Friday, Feb. 28, 2014

Sixties Folks

For the Love of Music Visits Birthplace of an Era

By David Luhrssen
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Greenwich Village tends to get all the credit for the folk-blues revival of the 1950s and early ‘60s, the Inside Llewyn Davis scene that nurtured Bob Dylan and other great talents of the era. But as shown in the documentary For the Love of the Music: The Club 47 Folk Revival, Cambridge, Mass. was also crucial. A tiny venue down the street from Harvard Square, Club 47 opened in 1958 as a recreation of Left Bank Paris complete with poetry, espresso and jazz. As legend has it, an unknown teenager called Joan Baez was reluctantly given an evening to perform. Soon enough, jazz receded and folk music became Club 47’s calling card (along with the vanguard of where popular culture was heading).

Comprised mostly of interviews with the musicians and fans that made it happen, For the Love of the Music catches many aspects of the folk-blues revival. The movement began with a small number of venturesome youths bent on discovering a new world—actually an old world, the “Old Weird America” as Greil Marcus called it decades later. Filmmakers Todd Kwait and Rob Stegman spoke with Baez, Judy Collins, Tom Rush, Maria Muldaur and many others for their documentary. As usual when older people reminisce about their particular golden age, the memories are generally happy and the rough edges have long been sanded by time. An exception is one of the rare African-American participants in the Club 47 scene, Jackie Washington, who gently mocks the affectations of some white middle class folkies, the (with Southern accent) “Hello, I’m Blind Willie Friedman” syndrome.

Folk music fed the rock explosion of the ‘60s and Club 47 couldn’t keep up. The hushed reverence of coffee houses was supplanted by the loud clamor of rock concerts. And yet, there is a coda: Under a new name, Club Passim, Club 47’s second, larger venue became a mecca for the ‘80s neo-folk crowd and remains important in the Americana revival.

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