Thursday, October 22, 2015

40 YEARS AGO- ROLLING THUNDER at FOLK CITY on Mike Porco's Birthday

Bobby Dylan

In October of 1975, Mr. Dylan was hanging around the Village quite often.
He was wrapping up his recording sessions for the DESIRE album and was spending time
with lyricist and Broadway producer, Jaques Levy, in New York. They were plotting a tour. What kind of tour…?
only they knew.

Dylan had returned to the road with The Band in 1974. His most critically acclaimed album,
(perhaps ever)
BLOOD ON THE TRACKS, was on the store shelves for less than a year. The Basement tapes
had finally been released only 4 months prior.
His fans were eager for more. He had returned to the front of the pack with a vengeance. 
Any ol' tour could have satisfied. But Dylan had something majestic in mind.

Jack Hardy, Odetta, Mike Porco

Well, it turned out that Mike Porco was having a birthday.
Folksinger Jack Hardy had it in mind to gather some of Mike's friends
(read: musicians) and throw him a surprise party at his own club.

Thursday October 23rd 1975 was his 61st birthday. Mathematicians and can
deduce that today would be Mike's 101st birthday.

We had a 100th party for Grandpa last year. BUT TODAY
being born this day 40 years ago at FOLK CITY.

David Amram, David Massengill, Rob Stoner amongst Mike Porco's friends
celebrating Mike's 100th last year

So….back to 1975!
Jack Hardy quietly spread word around that Mike will have a surprise serenade for
his birthday.
Word travels fast in this small town. Mike's old friend and prodigal son, Bob Dylan,
got wind of the bash and
decided that ''tonight is the night.'' The tour he was plotting with Levy
will be brought to the light at Folk City.


Dylan had confided in his DESIRE bass player, Rob Stoner, that, with some help,
''auditions'' were going to be held at Folk City for the stage show
he had planed with Levy.
There was nothing specific discussed, but like lightning, a buzz was generated around NYC
that Dylan was going to crash Hardy's party for Mike.

Dylan also had it in mind to record the entire tour on film. This night would
become part of the film Renaldo and Clara.
Cameras and lights were set up at Folk City with a little lie told to Mike
that it was for a documentary on Folk Music.
Rob (Rothstein) Stoner

Larry 'Ratso' Sloman

The main word-spreaders of this historic event were Larry "Ratso'' Sloman and
Songwriter, David Blue. 
Within hours, ''every Folk singer you could imagine'' descended on Folk City
to become a part of this happening.
Some other luminaries also came to sing and hang out. Bette Midler, Patti Smith,
Eric Andersen, Tom Waits and Allen Ginsberg were there.

Young Ratso

Bob Neuwirth

T-Bone Burnette, Rosie, Phil Ochs

Allen Ginsberg

Ramblin' Jack Elliott

As it turned out, every Folk singer (except for Dave Van Ronk)
really did show up for the party. It went into the wee hours with Phil Ochs
taking the stage as the Friday sun was dawning.
But in the hours (and hours!) prior to that, Folk City was,
as Rob Stoner told me for my documentary
''The very nexus of the cultural universe.''

Buzzy Linhart and Bette Midler sang 'Friends.' Patti Smith sang.
Eric Andersen performed. Ramblin' Jack, Ginsberg and a slew of others,
including the regularly scheduled acts of 
Nancy Lee Baxter and Jack Hardy performed.

Of course, everyone was waiting for Dylan and he didn't disappoint.
He took the stage with the Queen of Folk, Joan Baez, for the first time
in years. They sang 'One too many mornings' and an old traditional tune.
The crowd who was there still talks about this occasion to this day
with utter amazement.

How could Bob Dylan, at the height of his career, choose a 3rd Street bar to kickoff 
an historic tour like Rolling Thunder
Well, Mike Porco was his friend. Gerde's Folk City was where it ALL began for him.
It was the best place to showcase it. 
And Mike's birthday…well, it wasn't forgotten. Happy Birthday was sung for him
about a dozen times that night.
Footage of the cake and a warm hug between
Bob and Grandpa was taken by the crew and seen by me 39 years later.

And the tour itself…?
Well, let's just say, it's history now. 

Porco, Dylan, Andersen, Baez

David Blue, Bette Midler, Ginsberg

Momma Dylan, Baez, Dylan, Stoner

was a concert ending the first big leg of the Revue.
As with all the shows in this Medicine Show, each performer asked to come on tour
played a set of their own followed by a set of Dylan culminating
in a final sing along and bow.

At The Night of the Hurricane, Dylan's mother, Mike Porco and virtually
everyone else ''behind the scenes'' were invited on stage for the finale.

Madison Square Garden. Packed house. Italian immigrant and steadfast supporter
of Folk and Blues, Mike Porco, finally realized what it was like
to be applauded by 19,000. A hug from Bob Dylan was enough for him
and that's what he got.


Mike Porco, Bob Dylan
Folk City