Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Slow train comin'

The test begins...

Still, I have to fetch the data. Some musicians have asked...now what?

To that I say: You tell me

....well. Not quite. I have an idea but it's a-ways off. Be patient right along with me. Thank you.

There are only several earthlings ever to read this but I'll let you know that I'm going down to the East Village Thursday to pick up more digital photos. Later that day, I'll get back to midtown to discuss the conversion of the DV tapes to watchable DVDs. Paul Lovelace's staff of Cathryne and Hilary took 7+7+1 hours of video none of which I've seen. Paul directed The Holy Modal Rounders' film Bound to Lose and is working on Radiounamable about Big Bob Fass. I'm sure the footage will be something incredible....even the first hour with motormouth Bob Sr being quite incapable of shutting the fuck up as we took a walk to 4th and Mercer and back. Mother F¥%@er

then I'll get the digital audio to put on ice for a spell.

I've had the pleasure of watching the single shot DVD version taken from the Village Underground soundboard perch. Multitrack sound. New things picked up on with each new viewing. Some people stayed to watch over 6 hours of music. To my recollection, I don't remember any musicians beyond Mark Dann, Frank Christian and Peggy Atwood see over 35 sets...maybe all of them. A few left for dinner and came back. A few left early. A few came late....all as expected....but I noticed Peggy during my welcome and intro at 7:00 and wound up onstage again with her, Frank, Mark, Nick Holmes, Rod MacDonald and an unknown tom-Tom player at 1:30. I missed an awful lot. Sounds like it was a good show.

I know it was because I saw the replay. Some unbelievable moments caught in a live stream. Lots of set up time and getting mic happy to get cut out but from there....one-by-one...songs delivered with such care and honetsy.

I will share copies with musicians only first. I ask others to please n't ask "when" copies are being made. I don't know. I'm not sure if. And that's not to mention that at this writing, I don't even have the data all collected in one place. Like I said, slow train comin'

Friday, June 18, 2010

Shot in the arm

Something in my veins, bloodier than blood
Something in my veins, bloodier than blood
Something in my veins, bloodier than blood
Something in my veins, bloodier than blood

Monday, June 14, 2010

Review from the locally rolled paper

Positively 3rd Street

Reminiscing is a human trait. No other animal has the ability to pay such homage to the past as we do. There are memorable dates in history and then there are not so memorable dates. Many dates in history are owned solely by one event that took place or by one person's accomplishment.

Take March 2, 1962 for instance. Basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain, playing for the lowly Philadelphia Warriors, scored an insane 100 individual points in a meaningless game against the New York Knicks. It was played in Hershey, PA where the paid attendance was exactly 4,124 people.

The still unsurpassed feat was historic and has been since the final buzzer. Over the years, thousands more would claim to have been there, too.

On that day, Paul Paulson headlined a less memorable booking at Gerdes Folk City.

Historical claim to the 15th, 16th and 17th days of August 1969 belongs to a music festival visible from space called Woodstock. Big, little Yasgur's farm in Bethel, NY hosted the unforgettable event where an astounding 186,000 tickets were sold and an even more amazing 400,000(!) people were estimated to have seen Gerdes Folk City alumni Richie Havens, Arlo Guthrie and Jimi Hendrix perform. (yes Jimi played the Village) Probably a million more folks have claimed to be at this watershed moment in American history.

That week, the (in)comparable Will Street played a(n) (un)forgettable 12 set stint at Gerdes Folk City.

Incidentally, Gerdes' owner, Mike Porco, was less than 3 months away from meeting his 7th grandchild, Robert Jr. As it turned out, forty years later this same Bob Porco would coordinate appearances by 40 former Folk City performers in a music filled tribute to his late grandfather and his night club.

June 7 of this year brought us a game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals between the Flyers and Blackhawks; a record breaking 8 three point shots by Celtic Ray Allen in the NBA Finals against the Lakers and a record-tying 11 one-run games in Major League Baseball. But Gerdes Folk City, which has lain silent for 23 years, once again came alive with perhaps one the most memorable concerts ever to take place in New York's Greenwich Village.

Its been Fifty years since Mike Porco first invited aspiring singer songwriters to come in from the cold to perform for a paying gig and a warm meal at his Italian restaurant on 4th and Mercer. On a gorgeous night this past Monday, some forty Folk and Rock dignitaries came back to the Village's former headquarters to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Porco's eatery morphing into what Bob Dylan called in his autobiography, Chronicles, "the preeminent Folk Club in America."

Bobby Dylan would know. He began his career at Gerdes. As did countless others like Arlo Guthrie, Phil Ochs, Simon and Garfunkel, Judy Collins, Emmylou Harris, José Feliciano, Tom Paxton, Steve Forbert, Suzanne Vega, John Hammond Jr., Rod MacDonald, Willie Nile and a host of others.

None of the performers there on June 7 would dispute Dylan's claim. Nor would the roughly 200 patrons who came to what is now The Village Underground to witness a gathering of Greenwich Village royalty not soon to be forgotten.

