The Stone Moves to The New School
May 11, 2017
If you stop at the corner of 2nd Street and Avenue C, you can hear the faint beat of drums and saxophones coming from a blacked-out door simply labeled “The Stone.”
The text is gold and flaking off, but once you open the door, you’re engulfed by a tiny room filled with musicians pushing boundaries and people who are absorbing whatever music is being played that night.
But come February 2018, this tiny venue will close after 13 years in business and reopen in March at its new spot, The New School’s Glass Box Theater in the West Village. The move has brought mixed reactions.
“The [new] location is better,” said Noah Becker, a volunteer at The Stone and New School Jazz student. “It’s so much easier for people to get to. I love the visibility of those windows. I just think it will lose a little bit of that Lower East Side grit. You know?”
The Stone operates as a “no-frills and no-nonsense space,” according to a March press release about the change in location. They do not sell drinks or food. No recording or photography is allowed. There are no barriers between the audience and the musicians in this intimate, 74-seat venue.
“That whole vibe is very informal,” Becker said. “That to me is a really significant charm of the place. I also think it affects the way the people play their music.”
The Stone is based on the “experimental and avant-garde” according to its website. Its founder, composer John Zorn, curates the musicians who take up weekly residencies. These artists have the opportunity to play whatever they want.
“The Stone is 100% pro-musician,” Grammy Award winning and current resident musician at The Stone, Jesse Harris said. “It is not interested in profits or attendance, only in presenting music in the best atmosphere possible.”
The Stone is a nonprofit with 100% of admission sales going directly to the artist. With a $20 admission fee in the 74-seat room, musicians at The Stone can take home as much as $1,480 on a sold out night.
“I haven’t been to the space at The New School, so I can’t compare, but I do know that the move will help keep The Stone alive,” Harris said. “Its current space has become untenable due to rising costs. I imagine the students at The New School will be very happy to have John Zorn’s music club in their building too!”
The school is giving Zorn the space at The New School rent-free. Zorn said to The New York Times that the change in venue had nothing to do with rent, but it was “time for a change.”
“Every time I go there, there’s a little something that’s taken a dive,” Becker said. “There’s this leak in the back, one of the speakers wasn’t working last week. The location and facilities at The New School are way better. There’s no doubt about it.”
Though The Stone might benefit from an increase in attendance and upgraded equipment from its move, the announcement came without any student input or warning beforehand, according to Becker.
“I think as exciting as it is, not every student might agree on [The Stone’s move],” Becker said. “The administration kind of just did it. They didn’t really consult us. They should have talked to the students first, maybe had like a town hall or at least offered it. It was just, announced.”
Though students can still use the space for shows during the week, it has to be before 6 p.m. so a volunteer for The Stone can set up the venue for the daily 8:30 p.m. show. The space will still be available all day for students Sundays and Mondays, when no Stone related performances take place.
“I think it’s going to be a good thing,” senior drummer at The School of Jazz Misia Vessio said. “It’s like having a music venue right down the block but it’s actually in the school. We’re going to be walking past a lot of great artists who we will be able to check out easier.”
In preparation for its new location, The Stone is already taking steps towards its transition. From June 2017- February 2018, the spot will take up weekend residencies at its new home at The Glass Box Theater every Friday and Saturday nights at 8:30.
While some students are excited about the venue coming, there are those who are not. Others, who are familiar with the venue, like Jazz student Peyton Pleninger, a regular at the club, is worried the closing will take away from the current location’s uniqueness.
“I feel super weird about it,” Pleninger said. “The Stone is maybe two or three, maybe four venues left in the city that feel really un-institutionalized.”
While Pleninger has some reservations, he also said the change will be good for musicians at the school.
“I think it will give The New School a chance to be a little less about academia for its music students and more about actual experience,” he said.
Though The Stone is keeping the original capacity of 74 and its $20 admission fee when it moves, one change will benefit students. Every night, any open seats will be given to them free of charge.
When the small venue on Avenue C closes in 2018, it won’t be the end for what The Stone represents.
“Clubs have their own vibe,” Harris said on the opening night of his residency. “The new space will have its own, as does the original space.”
Becker seems to agree.
“The space isn’t vanishing, it’s just getting repurposed.”
Correction: Students at The New School will be able to use The Glass Box Theater for performances Sundays and Mondays after 6 p.m. A previous version of this article stated the space would only be available after 6 p.m. on Mondays for students.