MANHATTAN, NY—After many years as the greeter at a popular mainstream rock music club, Kenny’s Castaways, Don Hill started booking shows at the short-lived Cat Club in 1984. By 1993 he was ready to open his own club, Don Hill’s, in Greenwich Village and later in SoHo, with a hit formula—create a hot nightclub that would attract both trendy rockers and drag queens. Hill died suddenly in 2011, and the club closed a few weeks later.
Squeezebox was among several weekly theme nights at Don Hill’s. At these drag events, composer Stephen Trask and artist John Cameron Mitchell developed a theater act combining live rock and drag, Hedwig And The Angry Inch. Eventually moving out beyond Don Hill’s, Hedwig And The Angry Inch initially had limited success as an off-Broadway show and film. The film later developed a larger cult following through DVD circulation. The rock musical was revived on Broadway in 2014 and won four Tony Awards.
Meanwhile, the club of its genesis reopened in September as The Hills NYC, and Trask and the Broadway cast returned to where it all began to perform a tribute to the original club’s founder on Dec. 7. “Celebrating Don Hill—A Night Of Live Music” featured Trask, who originally birthed the songs on that stage with his then-band Cheaters, and cast members Michael C. Hall, Lena Hall, Miriam Shor, and Shannon Conley. The house band was Tits Of Clay (Tim Mislock, Justin Craig, Matt Duncan, Peter Yanowitz), the off-stage alter ego of the band performing as the Angry Inch in the Broadway production. Most of the one-hour set was comprised of covers of punk rock songs, ending with a series of Hedwig songs. The concert also included guests David Johansen (who sang “Funky But Chic” from his days with the New York Dolls) and Fred Schneider (who sang “Planet Claire” by The B-52’s). The event benefitted Road Recovery, a New York-based nonprofit dedicated to helping young people battle addiction and other adversities by harnessing the influence of entertainment industry professionals who have confronted similar crises and now wish to share their experience, knowledge, and resources.
“Coming back to Don Hill’s with Tits Of Clay to play a bunch of punk rock songs would in itself inspire nostalgic swooning for me,” Trask said prior to the charity concert. “But the fact that this show is a benefit for Road Recovery, which uses music to help at-risk youth battle off the threat of addiction, really hits home. The combination of the place and the event and the songs and the cause fills my head with all the great nights I had at SqueezeBox and reminds me of the dream I chased there with Jack Steeb, my dear friend and fellow Cheater member, who didn’t make it through his own battles with addiction.”
Tits Of Clay member Tim Mislock added, “It is a dream come true to play these songs at Don Hill’s—I, for one, cannot wait to rock the stage that birthed this crazy journey we’re on! It’s humbling not only because of Hedwig’s history there, but also the history of that legendary place. I hope we can honor the memory of the club, and create some new ones for those smart enough to join us.”