“Because the Night”: A Tribute to the Songs & Poetry of Patti Smith

A poetry friend from New York posted an event on fb that caught my eye. It was a tribute concert for the songs and poetry of Patti Smith, to take place in Brooklyn on April 29 at Union Hall in Park Slope, with tickets costing only $10.

I shared the event with my dear friend Maggie. Maggie is a lifelong admirer of Smith and also of New York City, where she wandered the streets as an adolescent in the 90s while visiting her aunts who were working professionals with apartments. Maggie introduced me to Smith’s memoirs, Just Kids and M Train, narratives I fell in love with for their motifs and structures, and for Smith’s commitment to the art of everyday life and living.

We decided we had to attend the Tribute. We got a room at the Union Hotel, a renovated space modern, comfortable, and close to the venue, a good thing since the weather was terrible, a wicked wind, intermittent rain, and barely 50 degrees. The best part was that it’s only six hours to drive from Fairmont, WV to Brooklyn, and that street parking there is FREE. We had parking luck, snagging a spot right in front of our lodgings.

The night of the Tribute, we arrived early at Union Hall, a renovated warehouse with fireplaces, a library, two indoor bocce courts, outdoor garden seating, and a downstairs bar where the event took place. The Tribute was produced by Heather Eatman, a friend of Smith’s, as were many of the performers. It was standing room only in the downstairs bar, with a lineup of musicians and poets that made tired feet worthwhile.

Tammy Faye Starlight, a blonde stage performer who appeared in the movie Pootie Tang (2001), opened with a raucous chorus of “Gloria.” At one point, she came into the audience and singled Maggie out to dance with.  All of the performers were excellent, including my poet friend, Puma Perl, whose reading of the poem “Wave” made me forget I had a body. Queen Esther’s minimalist approach to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was both a tribute to Smith and purely original. When Benjamin Cartel sang “Because the Night,” I had to dance to the rhythm. The final song, “People Have the Power,” was enjoined by all the performers gathered onstage. There were other poems, other songs, the event lasting almost three hours.

Released afterward into the night, we ran into Puma and her friend, Joe Sztabnik, at a food truck that served coffee on the corner. It made me happy that she remembered me from a poetry reading in Soho in October, 2010. She and Joe asked what we thought of the Tribute. We both assured her we loved it, though I complained about the weather and said, “We have to get to the hotel before it rains again.”

Puma said, “I’ll tell you. People don’t come to New York for the weather.” I realized she was right.