Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Publicity making its way around (some)town

Thank you Ann Rebecca for talking up the bash....see you there!
Woman Around Town

Thank you Susan Green for getting me in touch with Bob Yellin and sewing up a nice story for your Green Mountain neighbors....see you there too!
Folk City at 50: Vermont musicians recall N.Y. club as concert celebrates its legacy


Weather permitting, five decades ago acoustic musicians regularly congregated for Sunday afternoon jam sessions in New York's Washington Square Park.

In 1960, the Greenbriar Boys were belting out bluegrass tunes there on May 29. Someone invited the trio to perform the very next night at the debut of Gerde's Folk City, a new Greenwich Village venue on West 4th Street. That's how banjo wizard Bob Yellin, an Underhill resident since 1985, recalls the start of his former band's professional career.

None of them realized they were making history. And the ensemble had no inkling that another Gerde's gig, in September of 1961, would propel their opening act into the stratosphere: Bob Dylan was "discovered" at the show because a New York Times critic wrote a rave review and a record deal quickly followed.

The smoke-filled cultural mecca owned by Mike Porco relocated to West 3rd Street in 1971 and closed in 1987, seven years after he'd sold the place. But his grandson, Bob Porco, will host a June 7 commemorative gathering at that site, now home to the Fat Black Pussycat and the Village Underground.

Folk City at 50 is the name he's given to the nostalgic anniversary shindig, where the sound system is expected to be state-of the art. Was it at least adequate for the Greenbriar Boys' initial appearance at the club's original locale?

"Are you kidding? We're talking about an event that occurred a half-century ago," notes Yellin, whose subsequent Joint Chiefs of Bluegrass would gain a significant Vermont following during the late 1980s. "As far as I remember, there was a good-sized crowd, and we all played for free."

Gerde's is where the president of Vanguard, a prestigious folk label, came to see the Greenbriar Boys -- ultimately paid by Porco for their performances -- before signing them. The group's first album was released in 1962.

The well-regarded watering hole also helped launch Richie Havens, Jose Feliciano, Emmylou Harris, Arlo Guthrie, Simon and GarfunkelpastedGraphic_2.pdf, and Peter, Paul and Mary. Robert De Cormier, who now lives in Belmont and directs the Vermont Symphony Orchestra Chorus, served as the three-member folk combo's music director for almost 30 years.

He frequented Gerde's back in the day. "It was a very exciting time," says De Cormier, a veteran of the folk scene even before what's considered the "revival" period of the late 1950s and early '60s. "When I got out of the Army in 1946, I met Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly and Paul Robeson."

These legendary artists created the foundation for what successors, such as Dylan, would eventually contribute to the zeitgeist. For Yellin, the touchstone proved to be Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, Southern bluegrass virtuosos who inspired him to begin learning the genre while he was still in high school.

But Mike Porco at first probably had little familiarity with any of those names. He was an Italian immigrant who, with three of his cousins, established Gerde's as a restaurant that employed instrumentalists only to provide a soothing atmosphere for patrons who came to eat and drink.

In November 1959, Porco and some additional business partners temporarily reinvented Gerde's as the Fifth Peg, which featured vocalists. Inaugurated as Folk City six months later, the club arguably was Lower Manhattan's first real showcase for rural roots music and its urban counterpart.

Monday evening hootenannies were especially popular with ragtag troubadours who attracted a bohemian clientele. A generation of Americans had begun to resist the stifling conformity of the 1950s, a movement that included a passion for songs about righting society's wrongs.

"Gerde's was an immediate success," says Bob Porco. "New York and Greenwich Village needed a legitimate stage. After Folk City, everyone else began holding open-mike nights and paying union wages."

When the building was condemned in 1971, the operation moved to what was once "a seedy strip joint" at 130 W. 3rd St. The folk scene had changed, rock 'n' roll assumed ascendancy and Vietnam protests diminished.

"Everybody plugged in after a while," Bob Porco says, "but the political spirit was gone from the music. Nobody had anything to be really pissed about anymore once the war was over."

Something happened to restore Gerde's to its former glory for a few years before fading again in the wake of disco and punk. Dylan, the conquering hero, returned Oct. 25, 1975. He chose the nightspot to announce his upcoming Rolling Thunder Revue (a cross-country tour that made a November stop in Burlington). Roger McGuinn, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Joan Baez and Bette Midler were on hand at Folk City to offer a few tunes, along with Bruce Springsteen -- who had flown in expressly for Mike Porco's simultaneous surprise 61st birthday party.

Yellin had his own unanticipated visit from an old pal when he moved his family to Israel two years after the Greenbriar Boys broke up in 1967.

"One day on the kibbutz, who comes by but Bob Dylan!" Yellin says. "He was giving a concert somewhere in Israel. The kibbutz was never the same after that."

And some might contend the world was never the same after Dylan put Gerde's on the map so long ago.

Bob Porco, a personal trainer, has temporarily set aside writing a biography of his grandfather to concentrate on arrangements for June's landmark event. He grew up in the 1980s crazy for heavy metal, but lately has been steeping himself more than ever in Grandpa Mike's milieu.

"It's as if I'm taking a crash course in Dave Van Ronk and Reverend Gary Davis," he says, referring to two stars from the great Gerde's pantheon. "I'm enjoying that ride."

1 comment:

  1. I remember playing open mic nite at Folk City on W.3rd st--I also was booked there as part of ELEPHANTS MEMORY in the 70's. I was friends of friemds w/ Mike Porco's son. and found out about Bob Dylan's secretive opening there of the Rolling Thunder Review. So I got there early.signed a release (they were filming)-When Bob Joan and Rob played I jumped on the baby grand--Dylan looked overatme, and instead of hjaving me REMOVED, he had his sound man set up a mic onto the piano I was playing!