Saturday, January 29, 2011

Bob Dylan plays at the Folklore Center for the first time 1.29.61

Isreal G. Young- Godfather of Folk

here's a bit on his link to Gerdes'

It's been said with much acuracy and historical fact that without Izzy Young, there would be no Folk City. After all, it was his idea to formally hire acts and headline them at Gerdes' Restaurant at 11 west 4th. He and business partner Tom Prendergas approached Grandpa in December of 1959 to encourage him to use his place as a venue to book the up-and-coming acts that were performing elsewhere in the neighborhood. It was a match made in Heaven for the Folk crowd and Porco, but not so for Porco and Young.

Isreal Young was the eccentric owner of The Folklore Center located at 110 Macdougal Street. It was known by all the musicians and tourists alike as the place one could go into and buy everything related to Folk Music. He sold everything he thought musicians and music enthusiasts would want. His patrons were the musicians themselves along with everyone else who paraded around the streets of Greenwich Village. His store became a destination for tourists and Musicians since there was enough space to sit and play their music without having to purchase very much. Izzy never treated anyone like a freeloader. He loved the music and he loved the people who played it. They, in turn, loved Izzy. In fact, he became a sort of promoter to some in a happenstance definition of the word. His crowning acheivement was producing Bobby Dylan's Carnegie Hall concert in 1961. Fifty three (or was it 56?) tickets were sold and Dylan was paid duly from Isreal Young's pocket. 

The village back then had a scant many bars that had a New York State liquors license. Places like Cafe Wha?, the Gaslight and several others relied upon the blend of Beatniks and the growing folk crowd to keep the register open with sales of french fries and coffee while the stages showcased alternating acts of poets and singers. The musicians who needed a place to play would carry their guitar and playlist club to club, night after night. The patrons tended to do the same in search of a newer scene, prettier faces or just better music.

Some joints were known as "baskethouses" since everyone performed for free and passed their own hat, as it were, to collect pay for their performance. Usually this required a trusted friend to act as part accountant and part salesperson. Pretty girls encouraged bigger tips, so said new comer and former portrait artist Richie Havens. 

Baskethouses got the reputation for being the places where beggars who played guitar melded their trades. Many players paid their rent just this way and an exceptional few, like Havens, made quite a living playing as many as a dozen different houses a night. However, it just wasn't the way for big dreamers to get their careers off the ground. They were to be more successful at promoting their musical message at the more "upscale" coffeehouse circuit.

Problem was, there wasn't any real upscale circuit to speak of. The Wha?, The Gaslight, The Bitter End, The Kettle of Fish to name a few, were the more sought after rooms to play since they were almost fully transformed into Music-only venues. The Beat poets were losing ground to the steady stream of singer/songwriters/street performers making their way in to the clubs from out in the Park. Unfortunately for Young, the Folklore Center was ill-suited to showcase acts and house an audience at the same time.

But Gerdes' restaurant seemed ripe for such an adventure. Mike Porco had already been hiring various solo acts to play there on a regular basis to provide background sound for the blue collar eatery. Accordian and guitar players would skulk around during dinner hours. At the time, Porco had a loyal customer base of factory workers and students who would eat there during the day while during the Happy Hours, Gerdes' would be open serving up beer and liquor and exceptional Italian food to the locals. Even so, closing time would still take place around 8PM.

Izzy and Tom saw an opportunity staring them in their faces. Young already knew all the musicians and they could utilize Gerdes' liquor license to service and entertain a steady and thirsty crowd with select acts charging for admission at the door. Their plan was to hire the acts, promote the gig, and pay the musicians while offering Mike all the profit on food and drink sales. It would come to be known as The Fifth Peg at Gerdes'.

The math from the start was fuzzy. Gerdes held under a hundred patrons and were being charged $1.50 for entry. The headliners got $20 and the cost for up front promotion wasn't cheap. They quite literally needed to sell out every night to make their money back. As Izzy later put it, it was a win/lose situation: Izzy and Tom couldn't win and Mike couldn't lose.

(more on the transformation from the Fifth Peg turning into Folk City later...)

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