Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Inside Caffe Lena


Whether you like Inside Llewyn Davis or not, the film is inspiring yet another folk revival with a number of odd combinations like Norah Jones and Billie Joe Armstrong (of Green Day), who take the Everly Brothers' Songs Our Daddys Taught Us as a departure point for Foreverly.  But, much more important are two great projects that bring Caffe Lena and Washington Square back into the fore.

Lena Spencer with John Hartford, 1989

Caffe Lena has been doing "good folk since 1960" and has hosted every folk musician of note over its 50+ year history.  Lena herself passed away some years back, but the cafe kept going, and remains an unpretentious fixture in Saratoga Springs, New York.  A beautifully illustrated book and CD box set paint a broad picture of the famous coffee house.

Van Ronk, Dylan and Suze Rotolo

The other collection is of the Mayor himself, ostensibly the subject of the Cohen brothers film, Dave Van Ronk.  This is a box set compiled by Smithsonian Folkways that not includes many of his early recordings, but those recorded shortly before his death in 2002.  Van Ronk became quickly overshadowed by Bob Dylan, but many credit him for opening the door for Bob in Greenwich Village all those years ago.  The film was largely inspired by the memoir, The Mayor of MacDougal Street, edited by Elijah Wood.

Photo Credits: Caffe LenaNippertown! and American Songwriter

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