History
of the
Knitting Factory

Michael Dorf, founder of the Knitting Factory, was the Chairman and CEO from 1987-2002.

He no longer has any operational or ownership ties to the organization.

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Filling in the Blanks

Finally, after five months of do-it-yourself renovation – including electricity and plumbing – we opened in February, 1987. We intended to be open in the daytime as an art gallery and serve coffee. During the evenings, we would provide art in motion. The first few weeks we had poetry and spoken-word performances on Wednesday nights, “jazz” on Thursdays, and a mixed 

bag on weekends, including rock, performance art, and anything else that would go. We made a deal with Jonathan Zarov to use the name “___’s Knitting Factory” in exchange for a dinner. (I think we still owe him the dinner.) The idea was that we would change the name of the club every month, from Mr. Blutstein’s Knitting Factory to, say, Yonah Shimmel’s Knitting Factory, Charlie Smith’s Knitting Factory, etc. In fact, only recently did we remove the ‘s from our checkbook. Of course, the first band to play on the Knitting Factory stage was Swamp Thing-the show was attended by twenty friends from Madison.

We needed some help. I got in touch with a guy Louis had met at a performance space called Franklin Furnace who put on “The Party Club”-a grab-bag evening of talent. He was a singer-songwriter named Paul McMahon who would put a bill together with, say, Ethel Eichelberger and Hugo Largo on the same night. I asked him for help in booking these sorts of artists on the weekends. Friday and Saturday nights in March and April were his. Slowly I befriended his whole scene, and by the end of April, I was booking every night in the same spirit. Paul quickly introduced us to many talented artists.

The New York music scene, from jazz to rock, was desperate at this time for a new venue. The “jazz clubs” – The Blue Note, Sweet Basil, The Village Vanguard, Carlos I, The Angry Squire, and so on were all in line with the George Wein (Newport, Cool, and JVC Jazz Festivals) definition of jazz. The improvisers, the free-jazz players, the new generation of funk/groove-influenced players, the world-beat-influenced, and any other instrumental artists who weren’t playing swing or fusion or weren’t famous enough to fill a club needed an alternative space. The only alternative spaces were what has been historically referred to as the loft scene-individuals setting up concerts in their own spaces. But the loft scene was very cliquey and underground; word of these shows basically never made it beyond downtown.

In the rock world, CBGB was still the only real choice for bands that weren’t interested in playing on touristy Bleecker Street or couldn’t get gigs at the Ritz or Bottom Line. Sure, some great little clubs provided a stage for the few months they existed, but most of the time, if a band played too far out or didn’t have a vocalist up front singing songs, there weren’t many places it could play. So all these artists on the fringe of rock and funk, country and folk, were also looking for a home.