-7/30)
The Watkins siblings, Sean and Sara, created a home away from home when they took their show on the road for the first time with Watkins Family Hour. The group perfected covers of beloved bluegrass, folk, country, and rock tracks with the help of their friends Fiona Apple, Benmont Tench, Don Heffington, Sebastian Steinberg, and other special guests such as Ashley Monroe, Shawn Colvin and Michael Daves. Sara, Sean, and company successfully harnessed the ability to touch their audience in a profound way through their music, and we were honored to be featured as one of the few venues they played on this small tour.

Photo credit: Al Pereira

Photo credit: Al Pereira

John McCauley (9/7 & 9/8)
John McCauley left behind packed, sweaty crowds and the familiar full band backing to join us in all four City Winery rooms this year. Those who are fans of Deer Tick were captivated by the frontman’s solo work but were also treated to songs from the band’s discography as John indulged the crowd in hits drawn from several of the group’s albums. We hope that this four city tour becomes a City Winey tradition for years to come!

Habitat for Humanity Women’s Build (9/25)

City Winery hosted a memorable fall fundraiser for Habitat’s Women’s Build. This chapter of the charity involves women from all paths in life in their building process, teaching them construction skills and encompassing them in the Habitat for Humanity mission. As a large format cocktail party, this event was an exciting beginning to what hopes to be a continuing partnership! It was truly inspiring and touching to hear some of the speeches and stories from women whose lives had been forever improved by the homes that Habitat has provided for them over the years.

John Hammond & G. Love (9/28)
As one of City Winery’s favorites, John Hammond has rocked our stage many times over the years with his unique blend of rock and blues. Packing the house on a Monday night this past September was no challenge for the Grammy winner and his special guest G. Love of G. Love & Special Sauce, who considers John one of his greatest mentors. After such an amazing performance, we look forward to revisiting this combination again down the line.

Joan Armatrading (9/29-10/1)
It was an honor to have three-time Grammy Award nominee Joan Armatrading grace our stage this past September. With her unique contralto vocal range, she delivered three rare and exceptional solo performances, bringing new, exciting energy each night. Known for her deeply passionate lyrics, Joan displayed her powerful knack for filling the room with intense emotion, which proved to be a treat for all who were in attendance each evening.

The Ann Wilson Thing (10/7)

This fall we were lucky enough to book one of rocks most revered female vocalists, Heart front woman Ann Wilson. We were honored that she made City Winery a part of her mini tour, fittingly called The Ann Wilson Thing. Ann performed two sold out shows in one night, featuring songs from her new EP, simply called #1, to an extraordinarily enthusiastic audience. We cannot wait to have her back again!

Photo credit: Al Pereira

Photo credit: Al Pereira

Dennis Goodman’s 60th Birthday Party (10/18)

City Winery New York hosted its largest party ever this October. It was an honor to work with the reputable Colin Cowie and his team of event planner professionals. Highlights of the party included a magician, photo booths, Grinder Girl, an incredible cocktail hour and seated dinner from our executive chef, Chef Jeanty. Idan Raichel also gave a mind blowing performance with a full band. The Winery has never looked so fabulous, and each of the evening’s 285 guests departed with a bottle of City Winery custom label wine to commemorate the event!

Gregg Allman (11/1, 2, 4-6)
After many years of working toward this booking, our much-anticipated five-night run with the Gregg Allman Band proved to be a tremendous success and well worth the wait. Each night featured a unique set list and opener, allowing a chance for some of City Winery’s favorite up-and-coming artists to shine. For many fans that attended the Allman Brothers yearly residency at the Beacon Theater, the chance to see Gregg and company in a room with one-tenth the capacity was an incredible experience. We anticipate that 2017 will play host to more surprises for fans of Georgia’s finest.

Photo credit: Al Pereira

Photo credit: Al Pereira

Somms & Sliders at The Bowery Hotel (11/10)

City Winery was honored to participate in the first ever Napa Valley Somms & Sliders event, which showcased 18 leading wineries from Napa Valley teaming up with some of the most esteemed restaurants in Manhattan. Guests have the opportunity to try 11 different wine and burger pairings from participating eateries, as well as over 40 different varieties that hail from the region. Our own Chef Jeanty and talented wine director Tali Dalbaha were on hand to present a special lamb burger paired with a glass of our own NYC Cab.

Every Mother Counts Wine Tasting at The Bowery Hotel (11/12)
In support of Every Mother Counts, a foundation dedicated to improving maternal health for all women, City Winery was on hand to provide food and wine at the charity’s second annual #LoveEMC event at the Bowery Hotel. The fundraiser was incredibly successful, raising over $100,000! We are so grateful to participate in such an important organization.

Southern Soul Assembly feat. J.J. Grey, Luther Dickinson, Marc Broussard, Anders Osborne (11/28)

JJ Grey, Luther Dickinson, Marc Broussard and Anders Osborne rounded out November by joining together to deliver an amazing night of songs and stories at City Winery. Each artist provided a unique take on his deep Southern roots, presenting a passionate, authentic, and deeply soulful homage to the rich legacy of Southern musical spirit. 

