The Union Forever | Wetlands Preserved

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Yesterday I plugged a documentary airing on the Sundance Channel, Wetlands Preserved. I’ve been exchanging emails with the producer and director about the film, and he agreed to answer some questions. Dean Budnick is a name all jam fans should know, if they don’t already. He created (with he help of others) Jambands.com, The Jammys and a documentary profiling one of the most significant venues in the genre’s history. If you lived on the East Coast during the 90’s and were into any band that ever graced the stages at H.O.R.D.E. then you know Wetlands. You probably met Dean, too. He is an active fan, one that was kind enough to take the time to answer some questions about his excellent documentary, Wetlands Preserved, which we told you is going to be on the Sundance Channel all this month and is available on DVD as well. He produced and directed the film, so I asked him to indulge the readers of LMB as both personalities. Given the hectic summer schedule for music, many thanks to Dean for taking the time to answer our questions.


Questions for Dean Budnick, Producer:

LMB: The film begins with two quotes, one cherishing the memory of the venue and one lamenting the efforts of others to bring it down. Which was more of an impetus to make the film? Did you have the same goals as producer and club owner Peter Shapiro?

DB: I think the two were entwined. I certainly wanted to chronicle the story of the club. However, part of telling that story was documenting the forces that ultimately led to its closing.

LMB: Village Voice writer Richard Gehr said in the film that all the respect the Wetlands earned came with a footnote; that every time some one in the media applauded the efforts of the club it was done so in a populist vain as though the Wetlands was existing despite itself. How was this mentality an obstacle to the creation of the film?

DB: I didn’t give that much thought. Frankly, in most anything I do, whether it is for print, web, or in this case film, I don’t worry too much about critical reception. I have a vision and some sense of a perceived audience but for the most part I pursue projects that interest me, with the thought that if I can create something that hold appeals for myself, then with any luck others will dig it as well.

LMB: What is the next step for some one who views this film?

DB: Open a club! Seriously, one of my goals in making this film was that someone else out there would discover what Larry Bloch had in mind when he created Wetlands, leading to the development of a new for-profit venue that supports a not-for-profit activism center.

Meanwhile, folks who are interested in the activism side, should visit http://www.wetlands-preserve.org/.

Wetlands Preserved Trailer – First Run Features

Questions for Dean Budnick, Director:

LMB: There is a brief mention by John Popper about Wetlands being like the CBGBs of Jam, suggesting that the whole H.O.R.D.E. scene evolved out of Wetlands. The Spin Doctors went a step further and suggested that bands (themselves included) tailored their sound to be able to play on Friday’s at Wetlands. How much significance does Wetlands hold for the Jam scene of the mid-nineties-early 2000’s. How has that changed to date and how has the scene changed as well?

DB: I don’t think that can be overstated. I have had multiple musicians tell me that H.O.R.D.E. emerged as a direct result of Wetlands. The club fostered a community of musicians who played together on any number of levels and really took it deep. In addition, it’s important to remember that Wetlands was situated in New York City, an exceptionally important media market (even if it often took a while to goose members of the media and have them make the trek down to Wetlands).

LMB: Original owner Larry Bloch said that the bands he booked had no corporate representation and all arrangements were very loose. He went on to say that at some point it didn’t make sense for bands like Phish and Dave Matthews Band to even play Wetlands. Can a booking environment like that ever exist again? Could someone reproduce the economics of Wetlands in our PR-dominated industry?

DB: I think it takes courage. The club booked bands and supported scenes that were not always the most popular. In fact, Larry took it upon himself to make this one of the club’s missions. In addition to jambands, I think of the hardcore scene, where the all-ages Sunday shows brought in little money because few patrons were drinking alcohol while the club was being dinged up along the way. However, Larry and later Peter deemed it important to offer a place for these groups to perform and for their fans to congregate.

LMB: The film ventures off at times into concert film mode and away from documentary film with music montages from bands like Sublime and 311. Was it a creative choice to forgo footage of concerts and instead produce the montages? Or was there a lack of footage available?

DB: As you’ve guessed there was a lack of usable footage (some fuzzy old-school VHS camcorder stuff but little more than that). However, we had the image collections of the club’s two staff photographers as well as access to audio from most any significant show that took place at the venue. As a result, we brought on a dozen digital animators to interpret the music. While the animators’ efforts served a practical need, I believe they elevated the film. If we had relied solely on footage, I think the results would have felt flat and two dimensional but I believe these animated sequences very much bring the the club to life and the experience of seeing music at the club to life. To my mind they are vivid and three-dimensional.

LMB: Was there a consensus on the attitudes of the Tribeca community members towards Wetlands or was it a few number of elected officials and their cronies? On a larger scale, is gentrification a positive or negative phenomenon? And can it be avoided?

DB: I think that some folks appreciated the venue but many of the people who lived near it responded in classic NIMBY fashion (Not in My Back Yard). I would imagine that many of these people believed that New York City should support music and culture just not near their condos in the wee hours of the morning. Of course, as Larry mentions in the film, Wetlands had a right to be there, as it was located in a manufacturing zone that allowed for a live music venue. However, people increasingly moved into the area (which, in turn, ultimately doomed the club via gentrification).

LMB: The notion of “saving the rainforests but neglecting Tribeca” is mentioned briefly towards the end of the film? What is your opinion as documentarian on the humanitarian efforts of the people associated with Wetlands?

DB: I think the activism center had lofty goals on a global scale. It’s possible that on rare occasion this led them to overlook their immediate environment, but again, I think that was rare.

Wetlands Preserved is airing this month on the Sundance Channel.

Tuesday July 1 at 10:10PM
Friday July 4 at 11:10AM
Sunday July 6 at 4:10PM
Monday July 21 at 4:15PM