Divine Fits singer/guitarist Britt Daniel smiled as he looked at the crowd gathered in front of him on Broadway in Times Square on Saturday afternoon.
“I didn't see how it could happen,” said Daniel, near the end of the band’s excellent set that bridged the gap between dance music and indie rock. “But it happened.”
That pretty much summarized the second CBGB Festival, which brought the indie spirit of the legendary club to venues around the city for the past five days. The day-long free concert in Times Square on Saturday, with two stages, food trucks and vendors taking up 10 blocks of Broadway, was the festival centerpiece, featuring indie bands like Divine Fits and Grizzly Bear mixed with more mainstream rockers like The Wallflowers, My Morning Jacket and Lisa Loeb.
This year’s event was far more extensive than last year’s inaugural outing, with more music-related films and the introduction of the first CBGB Icon Award, which fittingly went to Seymour Stein, the Warner Brothers executive who signed numerous CBGB bands, including The Ramones, as well as Madonna.
“There was really only one possible choice and that is Seymour Stein,” CBGB co-owner Tim Hayes said in a statement. “Seymour's career in the record industry stands alone as something truly amazing. One must applaud the fact that he took so many of the early CBGB bands like Ramones, The Dead Boys and Talking Heads out from the Bowery to successes beyond measure.”
Stein and keynote speaker Van Toffler, president of Viacom Media Networks Music & Logo Group, including MTV, showed how it was – and still is – possible to bring edgier, artistic ideas into the mainstream.
“The best stuff happens when the artists are in control of the creative,” Toffler said in his keynote address Thursday. “Take advantage of the system.”
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Toffler said the best artists know how to use the mainstream to carry their message, adding, “Don’t think that Miley twerked it up by accident. “Speaking for MTV, we've been used, abused, and trampled upon by the best,” he said. “Madonna played MTV like a mandolin… We also never know what to expect when Kanye comes through the door, but we know enough to stand back and let him do his thing.”