Photo credit: Dino Perrucci

Photo credit: Dino Perrucci

 

Oh, How Big!

An 8-ton beam is being erected in the Atlanta performance space in order to remove a column.  Ah, the things we do for site lines.  Thus, all 350 seat will have unobstructed great views of the stage.  Speaking of which, the stage is being poured with solid concrete this week to provide a very solid base for the musicians.  We are on schedule for our April construction finish.

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City Winery CEO Michael Dorf on Expanding His $40 Million Business and Why Older Fans Just Want a Place to Sit

CEO Michael Dorf recently spoke with Billboard about his start in the industry, his introduction to the world of wine, and where City Winery is headed next. Read the full Q&A by Andy Gensler below, and look for a version of it to appear in the Dec. 12 issue of the magazine.

The original copy of this interview can be found on Billboard‘s website.
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City Winery CEO Michael Dorf on Expanding His $40 Million Business and Why Older Fans Just Want a Place to Sit

by Andy Gensler

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Michael Dorf is the classic New York success story: music-loving Midwesterner arrives downtown in the 1980s; hops into an arts scene that includes Lou Reed, John Zorn, and Sonic Youth; opens a coffeehouse performance space; builds an international brand; walks away from it all; and starts over.

“I needed to think through what I’d like as a customer,” says Dorf, 53, a Milwaukee native who, after founding The Knitting Factory, went on to launch the tech-minded MacFest and Plug-In confabs and produce benefit shows at Carnegie Hall before starting his most lucrative music-business venture yet: City Winery.

Today, the married father of three heads up the chain of venue-restaurants (average capacity: 300) boasting a curated selection of live music and fine vintages, and whose flagship Tribeca location, which opened in 2008, is mere blocks away from Houston Street where Dorf first exercised his entrepreneurial spirit two decades earlier. With clubs in Chicago and Nashville, new venues in Atlanta and Boston planned for 2016 and two more major cities in the works (a Napa, Calif., location, ironically, is closing), Dorf employs some 550 employees and will take in an estimated $40 million in revenue in 2015.

How did you get from Wisconsin to New York City?

I always wanted to be in New York and started getting Swamp Thing, the band I was managing, gigs there. I guess I created a bit of that Steve Jobs’ “distortion reality field” that you could also call outright bull-shitting: I would get them gigs in New York and say, “these guys are the hottest thing in Madison.” And then come back to Madison and say, “the hometown band is really taking off in New York.” I moved there and got an apartment on 10th Street and the band basically moved in with me.

How did that turn into the Knitting Factory?

In 1986 I was getting close to having to come back to Milwaukee because the band was struggling and my plan to be a record mogul [Dorf ran Flaming Pie Records] wasn’t working out. So I borrowed money and took my Bar Mitzvah savings and gave up my apartment and rented the Avon office on Houston Street. My friend Louis Spitzer and I did rudimentary construction and he became my partner. It was going to be a gallery performance art space coffee shop called Expressoism. I envisioned a kind of Jack Kerouac thing that would have been what it was like to be in Paris or in New York during the Beatnik 1950s thing. Then we decided on naming it the Fire Escape, which a week before opening we decided was a really bad name.

You had a huge variety of shows at the Knitting Factory, what was your favorite?

Gosh, so many, but when we took over Estella’s Restaurant below the Knitting Factory Jon Zorn’s Naked City [with Bill Frisell, Fred Frith and Joey Baron and Wayne Horowitz] played. Their music was incredible, eclectic and very very energetic and had a strong rock sound. They did five shows when we opened up the downstairs space. He’d bring in charts, they’d rehearse all day and then they did like 20 songs. And the next day Zorn would bring in another 20 songs and he did that for five days. Each day was completely different and the insanity of Zorn and the masterful craftsman musicianship of those guys was unbelievable.

What prompted the move to Tribeca in 1994?

A couple of things: The ceiling [covered in sweaters with flame retardant spray] was one of many things we did by hand from the electrical work to the plumbing to the means of egress. It was great place, it had incredible history, but it was time to find a place that was bigger and safer and I wanted to expand to have a multi-room venue.

What were some of the endeavors you expanded into beyond daily bookings?

In 1995 I was really getting into technology and produced the first MacFest. We were starting to stream, but you couldn’t even call it streaming with only 14.8 modems. I convinced Bell Atlantic to give us money to start the Bell Atlantic Jazz Festival in ’96 and then Intel came in and outbid Mac. And the Knitting Factory label was growing like crazy and had an office in Amsterdam.

What prompted your split with the Knitting Factory?

Starting in about 1997 I wanted to expand all aspects of what we were doing and did three consecutive rounds of financing. I started to not call it music, but content and was getting caught up in the idea that the Internet was going to allow me to get our music and our brand in front of millions of people. Then the 2000 dotcom crash came and the implosion of the record business and then 9/11. 2002 was a very tough year and we had to let a ton of people go. By 2003 I had diluted myself out of a control position within the company and recognized that I didn’t want to be fighting with investors and feeling like i didn’t control my own destiny.

