If you were lucky, you got the “Hilly wave.” As in: Hilly Kristal waving you into CBGBs. You didn’t feel anointed; it wasn’t Hilly’s way of saying you were one of the “cool people.” It was simply his way of saying, “Hey, I know you’re broke. It doesn’t matter. Pay me back whenever.” To Hilly, if you were a fan of music-and Hilly could spot the true fans, just like he could spot the bands bound for greatness-he’d wave you in. Or he’d tell the bartender to slide you a beer. He was good people. Really good people. 

As the founder of New York’s legendary club CBGB (“Country Bluegrass and Blues, but then there was the subhead “OMFUG,” which stood for “Other Music For Uplifting Gormandizers”), Hilly helped expose artists who would go on to change the world. The Ramones, Blondie, Talking Heads, Television-they all got their start in that long dark club with the infamous bathroom and fantastic sound system. Even the Police, on their maiden visit to the States, played at CBs. If you were good-no, if you were great-that’s where you played. Case closed. As a spotter of talent, Hilly had it down. He knew where to find you. It wasn’t long before everybody was trying to find him. He had thousands of tapes. Word has it that he listened to every one of them. 

But Hilly Kristal, who died Tuesday, August 28, 2007, at the age of 75 from complications from lung cancer, did more than run a rock club. He established a community, one that stretches across the globe. People who loved music-who loved it passionately; people who were sustained by music-whether they lived in New York or were just visiting, knew that CBs was the place to go. You went to CBs to be part of something. To discover something. To feel good about yourself. And, of course, to hear some great, great bands. 

After a bitter fight over rent, CBGB closed its doors in October 2006. At the time of his death, Hilly was making plans to open new CBGB clubs in several locations. He is survived by his daughter, Lisa Kristal Burgman, son, Mark Dana Kristal, son-in-law Ger Burgman, grandchildren Jenny and Adam Burgman, CBGB, and the thousands of artists and musicians who played the club.

A private memorial service is planned. A public memorial will be held at a later date. Contributions in Hilly's honor may be made in his name to the American Cancer Society or to the Hilly Kristal Foundation for Musicians and Artists (168 Second Avenue, PMB 207, New York, NY 10003).