That's right. Just around 200 (musicians included!) got chance of a lifetime to see and hear some of the living breathing legends of the New York Music Scene from the 1960s and 70s perform in the flesh on stage. Hardly a ripple was felt in the mainstream news wires but organizer Bob Porco said it will be looked back upon as one of the greatest evenings 3rd Street has ever seen.

"It would simply be impossible to duplicate. I'll never be able to pick a date in the future that would just happen to fit into the schedule of such busy musicians." When asked how it took place, Porco quickly answered, "An inner muse opened my eyes and inspired me to seize the moment. The planets aligned for this reunion, no question,"

The daunting task of recruiting so many performers (not only musicians as spoken word artist Poez and comedian-poet Steve Ben Isreal also took the stage) for one night was made easier by the living memory of Bob's grandfather. He felt that there was an immediate level of trust formed between everyone he contacted because Mike was fair and honest with all of them when they were starting out.

"I was shocked at how accessible they all were," Bob said adding that social networking website Facebook was essential in finding several luminaries. "So many of them simply replied back with their home phone numbers and addresses. Suze Rotolo said I had a magic name. I was inspired to keep going. "

The Porco name had been useful when he began to work on his original project back in November of '09. "I had already been at work conducting interviews for a bio on Mike Porco. I just had to backtrack and contact everyone again to tell them of the possibility of a reunion." Many of the performers responded with firm confirmations right from the get-go. Porco was confident that he could make something of the artist's offering of their time.

Like his grandfather 50 years before, opportunity fell into Bob's lap. Perhaps channeling Mike Porco's fortuative nature, Bob gladly took the ball and ran with it.

He recalls the moment the plan took shape. On February 19th of this year, he sat upstairs at the corner of the bar in the very space that was once Folk City, The Fat Black Pussycat. "I met Vincent Vok for a drink before going to watch Richie Havens at Carnegie Hall. We thought it would be cool to just get everyone together again. Then we thought it would be better if they brought their guitars".

Vok, along with Emmylou Harris and sisters Maggie and Terre Roche, had the distinction of not only performing for Mike Porco, but of also once being on the payroll as employees. A friendship between Vok and the younger Porco budded quickly. Stealing a line from the movie, Field of Dreams, Vok told Porco, "if you build it, they will come." Laughter ensued but, in their minds, the Anniversary party had been born.

The very next morning, the venue for the reunion was tentatively secured via an email exchange between Bob and Fat Black Pussycat/ Village Underground proprietor Noam Dworman. Noam was well aware of the musical provenance of his W3rd Street bar and offered his space to be a part of history. Dworman's late father, Manny, was an acquaintance of Mike Porco when they were both booking acts in their respective clubs.

Originally touted as a once-in-a-lifetime gathering of the stars that made Gerdes what it was, the 50th Anniversary Reunion certainly lived up to its billing. Porcofest, as it was dubbed by the show's last scheduled performer Erik Frandsen, filled the Village Underground with a slew of traditional and original songs all performed one-by-one by the super star line up.

The audience was first wowed by the parade of arrivals into the downstairs venue. Porco recalls his time spent at the ticket booth when the doors opened:

"I didn't anticipate the rush of volunteers, artists and concert goers all coming down at the same time wanting to say hello. I had communicated with many of them by email or phone only." With a robust chuckle he adds, "hardly any of them knew what I looked like."

Some performers were known to Bob from his days conducting face-to-face interviews. Eric Weissberg, Happy Traum, Terre Roche, Frank Christian, Jack Hardy and Rod MacDonald were a few of the early arrivals to receive a hug from the party's host. Many others who had been in contact with Porco frequently had still only learned what he looked like upon arrival. Some were greeted by happenstance.

"I just happened to be walking upstairs when Sylvia Tyson strode in. I stood up and said, 'you're Sylvia!' and she said 'yes. And YOU are?'" A mandatory hug followed between past phone interviewee and host. Bob then carried her guitar case and escorted her to a comfortable place to sit.

"I knew this show was a big deal when people stopped to see her come through and I overheard folks whispering her name. By then the place was packed. I couldn't believe it!"

Vince Martin, Richard Chanel, Jonathan Kalb, Willie Nininger, Biff Rose, Sally Spring, Nick Holmes and several others finally put a face to the name at the bottom of those stairs. When Judy Gorman approached, she politely asked "are you Bob?" before handing him flowers. "I never got flowers before. I was humbled."

Bob also had a little fun with his anonymity. "I teased Bev Grant that she had to pay to get in and she looks at me like 'who is this idiot?!'

Five minutes before showtime, everyone figured out who the host was as he took to the platform stage to say a few opening remarks. The show started with a brief warm welcome complete with audio played on the house speakers from a radio interview Mike Porco conducted in that very same space some 31 years earlier when it was his small office.

In it, Mike accepted the label of being the "father" to many of the Village musicians while cheekily admitting, "I may be their father but I never met their mothers". Many in attendance listened with looks of satisfaction to hear his voice once more.

In closing, Mike's grandson predicted that Folk City's finest moment has yet to take place. "I think we're all about to witness it tonight and experience it together as it happens."


