Tuesday, February 21, 2017

An open letter to the American Center for Folk Music

I'm not there

I don’t ever do this. I have never published an open letter even though I’ve maintained this blog for over 6 years. I usually just rant and rave about usual goings on. 

I’m posting this open letter because conversation needs to take place regarding a new and wonderful idea, the American Center for Folk Music or ACFM.

In this self-publishing, citizen-media world we live in, people are always declaring one thing or another on 3rd party sites. I’m posting my opinion here because blogs avail themselves to comments. I don’t normally have running chats here but sometimes topics catch fire.

The ACFM has put out a pamphlet termed a ‘proposal to Beacon’ and they have stated that their mission is to ‘’Celebrate the rich legacy of Folk music.’’ You don’t need to know much beyond that other than the means by which they plan to celebrate is with a physical Center/Facility promoting music, community and a Folk HALL OF FAME. (Museum optional)

My feelings and opinions were expressed in an open forum where I was invited to listen to ideas from about 35 other interested parties. The meeting was held January 29th in the tiny quarter of a building they’ve been allotted down by the riverside in Beacon, New York 12508. The River, of course, is the mighty Hudson.

The current building is within spitting distance of the Metro-North train station terminating in Grand Central Station. Tourists have been coming over to Beacon from all around in the past decade mainly drawn by the contemporary museum nearby. (More on that later)

Visitors to the ACFM HQ at the Scenic Hudson red barn will find ample parking, wonderful surroundings, a cute Main Street USA but NO ARTIFACTS.

Granted, the ACFM is not open to visitors yet but essentially nothing lies beyond the sign on the door.

A committee/Board has been formed many months ago to explore interest and possibilities of having an ACFM. David Ross is the man with the plan. His experience has been, amongst other things, as the director of the Whitney Museum in New York. His plan seems to include what the People want as long as there is a budget large enough to afford them all.
(I’ll get to that later)

Along with Mr. Ross on the Board are friends and acquaintances of my own, Phil Ciganer and David Bernz. I know Mr. Bernz longer but I know Phil better since I’ve paid to see many shows at his club, The Towne Crier. I’ve even hosted a concert at the club but mainly, I’ve eaten much of his food and have drank a fair amount of his beer.

He’s been operating the same business in 3 different towns since 1972. He now anchors a corner on Main Street across from the stone post office. 

Music- I’m happy to say- is LIVE and well in the city of Beacon. I’m more astounded to say that because I personally know Beacon since 1981. I took my driver’s license exam in what was once the DMV and is now the men’s room at the Towne Crier. Beacon was a shit hole. It still is in some corners but I kinda like it now. (To see a snapshot of Beacon before its revival, see the Paul Newman film, NOBODY”S FOOL which was shot there)

If you are on this blog reading this, you probably already know Folk music on some level. PETE SEEGER made his home and raised his family on the mountainside in Beacon for almost 60 years. Old-time Music is a natural fit here/there. These days, traveling musicians, hipsters and hippies seem to like it regardless of their knowledge of Ol’ Pete’s legacy.

Even Europeans can now be seen walking Main past former crack houses in search of chocolates and antiques. Old boarded up buildings are no longer shabby but chic using the original architecture. I say this and I still can’t believe it. It was a social plan gone RIGHT for a change. Kudos to the Mayor of yesteryear.

The success of the city was built squarely on the shoulders of Dia:Beacon. Dia is an international contemporary art museum, also a stone’s throw from the station in Beacon. Opened in 2003, it draws visitors from all over the world to see their permanent and one-of-a-kind pieces of art. I walked the site on day one of its opening as well as hundreds of other times with my daughter. My ex-wife has worked there since inception. Before the museum opened, Main Street was still kind-of a shit show. Retail business-minded entrepreneurs and a million visitors tend to shake up small towns.

And now the American Center of Folk Music wants a piece. To which I say TAKE THE WHOLE REGION!!!!! The early days of a Nashville-type music hub is there for the taking.

Beacon and surrounds could be spring-boarded into a thriving metropolis overnight if the ACFM finds the right backers. These backers need a few brain cells to rub together to sequester Federal, State and local funds to make a Hall of Fame (HOF) and museum to beat all museums. 

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. What I envisioned for them when I first heard of the plans was a huge building down by the riverside large enough to house a KICK ASS hall and museum full of art and artifacts and LIVE MUSIC. Celebrate- to ME means- PARTY with MUSIC. 


No party leading up to the doors opening should be planned without raising funds. We’re talking 501(c)3-ville. The ACFM is currently under another’s tax-shelter umbrella. Donations will be as large and come from directions as far and as wide as the popularity of Folk music itslef.

The phrase ‘hall of fame’ is not what will be used, I’m gauging by the group’s sentiment. I’m sure a similar name will be dreamed up. I was able to speak out and say at the meeting that the ACFM is either gonna be the HOF or they’re NOT. Decide and make it known. 

For now, either Beacon will become the international ‘Center’ for Folk Music complete with a HOF or someone in Los Angeles with a team of accountants and a massive PR firm will steal the idea and declare their land as hollowed ground.

I’ve only witnessed one meeting and was impressed how the Board allowed EVERY person in the room have their say including me. My only gripe, if you’ll excuse the phrase, is that there wasn’t a declaration in the meeting that the ACFM was poised with a flagpole overhead ready to strike it into the bedrock claiming Beacon as a conquest to be used for their own needs. They’ve got the blessing of ALL the Folkies. Hands down. (Take my town, please!) What do they need? Political approval? Of course, important members of the municipality are on the Board and would be swiftly unseated should they battle the establishment of the ACFM. 

