I just finished reading The Mayor of MacDougal Street a memoir by Dave Van Ronk (with Elijah Wald). Much of the book is about the folk music revival centered in Greenwich Village in the early 1960’s, or as Utah Phillips referred to it: “The Great Folk Scare”.
I came up in the music biz around 1970 with my band called Revival (named after the afore mentioned folk revival). We were more like The Lovin’ Spoonful or a country rock outfit like Poco than a folk group like Peter, Paul And Mary, but our roots were firmly in the Greenwich Village scene. I met Van Ronk on several occasions and saw him perform at The Gaslight, Folk City and later on in the 1980’s at the Speakeasy. I missed the heyday of “The Village” by a full decade but there was still an echo of that musical revolution in the air as we played the clubs, walked the streets and hung out with the other musicians and songwriters of our generation.
Dave and his memoir were partially the inspiration for the Coen Brothers film Inside Llewyn Davis. As a result, musicians like Dave, Tom Paxton, Joni Mitchell, Phil Ochs, Joan Baez, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and of course Dylan are being talked about a lot in the media today.
(Quick aside: Van Ronk offered to introduce me and a friend to Joni late one night while we were sitting at a bar. I was just too star struck and nervous to take him up on it. Boy, do I regret that!)
As fortune would have it, I closed out my year on stage at Symphony Hall with Tom Rush for his annual Club 47 Concert. On the bill this year were performers from that era: The Jim Kweskin Jug Band featuring Geoff and Maria Muldaur and Bill Keith. Also on stage with us were Sarah Lee Guthrie (Arlo’s daughter and Woody’s grand daughter) and her husband Johnny Irion, plus one of my all time favorite songwriters and guitarists Patty Larkin.
It’s a mini folk festival with everyone catching up or getting to know each other. Performers sit in with one another, creating interesting combinations of players and songs. Patty brought a modern electric edge to the evening while Sarah Lee and Johnny reminded me of funky Richard And Mimi Fariña. She rocks a mean shaker and he’s a killer guitarist. (See below) It’s a delightful evening for the fans and musicians alike.
Backstage, there were lots of stories and laughs going ‘round. Maria regaled us youngsters with tales of her early Village days. Like when she and Geoff were playing in one of the coffee houses and a couple of well-connected wise guys strolled in off the street. Many of the Village clubs I should point out were “mobbed up”.
Wise Guy: “Waddayou guys playin’? Is dat folk music?”
Maria: “Uh… yes it is”
Wise Guy: “Waddayou called?”
Maria: “Uh… The Washington Square Ramblers” (She nervously made up the name on the spot)
Wise Guy: “Youse want a job? Twenty bucks a piece dis Saturday on Long Island.”
A little nervous but thrilled by the offer, they did the gig. After all, they had never been paid that much! So, for at least one Saturday night Sinatra took a back seat to jug band music.
Anyway, one of the highlights of this Club 47 performance was an impromptu rendition of Auld Lang Syne arranged and led by Bill Keith on banjo. He dedicated it to musician friends who have passed like Fritz Richmond from the original Kweskin Jug Band. Twenty three hundred strong in the audience sang along. Ya can’t beat that sound.