It was Election Night 2004, and in the massive and spanking-new Miami-import nightclub Crobar, Lee Blumer was putting the finishing touches on a sound system rigged to a giant television monitor about the height of three hippies doing handstands in an upstate meadow.
Then there were the bouncers: 150 V.I.P.’s to show into the massive club and as many as 3,000 revelers set to crowd the floor, swilling drinks and dancing to the beat of the 24-hour news cycle well into its 25th hour.
“The moment of truth … ,” read the invite to the event. “And the politics of dancing.”
“War is so over.”
On the reverse, more slogans: “The moment of truth … after a season of lies,” the invitation intoned, promising a night with “fellow patriots” with “Reagan era prices and Clinton era good times.”
The proceeds benefit a Chelsea soup kitchen.
Hardly the typical nightclub-promoter fare.
Ms. Blumer, in her bright red velvet blazer, tinted glasses, curly black hair with blond frosted tips and pink lips, was constantly pulling a cell phone out of her bright red purse, bedecked with a button that read, simply, “Imagine.”
For most New Yorkers, to imagine Crobar-the Miami-nightlife institution and regular gossip-column mise en scène transported to the western reaches of lower Manhattan-as a political nerve center for Manhattan’s young, hip and (if only lately) politically aware would have been difficult before she took the reins as the nightclub’s director of events. Like many baby boomers, her political awakening as a hard-core Northeastern liberal happened at Woodstock. But unlike most of them, she was one of the hosts of that legendary party.
It’s easy to forgive the 59-year-old Ms. Blumer if she sees shadows of her own past, and that of her generation, flitting among the young, mostly white and well-to-do hipsters that began to mill about the semi-dark club as the doors opened.
And yet, Crobar is Manhattan’s Grand Central for politics-crazy downtown and intellectual youth culture. It began in April, when the club hosted a fund-raiser for Kerry Core, the young professional wing of the Kerry campaign, and nearly 2,000 people showed up to rock with John Kerry. Then came events with MoveOn.org, John Edwards, Cate Edwards, Barack Obama and a debate-watch party sponsored by Air America and The Nation magazine. The Election Night party rounded out the season. (Like many clubs, Crobar did also host two Republican events during the convention.)
“I’m rather passionate, so this has really been my drive here-I feel that if I’m a person that can help perpetuate consciousness, well, now I’ve got a place to do it in,” Ms. Blumer told The Observer during a conversation several days before the Election Night bash.
“I feel like I’ve been fortunate to somehow be close to the culture since I’ve been awake,” she added by way of explaining how an aging hippie like her came to be hosting Election Night parties for a Chelsea nightclub. “I remember on the second day of Woodstock, I flew over Woodstock in a helicopter, and as I looked down, to me, there were 450,000 of my guests. I really felt ownership for the whole event. And, I mean, that was like a weird attitude for a 23-year-old, but I kind of think that’s what I do.”
Guests started to build up at the front door, beside a checkerboard of monitors bearing endearing, if truistic, liberal proclamations. “This is a free speech zone,” read one.
Upping the organizational frenzy, Ms. Blumer tried to explain why so many people were flocking to her parties during this election.
“This is going to be like, when I die, I’m still going to be talking about this election, even more than the Nixon election,” she said as she scurried about. “Because I didn’t have children then, I didn’t have posterity.”
She then told the bouncer that she’d “like the party to go until there’s the president; expect that to be around 1 in the morning.”
Stashed inside a warehouse in industrial North Chelsea – just a hop and a jump from the nouveau naughty-bar Scores West Side- the mood at Crobar, as at most nightclubs, is dark, throbbing, and chintzy, with burly bouncers stationed at every exit. A far cry from Woodstock. On weekend nights, waitresses slink around in impossibly high stilettos, while girls in minis gyrate with beefy guys under a giant disco ball. Ecstasy-induced petting is perhaps the closest anyone comes to social consciousness.
But to New Yorkers in 2004, this is the center of all that is liberal and Democratic in America. And for those who were not fleeing the city where the choir spends so much time preaching to itself to register voters in Ohio and Pennsylvania, the feeling of just wanting to be in the same room with like-minded people while events beyond one’s own control take shape elsewhere in the country, or the world, is eerily familiar, as it was to many New Yorkers as the election results began to take shape.
“The original goal and main idea was to be around people who are very committed to this election, and to experience the evening with like-minded people,” she said. “I call it the Woodstock Dream.”
“I would love to say I have the solution. In 1968 I thought I knew everything, now I don’t know … Really, in order for anything to change on this planet there needs to be consciousness evolution.”
Ms. Blumer’s own story of “consciousness evolution” reads like a page pulled from a sixties rock-and-roll anthology, a hippie parable that includes everything from a stint helping produce concerts for the Monkees when she was 20 to a gig working for legendary rock manager Albert Grossman to running the Fillmore East alongside Bill Graham during the late 1960’s. “We were right in the center of the universe as the universe was expanding,” Ms. Blumer said of those heady days. “It was an extraordinary time, because, I mean, we weren’t working, we were showing up every day to participate in the change.” (Along these lines, it’s also worth noting that just before her stint with the Monkees, Ms. Blumer took a year-long trip to Africa, which she described as “expanding in every way that you could possibly imagine – except I didn’t sleep with anybody.”)
And then, after all this headiness, came Woodstock. Ms. Blumer had been hired to work for security honcho Wes Pomeroy as “one of the grown-ups,” because, she said, “even when I was 23 years old I sort of was a grown-up.” It was a job that meant she spent most of the three day peace-and-love fest hunkered in a bunker and never even got to see a single performance (no Janis, no Jimi, no Sha-Na-Na). But for all this, Woodstock, for Ms. Blumer, was kind of like the great asymptote of consciousness, the defining moment that everything else can only approach but never actually reach. “It was really the coalescence of the bright shiny future,” she said with a nostalgic sigh. “I didn’t see it as power-to-the-people as much as I saw for a moment what the human potential was. It was like one of those unity moments where you go, ‘Ohhhh!’- And then everyone went home and bought visa cards and went shopping.”
She settled down, had a son, and yes, did some shopping. But she never completely gave up the old Woodstock ghost, and she continued to work at “expanding her consciousness,” and she eventually began planning feel-good events for Amnesty International, then the Hammerstein Ballroom, and of course now Crobar.
The journey has not been an entirely heartening one for Ms. Blumer.
“I think that humanity has not progressed for the most part in the way that I saw the possibilities in 1969,” she said with a shrug. “My generation started it [the movement] and I think we failed. I really think that it was like opening the can of worms and then saying ‘eh,’ because, as I said, I think that everybody then decided to go shopping.”
And now? What did she think of the frenzy of ’04? The election season madness?
“I’m hopeful about all this,” she said cautiously. “There are certainly a lot of people who are much more politically active than they’ve been ever. But my big question is what happens at the end of this election? Is everybody going home?”
Not, it seemed, before New York City had a new President, early in the morning hours.