What I would love to see are copious newspaper pieces, national magazine articles and an international declaration announcing the ACFM to the world-at-large.

Folk Music propagators.

A ‘hall of fame’ and museum to preserve and protect the
Music of Folks.

Beacon. Where else?

Because Pete claimed the town as his home. He’s gone so….take the city!


I’m fine with watching the snail’s pace from afar. I understand how this works (a little)
I’m just concerned that some schmuck in New York or Nashville with his own deep pockets and a team of pencil pushers will file for his own 501(c)3 tax shelter and take the ball and run.

When I first heard of the concept of a museum coming to Beacon, I thought- ‘They’re gonna have a tough time keeping me outta there. The next vision was of having a big concert free to the People with big sponsors and advertisers showcasing originals like Joan Baez or Judy Collins to make headlines. It’s Folk Music. No one should be trying to re-invent the wheel here. 

Dia:Beacon commandeered the town by taking over a beautiful old factory by the river and utilized the 400,000 sq. Ft. to house their collection. They now have thousands of visitors per month because they are…well… ‘’Dia:Beacon’’ the only game in town for that genre of art.

The Baseball HOF didn’t start out with a lot (one baseball which may actually be a fraud) but their message to the world was clear: Cooperstown is the permanent home of the institution of Baseball. No definition of ‘baseball’ was given or needed.

Shall we talk about the hotel, eatery, memorabilia and cottage industry in upstate New York’s Leatherstocking region? The sport of baseball was organized almost 175 years ago but Cooperstown was declared home only in 1939. They beat everybody to the punch.

I understand that one can only polish up a turd so many times before it crumbles. Beacon is that turd (and my personal whipping boy) but it can be polished. Dress that bitch up!!

Industry will morph around such a majestic idea to bring Folk Music there for good. I’ll donate my action and time to help out and I’ll mark my words here now and say ‘I told you so’ when hotels and allied trades start springing up, down by the river, north and south of Beacon. When Main Street is clogged with Zipcars, you’ll have me to thank for it. It’s not my problem. I know the back roads. Every new visitor brings their wallet, dig?

One last say

The meeting on Jan 29th diverted needlessly off for 30 minutes trying to define what Folk Music is and what should be preserved there. Wasted life we’ll never regain. (There is no ‘there’ there yet)

I suggested that they should appoint a committee and enshrine TWENTY FIVE inaugural ‘Hall of Famers’ that define and set their parameters of who is worthy. They shouldn’t bother with defining what Folk Music is.

Mainly, the discussion surrounded around how to exclude Rap or Hip Hop. (Good luck trying to please people with THAT) First of all, Hip Hop itself doesn’t have a clear definition. I’m no fan of Gangsta Rap and much of its close relatives. BUT I loves me some Beastie Boys. I loves me some ‘Old School’ Rap because the sound depicts a ‘cultural environment.’ The sound of certain ditties scream ‘1980’ or ‘Compton, CA’ and there is no organization that should decide for the rest of us that it doesn’t.

I got your definition right here:

AMERICAN narrows the field.
FOLK as in Humans.
MUSIC as in everything ever played live on Bleecker and/or Macdougal Street.

To that end, I am emphatically stating here now that POETS MUST BE INCLUDED. The words carefully chosen by Langston Hughes, Lenny Bruce and Jack Kerouac sound fluid like a SONG. How dare someone open an American Folk museum and exclude them. Shame. I’ll almost turn my back on this place if they keep poets out.

America’s greatest bandleader, Duke Ellington, has already given the ACFM the green light. He was quoted as saying ‘’All Music is Folk Music.’’ Shall we argue? 

So to those who still wish to waste precious time defining it, I say, you’re too fucking late! We don’t need a HOF that exists only on paper to dictate a definition in a press release for all to study and memorize. Thank you.

Folk Music is ETHNIC Music. It’s shared language that stems (present tense) from an environment where People share a given set of circumstances. Is that clear? 

The year 1860 was a ‘given set’ of circumstances.
1960- same thing.
2017 IS a ‘given set’ of shared experience. 

Ethnic Music of the Folk variety may include:
The Beastie Boys
The Sugar Hill Gang
Allen Ginsberg
Miles Davis    
And many other crossover acts who were cutting edge in their time who performed forgotten songs and brought original music, poems and words to art lovers. 

In another blog, I’ll submit my nominees for the 25 names that should be enshrined someday in the ACFM.

To wit, I suggest a colossal Hip Hop artist who, in his time, redefined Black culture. 
Robert Johnson. 

PS- The American Center FOR Folk Music is different from
That was Grandpa's place
(Fred McDarrah)

Friday, February 17, 2017


Below is a page out of Izzy Young's journal.
The date was February 16, 1960.
Logan English was the Emcee and, likely, warm up act in front
of Charlotte Daniels.
Izzy was just in month 2 of booking music at the new club
on West 4th and Mercer.
Izzy had his finger on the pulse of the Folk Music scene
in America at the time.
He took great care in documenting the 'who and what' was happening
at every show.
Along with counting heads and dollars, he made note
of special personalities coming in to watch
and potentially sit in for a guest set.
You'll see here in this scan that a young musician from the Boston area
had made her first visit to Mike Porco's restaurant.
For the first 5 months
under Izzy
the club was called THE FIFTH PEG at Gerde's.

Miss Joan would eventually make her name widely known
by performing on much greater stages.
It was at Gerde's where she met a boy named Bobby
about a year later.
This was her first visit to 
New York's Center of Folk Music.