A few dozen die hard music lovers were still there to hear Rod MacDonald pay tribute to Phil Ochs with a tranquil and heartfelt "Pleasures of the Harbor" and David Massengill perform his timeless masterpiece "Road to Fairfax County." The evening finally wrapped up some 6 hours from showtime- forty five minutes after Mr. Frandsen left the stage- with a seven person rendition of "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," a song written by Gerdes' favorite son.

It's likely that none of the guests that night will argue with Bob Porco's earlier claim about Gerdes Folk City carving a new place for itself in today's world. Vince Martin, one of the night's many highlights, said that it satisfied a long time itch. The scores of patrons who got wind of the event are likely to never forget it. It was as joyous and cheerful as many a year at the old Folk City was said to be.

Only time will tell how many others will claim to have "been there" to witness the magic as it unfolded. And the few who know the truth won't mind their inclusion. It was something special and should be shared with everyone- both those who couldn't make it and those who could no longer be with us in person.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Gerdes Folk City at 50 on the WWW

Frank Beacham's Journal coverage: HERE

Getty Images: HERE

Google search for the Anniversary: HERE

YouTube Search: HERE

Brian Rose blog coverage: HERE

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Still in recovery mode...

The mandate was to have a blast...enjoy the opportunity to the fullest...stay til the bitter end of the night...encourage the A-game performances...share it with all...capture the history as it was being made...


The last troupe of musicians and I were politely asked to wrap up the show with a suggestion from the manager of the venue saying, "you've got to stop this...we've got to clean up"...to which I relayed to Rod MacDonald, "let's play two more"...which he heard me to say, "Let's do one more and a medley." Nick Holmes tried to start a 12 bar blues but to no avail.

I was then happily taken (or is it token) along to the next stop by Rod, Nick, Mark Dann and David Massengill to Mr. Frandsen's abode where a few more tunes were most seriously enjoyed.

Overheard at the Faux Chateaux..."Well, I've had a wonderful time and it looks as though the clock is going on 3:30. I was wondering when you all were going to start considering getting the fuck out of my apartment." Ever the gentleman.

Still time for a pizza slice and/or falafel in the Village.

I must say, I DID finally learn one of life's great lessons that morning: You can't have a hangover if you don't go to sleep

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Porcofest. A weekly hoot?

Well, somehow I ended up on a bench outside grand central at 4:45 in the morn. Not the first time but certainly the first with so much shit to carry. At least it's a nice night.....day....

Pale Sun is illuminating building tops.

Gonna be waiting for who knows how long. I'll check the schedule in a half hour. No trains running. That's a given. Last time I was down here with a guitar was during the blackout in '03. Caroline was pregnant with Angelina and I didn't even have a cell phone. I had eight dollars. But for some weird reason, I decided to bring my guitar down that day. I don't play well but well enough to entertain myself. I parlayed a few songs for a corona at tequillaville on Vanderbilt. I then walked back to the upper east and slept at work. But now I'm here with a suitcase and guitars. I should play. It's getting noisy.

How can I sum up tonight? Impossible. The room sounded like one instrument. Seamless performances. Jaw dropping-type shit. Stop-and-make-you-stare type shit. WOW. And a special appearance by Mr. Bromberg. The room was coming apart at the seems at times.....very quietly at times. Unexpectedly at times. But definitely most of the time.

Some images are burned in my mind. No camera caught the after hours living room session after porcofest. No one saw me meet almost all the performers for the first time. I introduced Sylvia Tyson to my wife and sister....I hugged many a man tonight. I kissed dominic chianese's cheeks. I guess I'm on the books here at folk city.

A good goddamed great time was had by all whether they wanted to or not. Those in that room had certainly expressed themselves to the performers. It was magical. Not a cut less.

Thank you all for coming and enjoying yourselves. To think this kind of thing took place every once in a while at folk city is astounding. Just priceless people and good times. Well done, porcofesters

Thursday, June 3, 2010

F* the new York times

Not something they'd cover, they say.....

I'll make it more clear for them.

I'll say it in a way any fifth grader can grasp:
The names scheduled to appear are not coming to just "hang out"....these are the FCKN living, breathing GIANTS of the Greenwich Village Folk Scene. They are going to perform on stage one by fkg one all night...or at least until you figure out that you've missed something...and then they will play some more.

If anyone has an" in" with that dishtowel, tell them this is their last chance. The world can't fit in that shoebox but the world should know about Porcofest. They may have to close the thruway again

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."

I snuck Happy's name in there....

Yes....I'm sure many of you noticed Happy Traum added to the line up post last week. Unfortunately, Pat Sky has engagements elsewhere and won't be able to join us....but we've added Happy, Guy Davis, Sally Spring, Su Polo, Joe Virga and John McEuen.....one step back. Six steps forward. More info to be blogged upon soon.

(a VIP list has been started in case it becomes crowded early...to limit your wait on the street, contact folkcity50@gmail.com so you can get priority....those who've been in direct contact with me are already on the list)