Music Mania: In the centre of Manhattan, behind the towering marble walls of the New York Public Library, bordered by tall trees, wrought- iron fences and dusted by the grainy glow of spotlights, Bryant Square thrummed in the late summer evening. Thousands of music lovers had gathered, trampling the grass in their gusto, to celebrate their favourite, prize- winning songs - managing to keep a respectful silence when their favourite stars put in a word or two between the tunes that gushed out of the speakers. This might describe last week's Video Music Awards after-party in Bryant Park- in fact it does - but it also describes the more astonishing, record- breaking turnout at the screening of the film The Sound of Music in Bryant Park the week before, at which 12,000 New Yorkers gathered to warble at the top of their nostalgia-puffed lungs about blue satin sashes and schnitzel- with-noodles. The Sound of Music crowd was comparatively well-behaved; for instance, after the MW Awards, rapper Tupac Shakur got caught up in a violent set-to, and two days later was shot, but the Julie Andrews crowd sifted out peaceably, humming Edelweiss and demonstrating that rappers may come and go, but the lust for music and the musical will never leave this town, no matter how many tired revivals, peep shows and Disney emporia clutter Broadway.

But it's not just musicals that are rocking the town; music of every kind seems to have suddenly assumed the mantle that art had in the Eighties, everyone wants a piece of it, everyone's a fan, and tickets are harder to come by than perfect pitch.

When opera diva Cecilia Barton sang her debut at the Met in the spring, her audience had possessed its tickets for almost two years. When Rosemary Clooney croons at the Rainbow & Stars, every show is SRO, and when tickets for KISS at Madison Square Garden went on sale in the summer, all four shows sold out in two hours. .Once, all it took to be a music fan in New York was the wit to walk over to CBGB'S, or cab up to Lincoln Center. Now, fans who want an audience with their heroes have to be quick-dial jockeys, poised to pounce on the phone the minute the green ticket flag comes down. It's enough to put a slacker in a sweat.

It is altogether possible that the euphoria of The Sound of Music crowd had much to do with the shock of getting a seat in this sold-out summer. In general, now that big groups can't sate audience demand, smaller bands are lapping up the attention. Alanis Morissette, Hootie & The Blowfish, and The Smashing Pumpkins may be sold out, but the smoky Mercury Lounge will let you in to hear Babe the Blue Ox, or Stinking Lizaveta; the Bitter End will admit you to hear Yuri Naumov's Russian blues or Mike Errico's Friends-y ballads; Fez will grant you booth space to hear Julian Fleisher's Big Band and Dave's True Story. At Sidewalk Cafe, CNN shows up to meet a novelty group called Bicycle, a kind of Chiltonesque Big Star redux, who have just returned from a concert tour which they did - by bike. It is the hour of amateur musicians in New York, and if that is only because fans have a fighting chance of hearing them, you won't hear the musicians objecting.