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CBGB sounds its final note

From Chris Kokenes
CNN
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- CBGB, the legendary rock club long associated with the bands that spawned the punk-rock music scene, closed its doors early Monday morning after a farewell performance featuring poet-musician Patti Smith.

The closing brought the demise of a New York institution after 33 years.

Accompanied by her longtime band members, Lenny Kaye, Jay Dee Daugherty and Tony Shanahan, Smith belted out band favorites and cover songs from the Rolling Stones, The Who, Blondie, Lou Reed and the Yardbirds.

The club, which has a capacity of 350 people, was easily packed with at least 500 faithful fans.

Owner Hilly Kristal has hinted that he might give the club a second life in Las Vegas.

Wearing a black CBGB cap and T-shirt, rose-colored glasses and jeans, Kristal, 74, doesn't give the appearance of someone undergoing chemotherapy for lung cancer.

He was upbeat and ready for the last night, knowing it would be chaos.

"It's a passion. If you have that that's what it's all about," Kristal said.

Though disappointed by the dispute that led to the closing -- the property owner is not renewing the club's lease -- Kristal said he would not cry.

"I've gotten so many wonderful things from this club. A lot of love. It does penetrate all the way. I accept it on the surface. It's home."

Die hard followers of CBGB & OMFUG -- which stand for "Country Bluegrass Blues" and "Other Music for Uplifting Gormandizers" -- complain that the New York icon is another casualty of gentrification, which they say is filling the Lower East Side with high-priced condos and chain store retailers.

"It may be the end, but it's not over," said longtime Bruce Springsteen cohort and E Street Band guitarist Steven Van Zandt.

"New York City and rock 'n' roll in general will never recover from losing this place. I will not stop fighting until it is dismantled by its creator."

Pausing for a moment behind his blue-tinted sunglasses and wearing his signature bandana, Van Zandt took stock of the reality of the moment.

"We brought some recognition to Hilly Kristal and much deserved. If nothing else, we accomplished that."

Kristal opened the club in December 1973 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan at the corner of Bowery and Bleecker streets. Drug dealing and crime were a common sight throughout the tenements in the neighborhood also known as the Bowery.

Disco music was emerging as an alternative to the complex music scene of the '60s and '70s, President Richard Nixon was facing impeachment, and the Vietnam War was coming to an end. (I-Report: Your memories of "CB's," "back in the day")

With the intent of providing a fresh forum for new bands that had no other outlets to perform publicly, Kristal's club allowed rock enthusiasts to explore fresh rhythms and a high-energy rock 'n' roll that eventually became known as "punk."

Aspiring bands and performers who began their careers at CBGB included The Ramones, Blondie, The Patti Smith Group, Television, Talking Heads and The Shirts.

The club is about 165 feet long and 25 feet wide. Its decor has changed little over the years, with the exception of one feature -- the graffiti. The walls would be the envy of a geologist. Layers of band stickers and writings by patrons from the last 33 years give the club a unique look.

In the end, the crowd wanted more.

Playing an encore, Patti Smith closed the show with her inimitable version of the classic song "Gloria," rocking the house and causing the crowd to shout "Hey Ho. Lets go!"

As the show ended minutes before 1 a.m., Smith shouted: "33 years! The same age as Jesus. Goodnight, everybody."

No tears were evident as the lights came on -- just smiles and lots of camaraderie, even among strangers. No one was in a rush to leave.

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Fans gather outside CBGB before the club's final concert Sunday.

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