Thursday, August 26, 2010

From Jean To David

A mountain dulcimer player from Tennessee came to New York in the summer of 1976 with five songs and a dream. He dreamt of catching on to and being part of whatever movement was taking place in the Village. He had become aware of some sort of Folk Music revival after seeing coverage in Rolling Stone magazine about Bobby Dylan's Greenwich Village kick off to the Rolling Thunder Revue. The party, held at Folk City on the 23rd of October 1975, doubled as a surprise 61st birthday party for Mike Porco. Whatever scene he had heard being dead and gone seemed to be alive and well and still residing on West 3rd Street.

So with his heart on the mend from a breakup, his gumption and dulcimer polished, he drove his 64 Ford to NYC bound by aspirations to see what it would be like to be a real live Folk singer.

It wasn't long before David Massengill got up enough nerve to get on stage to show the world what he could do with a dulcimer and five songs. After seeing a couple of open mic performances in town, he decided to try his luck on stage at a place called the Dugout. Sometime during one of his two song set, it was quietly suggested to him that he leave the stage at the bequest of management who seemed to like only guitarists. It would be a month or so before he stepped onto a stage again. This time it would be at Folk City.

In the meantime, David had watched the famed Monday Hoots from afar judging for himself whether or not he was good enough to perform in front of a live crowd. The first act one night was John Macandoe.

"Macandoe was just unbelievable and I said to myself, 'I can't be on stage if this is what I'm up against,'" David recalled. "But then the next guy was just awful and I then thought that I would at least be better than him. So it gave me hope."

Eventually he worked up enough moxie to bring himself to a Monday night hoot and actually pick a number from the hat to ensure his place in the lore of Gerdes Folk City. Three songs later, it was over. Eight months later, after the nerve-racked trembling hands, arms and legs stopped shaking, he finally had his first full week's booking as the 20 minute "opening act for the opening act." The show was headlined by future Folk Brother, Jack Hardy. David Bromberg played the 40 minute interval in between the two.


The Original Acoustic music scene had virtually lost its epicenter by the mid-1970s. The Coffeehouse circuit of clubs in Greenwich Village that had its heyday in the 60s had died out with almost all the clubs taking Gerdes' lead in becoming Union wage-paying rooms. The musicians who were lucky enough to get record deals were coming around to perform less and less. The music industry itself had changed dramatically. The number of traditional folk musicians getting signed by record companies was dwindling down to a select few. The agents scouting for talent had much less room for error since a newly enforced tax code made it more difficult for record companies to write off losses incurred by unprofitable recording artists. The blossoming of the FM radio crowd beget more bands that had instant marketing appeal. And with that, club owners leaned towards booking label-backed acts that had marketing and promotion already built-in. The market for the traditional stand up Folk singer was dying out. But Massengill and his contemporaries sensed something was still brewing in the Village and they were determined to band together and stay true to their art form and breathe life back into West 3rd St.