Hillel Kristal (September 23, 1931August 28, 2007) was an American club owner, manager and musician who was the owner of the iconic New York City club CBGB, which opened in 1973 and closed in 2006 over a rent dispute.
Early yearsKristal was born in New York City in 1931, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants. His father, Shamai Kristal, was a Russian pogrom survivor. His family moved to Hightstown, New Jersey when he was an infant. He studied music from a young age and eventually attended the Settlement Music School in Philadelphia. Kristal also spent a period of time in the Marines.
Venturing into musicHe moved back to New York City, where he worked as a singer, appearing on stage in the men's choral group at Radio City Music Hall. He later became the manager of the Village Vanguard, a jazz club in Greenwich Village, where he booked Miles Davis and other musicians.
He married in 1951 and had two children: Lisa Kristal Burgman and Mark Dana Kristal.
In 1966 he and Ron Delsener co-founded the Rheingold Central Park Music Festival, sponsored by Rheingold Beer. By 1968, Delsener had changed beer sponsors to Schaefer and Kristal was no longer involved. The festival took place every year until 1976 in Central Park and featured musicians from a range of genres, including Miles Davis, the Who, Chuck Berry, Bob Marley, B.B. King, Led Zeppelin, the Beach Boys, Frank Zappa, Ray Charles, Patti LaBelle, Ike & Tina Turner, Fleetwood Mac, the Allman Brothers, Slade, Kris Kristofferson, Curtis Mayfield, Bruce Springsteen, Aerosmith and the Doors.
CBGBIn 1970, Kristal opened a bar in the Bowery section of New York called "Hilly's on the Bowery", which closed within a couple of years. Then in December 1973, he created "CBGB and OMFUG", an abbreviation for the kinds of music he intended to feature there (the letters stood for "Country, BlueGrass, Blues and Other Music For Uplifting Gormandizers"). The club, eventually called simply CBGB, became known as the starting point for the careers of such punk rock and new wave acts as the Ramones, Talking Heads, Patti Smith, Television and Blondie. Kristal also briefly managed Dead Boys and The Shirts, two bands that frequently performed at his club.
CBGB featured many famous musicians over the years and remained very popular until its closing in 2006 due to a personal disagreement with the landlord, who opted not to renew the lease. For a short while after the closing, Kristal considered moving the club to Las Vegas.
A film, CBGB, about Kristal and the origins of the club, was released in October 2013. Actor Alan Rickman portrayed Kristal in the film.