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Joltin’ Joe’s

A category-defying downtown club turns ten.


From left, top row, Justin Bond of Kiki & Herb, Ute Lemper, Noche Flamenca, Adele, Sandra Bernhard, Toshi Reagon; second row, Cyro Baptista, Eisa Davis, the Merasi, Sondra Lerche, Stew, KT Tunstall; third row, Youssou N’Dour, David Byrne, Don Byron, Jody Watley, Will Oldham, Neal Medlyn; bottom row, Patti Smith, Nellie McKay, Yungchen Lhamo, Mike Daisey, Angélique Kidjo, Elvis Costello.  

Nostalgic New Yorkers spend so much time pining for long-lost golden ages that we tend to forget that the arts scene, in some places, is actually getting better. Case in point: Ten years ago, we didn’t have Joe’s Pub. Now it’s hard to imagine downtown without it. Before 1998, the Pub, named after Joseph Papp, was just a dingy wing of administrative offices in the Public Theater. When the Pub kicked off with Public all-stars like Audra McDonald, it made sense that the space would become a home base for the new-theater vanguard—and it has evolved into just that, nurturing acts like Kiki & Herb and Stew, who workshopped a little show called Passing Strange here, long before Broadway. That would be exciting enough, but the club has also emerged as an important (affordable!) music venue, at a time when many clubs are being shuttered. Night after night, Joe’s bursts at the seams with an improbably eclectic crew, from Ute Lemper (playing next month) and Toshi Reagon to Angélique Kidjo and Nellie McKay. It has hosted Alicia Keys’s first showcase and Amy Winehouse’s American debut—not to mention a roster of category-crashing international acts (Cyro Baptista, Gilberto Gil, and Noche Flamenca, for starters). “I’ve spent my life in the studio waiting for the red light to come on, trying to make music that reaches other people,” says Allen Toussaint, the seventysomething New Orleans soul man who was embraced by the Pub after Katrina left him homeless. “Joe’s is intimate enough so you can see the person right there with you. The place just feels right, and sometimes magic happens.” To celebrate the anniversary, he’ll play one of ten free gigs at the Pub this weekend (along with a tribute to Judy Collins and turns by John Cameron Mitchell, Michael Cerveris, and others). Register online at for (yes) free tickets.


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