Music + Revolution: Concert to Celebrate Songs from Greenwich Village in the 1960s at NYC’s SummerStage
By Erik Philbrook, ASCAP Editor in Chief, with Jim Steinblatt • August 8, 2018
Jesse Colin Young, José Feliciano, Maria Muldaur, Nellie McKay, Melanie, Marshall Crenshaw and many more artists join host Richard Barone for a concert that pays tribute to the Greenwich Village scene that produced some of our most timeless and socially-relevant songs.
In the 1960s, NYC’s Greenwich Village was fertile ground for a revolutionary shift in American music history. A new wave of songwriters and artists, inspired by the folk revival of the late 1950s, started writing and performing music there that was introspective, socially and politically aware and deeply personal. The songs that grew out of the scene launched careers and changed the culture; some resonated with audiences as powerfully as those in the Great American Songbook. They still do.
On August 12th, singer-songwriter Richard Barone, who pays tribute to that exciting era on his recent album Sorrows and Promises, will celebrate the lasting musical legacy of that pivotal decade with a free - and freewheeling - concert at Central Park’s Summerstage called “Music + Revolution: Greenwich Village in the 1960s.” The concert, which grew out of a course on the subject that Barone teaches at NYC’s The New School, will feature an eclectic roster of artists from then and now, including ASCAP members Jesse Colin Young, Maria Muldaur, Steve Addabbo, Melanie, Marshall Crenshaw, José Feliciano, Nellie Mckay, Joe McGinty and others performing songs that still speak to audiences today, as well as introductions and commentary by Rolling Stone’s Anthony DeCurtis and historian Stephen Petrus and additional cameo appearances.
We talked to several of the songwriters who are excited to participate in the concert, some who were influential artists in the Greenwich Village singer-songwriter scene, and others who are inspired by it. The following is their edited commentary.MARIA MULDAUR
I grew up on 12th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues. I was in the right place at the right time. The Village was the epicenter of all things hip. A mecca for artists, musicians, sculptors, free spirits of all kinds. I grew up in the heart of that. It was when people in the urban North started discovering and exploring American roots music, most of which emanated from the rural South. Before you knew it, there was this ongoing hootenanny going on in Washington Square Park every Sunday -- people would be playing Bluegrass in one corner, and another group would be playing Old-Timey Appalachian music somewhere else and more people playing Delta Blues in another part of the park. And there was the Alan Block sandal shop scene (on 8th Street), with a lot of people playing fiddle and banjos; people like Mike Seeger and John Cohen of the New Lost City Ramblers. That’s where I first met John Sebastian, who was going to NYU with David Grisman and they were also exploring all kinds of roots music. Next thing you know, they had put together The Even Dozen Jug Band with (Stefan Grossman, Steve Katz and Joshua Rifkin) and invited me to join in 1963. My Village chapter ended as I went on to the Jim Kweskin Jug Band – I’m still at it, onward and upward – and have just recorded my 41st album!
It was like being a little leaguer in a professional baseball park. That’s a good analogy. One of the things that really was exciting about that time was how much you could do with just a voice, a song and a guitar.
My mom worked in Greenwich Village as a jazz singer. I’d go to the clubs with my mother and bring my guitar, play in the street and later in the little folk clubs where they passed the hat. I was always very shy; I don’t even know how I got myself to go in and do it. I just sang and hardly talked. I sang in Washington Square Park and really got big crowds because my voice is so loud that the sheer volume attracted people. This was before all the technological things like amps running on a battery. I didn’t have anything but my own inborn amplifier. I didn’t even carry a guitar case – I just carried my guitar strapped to my back. That was the cool way.
My group, The Youngbloods, was one of the house bands at Café Au Go Go for almost a year. The main reason was that we could rehearse on their stage when the club was dark. One Sunday, I was in the Village walking and I thought maybe the Go Go is dark. And I ran down the stairs. It turned out they were having an “open mic.” There was Buzz Linhart on stage and he was singing “Get Together.” I went backstage and said, “I’ve got to have the lyrics, would you write them out for me?” I took the song into rehearsal with The Youngbloods the next day. I had met my future and was smart enough and lucky enough to recognize it. What were the chances that I would walk into that club and hear “Get Together?” Pretty slim, I’d say. The song is a treasure. There was magic in the studio – it’s a five minute song, so there was no pressure to make a hit, so to speak. We just made a piece of musical art. There is something very pure about that recording. There was no hard sell. We just kind of put it forward – those beautiful musical ideas and those brilliant, poetic lyrics.
What I was getting as a kid in terms of folk music was the superficial stuff that was on Top 40. But then again, there was “Blowin’ in the Wind” by Peter, Paul & Mary. That was an important song, not watered down like some of the folk stuff that didn’t have much depth. As the 60s wore on, there were a lot of good protest songs that were anti-war and anti-oppression that got to be hit records. I think the music of the mid-60s also was rebellious. There were a lot of great writers of that time.
