Gerde's Folk City

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Gerdes Folk City (sometimes spelled Gerde's Folk City) was a music venue in the West Village in New York City. Initially opened as a restaurant called Gerdes, by owner Mike Porco, it eventually began to present occasional incidental music. First located at 11 West 4th Street (in a building which no longer exists), it moved in 1970 to 130 West 3rd Street. It closed in 1987. On January 26, 1960, Gerdes turned into a music venue called The Fifth Peg, in cooperation with Izzy Young, the director of the Folklore Center. The Fifth Peg's debut bill was gospel folk singer Brother John Sellars and Ed McCurdy, writer of the anti-war classic "Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream". Porco and Young had a falling-out, and on June 1, 1960, Gerdes Folk City was officially born with a bill featuring folksingers Carolyn Hester and Logan English. At this time Gerdes Folk City was booked by a folk enthusiast Charlie Rothschild (who later became Judy Collins' longtime manager) and English. Gerdes Folk City was suddenly one of the central music venues of the era. It became one of the most influential American music clubs, before finally losing its lease in 1987. "Rolling Stone Book of Lists" called Folk City one of the three top music venues in the world, along with The Cavern and CBGBs. Folk City helped to launch the careers of several world-renowned musical stars from Bob Dylan to Sonic Youth, and showcased numerous music styles from folk to alternative rock.

History[edit]

Opening officially on January 26, 1960, Folk City was born in Greenwich Village, New York, and generated several waves of musical genres ranging from folk music to rock ‘n’ roll; folk rock to punk; blues to alternative rock, bringing the world a wide range of music from Pete Seeger to 10,000 Maniacs. Singer and poet Logan English performed at the opening night, together with Carolyn Hester.[1] From The Weavers to Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Judy Collins and Rev. Gary Davis, many musicians who formed contemporary music’s foundation performed there. Doc Watson made his first solo performance at Gerdes. It was recorded and released as Doc Watson at Gerdes Folk City. Simon & Garfunkel [2] and Peter, Paul & Mary performed early in their professional careers at Gerdes, and Peter, Paul & Mary's first official performance as a trio was at Folk City.[3]

Bob Dylan played his first professional gig there on April 11, 1961, supporting John Lee Hooker. Logan English was instrumental in securing Dylan his first appearance. His widow Barbara Shutner said:

"My husband Logan English and I met Bob Dylan at Bob and Sid Gleason's house... One night we were all sitting around and Woody [Guthrie] said something like, "Play something" to this kid sitting on the couch. The kid was Bob Dylan, and he sang and it was just beautiful. So Logan said, "I'm working at Gerde's. I'm the MC. We'll get you to play there." So that Monday night, Bob came in and did his first set."[4]

Dylan's September 29, 1961 appearance was reviewed in the New York Times[5] by Robert Shelton, after which Dylan's reputation was made.[6] Gerdes was where Bob Dylan debuted "Blowin' in the Wind" and was also the place where Joan Baez and Dylan met for the first time. On October 23, 1975 at a celebration for Mike Porco's 61st birthday, Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue staged a dress rehearsal and played its first real concert. The Review began its national tour a week after playing at Gerdes on October 30, 1975.

In May 1976, folk legend Bob Gibson and his manager Doug Yeager produced a week long celebration to Mike Porco and Folk City, where more than thirty of the club's early star performers came out to honor the club. Folk City is the place where many of the '60s folk-rock and '70s singer-songwriters first found their voices, and shows included future stars such as Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, The Mamas and The Papas, the Byrds, The Lovin' Spoonful, the Youngbloods, Emmylou Harris (who also waitressed at the club), Joni Mitchell, Phoebe Snow, Loudon Wainwright III and many other well-known names.

New ownership[edit]

Starting in 1978, the soon-to-be new owners, Robbie Woliver, Marilyn Lash and Joseph Hillesum took over the booking duties from Mike Porco, continuing to 1980 when they officially bought the club from Porco. Folk City, under new ownership, underwent a revival, introducing a new breed of singer-songwriter and expanding its boundaries to a wider range of rock music, especially alternative music like Elvis Costello, Sonic Youth, Yo La Tengo, the Replacements, 10,000 Maniacs and many others. A new wave of singer-songwriters found a home at Folk City during this time as well, such as Suzanne Vega, Shawn Colvin and Lucinda Williams and comedians Adam Sandler, Chris Rock and others.

Folk City was not just about music; comedians also performed at the club throughout its history. From Martin Mull to Andy Kaufman, many comic actors and comedians got their early start at the club: Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Kathy Kinney, Carol Leifer, Richard Lewis, Mary Kay Place, Larry David, Jim Belushi, Andy Breckman (creator of “Monk”), Martin Mull, Steve Buscemi and more. Under the direction of actress/comedienne/singer Jane Brucker ("One Life To Live, "Dirty Dancing"), improv and comedy became all the rage, with Jane introducing such new acts as Adam Sandler and Kathy Kinney ("Mimi" on "the Drew Carey Show'.) On "Theater Night," singer/performer Fran Maya introduced Steve Buscemi and his partner Mark Boone, Jr. ("Sons of Anarchy") who became regulars on Theater and Comedy nights.

In the 80s, the club underwent another revival, introducing a new breed of singer-songwriter and in expanding its boundaries to a wider range of rock music, with its alternative music series which featured Sonic Youth, Yo La Tengo, Alex Chilton, the Minutemen, Smithereens, Violent Femmes, the Replacements, 10,000 Maniacs, Richard Lloyd, Chris Stamey, Dream Syndicate, Husker Du, X, Golden Palominos, the Blasters and many others. A new wave of singer-songwriters found a home at Folk City during this time as well, such as Suzanne Vega, Shawn Colvin and Lucinda Williams.

In 1985, the club held a benefit 25th Anniversary Concert, which was part of the NYC Pier Summer Concerts, and was an immediate sell-out. The club lost its lease and closed in 1987, at the height of its revival.

The owners, however, have continued over the years to produce and present Folk City concerts and performances around the country featuring Folk City alumni and new up-and-coming artists.

Starting January 2010, a movement began to have Folk City inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011, which would have been Folk City's 50th anniversary. A theatrical production - Folk City - a musical based on the club's history and the book "Bringing It All Back Home," by Robbie Woliver, is scheduled for 2014.

Partial list of performers[edit]

Gerde's has hosted performances by:

Recordings[edit]

Live albums recorded at Gerde's Folk City include:

Further reading[edit]

Bringing It All Back Home (Pantheon/Random House, 1986) by Robbie Woliver documents Folk City's history and went into a second printing as Hoot (St. Martins Press, 1994).

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 40°43′44″N 73°59′41″W / 40.72889°N 73.99472°W / 40.72889; -73.99472