What lesson did you learn from that period?

There were so many but as a young entrepreneur, I got caught up in forgetting that technology is just a tool to ultimately accomplish a goal, to provide service to the customer and that’s my approach now.

What was your relationship like with Lou Reed? 

He played at the old Knit and then we got into the wine thing together. We had this Jewish and wine connection.

Didn’t he do your Passover Seder events?

Lou probably came to five or six of my Passover seders. I have a picture of him at our last Passover Seder three or four months before he died. He read Exodus, but he read Bob Marley’s “Exodus.” In the picture he’s embracing me on stage and that means a lot to me, I feel really very lucky to have had a special relationship with him.

How did you get into wine despite hailing from the land of beer?

I’ve always had an interest in Wine. My Uncle Shelley nicknamed me Mr. Beaujolais because freshman year I came home with a bottle of beaujolais. Later I got a chance to make a barrel of wine with one of my brother’s very good friends who was working at Ridge Winery in California. I had this experience of making wine and it was one of the funnest things I had ever done and that’s when I drank the Kool-Aid.

How did that transition into City Winery?

City Winery was a well thought out, methodical plan in order to look at what could be a money-making music business centered around wine. Or you could rephrase it a money making winery business centered around music — they’re interchangeable. We thought of going for a sort of older demographic who have disposable income and are very underserved. These audiences don’t want to stand, they want to sit, they want to be treated in a much more refined way and many of them are pressed for time. So we’ve created a luxury concert experience. We’re really only the game in town putting on a show at the level that we’re putting it on and taking a kind of Danny Meyer restaurant approach to the customer experience for a show. We have shows with the Crosby Stills and Nashes and the Joan Armatrading and last month had Gregg Allman here.

Now you are expanding City Winery. Is there a risk in too much, too soon?

Certainly expansion that is too fast or undercapitalized will not be successful. But a well-planned, strategized and methodical rollout into the right markets mitigates how risky it is. We made a mistake with Napa, but we learned from it. Our openings in Atlanta and Boston; then Toronto; Washington, D.C.; Houston; Denver; Seattle; Miami and wherever else we land in the next few years will be responsible expansion.

Who was your business mentor?

If I have to have one in person it’s George Wein. He’s someone i’ve been close friends with for the last 15 years and we have a very interesting relationship because I started by very much competing with him but he never looked at me in any negative way. He taught me a lot of lessons and continues to be a close friend and just an incredible gentleman.

What is City Winery’s place within the larger touring landscape?

We’re very bullish on the state of touring. As the supply of older talent with some degree of brand awareness continues to age, the expectations of their fans will create more of a need for a space like ours. Live Nation is not getting into the high-end restaurant/wine business, and, frankly, there aren’t too many wineries going into the concert business.

So what do you say to someone who says there are no second acts?

I’d say they’re looking at the wine glass as half empty.

Allen Toussaint Tribute Show Held At City Winery NYC

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Earlier this month, the world was saddened to learn of the passing of one of most talented and passionate musicians in recent memory, Allen Toussaint. Toussaint was an extremely influential member of the New Orleans jazz and R&B scenes, seeing great success as a performer, producer, and songwriter. Along with being treasure in the world of music, he was also a dear friend to the City Winery community and a name that was frequently seen on bills in New York, Nashville, and Chicago.

Allen had a concert scheduled for November 29 at City Winery NYC, where he was slated to help usher in the holiday season with “A New Orleans Christmas.” Instead of canceling the concert altogether, our programming team found a way to put a positive spin on the situation by organizing “The Music of Allen Toussaint,” a show to pay tribute to his legacy while also benefiting the late great musician’s charity, NOAAH (New Orleans Artists Against Hunger and Homelessness).

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Calling upon The Late Show With Stephen Colbert bandleader Jon Batiste to drive the show, City Winery welcomed an array of other very special guests throughout the night including jazz multi-instrumentalist Marcus Miller, singer-songwriter Stacie Orrico, trumpeter Bruce Harris, vocalist Morgan James, Batiste’s Stay Human bandmate Joey Saylor, and many others. Jon, coming from a long line of musicians, was also joined on stage by his father, famous Louisiana bassist Michael Batiste. The two performed together throughout the entire set, which is a rare occurrence.
“Whipped Cream,” a classic performed by Al Hirt but written by Toussaint under his mother’s name, Naomi Neville, kicked off the evening. One of the most memorable moments of the night was Batiste’s duo with Davell Crawford, a very close friend of the late musician who flew in to New York specifically to take part in the tribute. Crawford performed on piano while Batiste played the melodica, one of his signature instruments.

Favorites performed throughout the night spanned the length of his expansive career, including “Java,” “It’s Raining,” and “Working In A Coalmine.” “Yes We Can,” a Pointer Sisters single that was originally written by Toussaint, closed out the evening and served as the perfect end to an amazing show.

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This concert alone raised over $6,000 for NOAAH. City Winery Nashville will also remember Toussaint on 12/13 with a similar show with proceeds also benefiting his charity.

[All Photo Credit: Dana Distortion]