Well, I think it was an awakening. I think the drugs and the politics kind of collided and created a kaleidoscope of sound. And you can’t take that out of the music. It informs the music and invigorates and creates it.
I was a “popper” rather than a folkie or a rocker, although my very first guitar lessons were out of The Weavers’ songbook. I was no great folk lover in my early days. I started playing guitar in 8th or 9th grade and the Beatles hit soon after that – and that pretty much took over my musical consciousness. Certainly, when James Taylor and Jackson Browne came in there was a change -- but I wanted to be lead guitar player in a band with long hair. When I was in college I was more exposed to Joni Mitchell and then discovered Eric Andersen, who used to play at Max’s Kansas City. I later played with him and produced records for him but back then I was a fan and really loved his Blue River album. I was always drawn to the singer-songwriter style but not necessarily the heavy folkie stuff.
I don’t know if there will ever be a scene in New York City like Greenwich Village again. Things are spread out a little too much now. But on the other hand, there are still young people moving here, and trying to be creative and make their music. I still see amazing performers. I still believe that people who really want to be here, find a way to make it work, whether they have to live in Queens or live with four other people. I don’t think the scene is dead, like some believe, but I don’t know whether we will ever see a juggernaut like we experienced back then.
I think the songs of that era are still really current and I think that having a mixed cast of age groups performing them at the concert makes it unique because so many of these shows turn out to be nostalgia events. This is about the enduring relevance of that music and why it should be considered, in my mind, part of the Great American Songbook.
I’ll be doing a couple of songs by Richard and Mimi Fariña. One will be “Bold Marauder,” about imperialism, which, again, is alive and well. Then the other one, “House Un-American Blues Activity Dream,” is a reference to the first wave of McCarthyism. But now we are in a second wave of a kind.
I met a lot of people I only dreamed about: Peter, Paul and Mary, Bob Gibson. Believe it or not, Tiny Tim was there as well. And Tiny Tim had a partner whose name was Moondog. Buffy Ste-Marie, who at the time was living with a fellow named Pat Sky, who was a folksinger. Anybody could take a guitar then and be classified as a folk singer. In my case, it was a mistaken identity because I wasn’t a folk guitar player. I could play guitar, to put it simply.
One theme we’re celebrating is the idea of the singer-songwriter movement. It was a turning point in the music industry in the early ‘60s when, en masse, artists started writing their own songs. I mean, that was a major shift in the music industry. This idea of expressing yourself politically or just about relationships or sexual identity, all of these things, the Village was the birthplace of that.
I played the guitar, had long hair and wore those buffalo hide sandals with the thong in the middle, so I qualified as a beatnik folksinger. I wasn’t entirely a folksinger because I had these other influences, like Billie Holiday, Peggy Lee, Edith Piaf and Lotte Lenya. You can hear a bit of Kurt Weill in some of my songs. I wanted to sound like Joan Baez – I tried but it never came out right. I loved Judy Henske – she had a belting voice. When I heard her, I thought there was hope for me. Her voice communicated so much passion, I can’t believe people don’t know her today.
I am connected with Suzanne Vega and her career – but I never really considered her folk. There were real diehards among the Fast Folk group who were Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie followers and there were people like Suzanne and Shawn Colvin, who were bending the rules, using the format to express more personal and emotional subjects than political ones. When Suzanne had her success. I was happy to be part of it. For me, it was a nice confluence of lives coming together. We both needed each other. I was able to help her in the studio with her voice and talent and we got a major label deal. After “Luka” became a worldwide hit, I was able to purchase Shelter Island Sound Studios and also started working with Shawn Colvin and I met Eric Andersen and produced his album, Ghosts Upon the Road. Eric can’t be part of our SummerStage show, but I’ll be representing him and sing a duet of his “Close the Door Lightly When You Go” with Richard.
I’m going to perform a song Richard Barone chose for me, written by Phil Ochs – “I Ain’t Marching Anymore.” Phil Ochs was a righteous person who put himself in jeopardy for things he believed in. It will be good for my spirit to learn that song and sing it.
I live on Waverly Place in the Village. One thing about this neighborhood, and it’s in the music that came out of it in the ‘60s, is that it’s an old neighborhood, an immigrant neighborhood. My building was built back in 1868. That combination of the totally space-age ‘60s combined with something traditional and old is how we got this music. So many songwriters back then wrote in an older style. A lot of that was the folk revival but a lot of it was the way they were living because, to the writers in the ‘60s, it felt like 100 years earlier. So the Village songs had one foot in tradition and one foot in the modern world. That was a really important dynamic that happened. It created hit songs.
Music + Revolution: Greenwich Village in the 1960s will take place on Sunday, August 12th, 2018 from 7pm to 10pm at SummerStage, Central Park, Rumsey Playfield, Manhattan, 10021