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Knickerbocker Cafe Has All the Feelings

By Jake Levin

In an ever-changing live music industry, the Knickerbocker Café keeps on jamming.

Located in Westerly, R.I., the Knickerbocker has been in operation since 1933. According to Glenn Kendzia, the manager and marketing director at the establishment, the Knickerbocker has kept patrons coming through its doors thanks to its evolution that has kept both musicians and fans alike into a space where music is celebrated and supported.

The club's storied history is rooted in blues, having spawned the famous jive blues act "The Roomful of Blues" in the 1970s. The Roomful of Blues still perform worldwide today, and likewise, blues remains the foundation of what keeps the Knickerbocker destination. But it's not the only style of music you'll be treated to once inside.

"Blues is still an integral part of the club, but the reach of booking has expanded to many genres from rock to folk, gospel and R&B, even underground hip-hop and hard rock," Kendzia said of the diverse offerings at the club today. "The space is set up so that guests can see the stage and hear the music well from any vantage point in the club. There is a large dance floor that can be packed with stomping dancers one night, and filled with seated, silent listeners the next."

There are two unique rooms inside the Knickerbocker: The Straight Ballroom, with a capacity of 400 patrons, and the Tap Room, a more intimate setting with a capacity of 40. Countless of famous musical acts have performed in the Straight Ballroom, including Stevie Ray Vaughn, Leon Russell, Deer Tick, Martin Sexton and Brett Dennen.

The Tap Room, Kendzia said, possesses a speakeasy vibe and a smaller stage for songwriters from all over.

"The Tap Room has a very intimate atmosphere, performers love the connection to the fans," Glendzia said. "In both rooms and the mission of The Knickerbocker Music Center, the music is the foremost important aspect."

In order to keep building towards the future, the Knickerbocker recently partnered with the Rhode Island Philharmonic, which will soon be bringing a school to downtown Westerly. This will give younger musicians an even broader opportunity to perform and develop their craft, Glendzia said.

Perhaps, it'll pave the road for their first performance at the Knickerbocker someday.

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