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Vanished Venues: Gerde's Folk City

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Our series on great concert halls and nightclubs from New York music history continues with a look at Gerde's Folk City, a hub for the Greenwich Village folk scene of the 1960s and ‘70s – and the site of Bob Dylan’s first professional gig.

As part of our series Vanished Venues, we talk with Dylan biographer Sean Wilentz and singer Suzzy Roche. Plus: folk trio (and Gerde’s regulars) The Roches perform their song “Face Down at Folk City.”

 

Photo by Marcia Stehrr/Face Down at Folk City Facebook Group
Brother John Sellers and Jack Baker at Gerde's Folk City in March 1961
Courtesy of Happy Traum/Face Down at Folk City Facebook Group
Folk music had a home at Gerde’s. This poster is from 1962.
Photo by NY MusicAwards/Face Down at Folk City Facebook group
Many singer-songwriters of the 1960s and 1970s found their voices at Gerde’s. Peggy Atwood, pictured here, was Folk City's resident country and western star.
Photo by NY MusicAwards/Face Down at Folk City Facebook group
A group song at Gerdes, featuring Mark Dann, Lucinda Williams, James Humphrey, Marie Gabrielle, Bernadette Contreras, Karan Bunin and Jeff Ampolsk.
Photo by Theodore Lee/Face Down at Folk City Facebook Group
Peggy Duncan-Garner tends bar
Photo by Theodore Lee/Face Down at Folk City Facebook Group
Odetta performs on stage at Gerdes Folk City.
Photo by Theodore Lee/Face Down at Folk City Facebook Group
In 1970 Gerde’s Folk City moved from 11 West 4th Street to 130 West 3rd Street. It closed its doors in 1987.
Photo by Tiffany Camhi
In 2000, a new nightclub, The Village Underground, opened in the basement of Folk City’s former home.

Guests:

Suzzy Roche and Sean Wilentz

Comments [31]

artaltman

I started going to Gerdes Folk City in 1962, and was there most Monday nights (only 1 dollar minimum). Mike got to know me (as 'red'), and convinced me to mc one night when Carl Watanabe didn't show. that night John Denver auditioned for the Mitchell Trio. Years later, Mike and I reminisced at the 3rd st. location, when Phil Ochs was about to do his farewell performance, but I can't remember if it was 1975 summer, or early 1976.

Apr. 15 2013 11:03 AM
Adam Mackiewicz from Cape Canaveral, Fl

Anne, her name was Rose Smith aka Rosie. And I'm sorry to tell you she passed away in '92

Apr. 06 2013 02:42 AM
Joey Vento from NEW YORK CITY

A great place to hang and we saw so many great acts there. Went there almost every other weekend..one night we hung with David Carradine and Stevie Marriott and then had a drink with them!! Those days live on, even if just in our memories..but if you listen real hard...

Jan. 02 2011 08:13 PM
Joey Vento

A great place to hang and we saw so many great acts there. Went there almost every other weekend..one night we hung with David Carradine and Stevie Marriott and then had a drink with them!! Those days live on, even if just in our memories..but if you listen real hard...

Jan. 02 2011 08:12 PM
Karan Bunin from LA California

Mike Porco was a wonderful and kind man. Just the other day I actually came across a flyer featuring Lucinda Williams, Susan Osborne and me. The title was GIRLS! GIRLS! GIRLS! Guess that had a different meaning to Mike. I feel fortunate to a part of Folk City history!

Jan. 01 2011 01:46 AM
anne wassmann

Does anyone remember Rosie the MC?
She also did open mike at the Dugout.
Trying to find out her last name?
Anyone know???

Dec. 30 2010 02:14 PM
Michael Packer from NYC

I had a band in the 70's called "Free Beer" who recorded for RCA Records and got their start @ Folk City. Mike Porco was great! He had the balls to put FREE BEER! on the Folk City marquee!

Oct. 23 2010 11:51 AM
Dr. Ann R. Bleefeld

Thanks so much for the series! I am acquainted with Bob Porco - a great guy who's done much to highlight a deep reminiscence of one of New York's beloved venues. Here is something about the 50th anniversary bash in honor Gerde's that was held earlier this year. Would love comments.

http://www.womanaroundtown.com/sections/playing-around/gerde%E2%80%99s-folk-city-50-years-later-the-decades-greatest-afterparty

Oct. 21 2010 11:08 AM
Gerry Segal from NYC UWS

I played the Open Mikes in the 60's and opened for Melissa Manchester in the 70's. A Heady time in more ways than one. Saw George Harrison perform and bumped into Hendrix who was exiting Ladyland studios next to the club when it was on 3rd Street. Still writing and playing with friends I made there. You can check out our latest:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_slIO8CxDw.

Oct. 20 2010 04:12 PM
Gerry Segal from NYC UWS

I played the Open Mikes in the 60's and opened for Melissa Manchester in the 70's. A Heady time in more ways than one. Saw George Harrison perform and bumped into Hendrix who was exiting Ladyland studios next to the club when it was on 3rd Street. Still writing and playing with friends I made there. You can check out our latest:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_slIO8CxDw.

Oct. 20 2010 04:10 PM
JBeek from Inwood, WNYC

Folk City in the mid-80s was one of those places where the unclassifiable could play. I remember great shows by Feelies-offshoot band the Trypes, as well as They Might Be Giants when they were a duo.

Oct. 20 2010 02:34 PM
Ed

I'm not sure if this has been mentioned, but you shouldn't forget the late seventies and eighties at Folk City when then owners Robbie & Marilyn & Joe revitalized the club, booking not only New York singer songwriters but also made it the place in NY for great Irish/Scottish/bluegrass/blues/cajun artists to play when coming through town; plus they introduced other kinds of music, including the Music for Dozens series where if I remember correctly I saw John Zorn for the first time, the Golden Palominos, I think even the Minutemen; and certainly the Violent Femmes played there a couple of times.

Oct. 20 2010 02:33 PM
JBeek from Inwood, WNYC

Folk City in the mid-80s was one of those places where the unclassifiable could play. I remember great shows by Feelies-offshoot band the Trypes, as well as They Might Be Giants when they were a duo.

Oct. 20 2010 02:32 PM
Len Stokes from Westchester

An ironic sidebar re: Doc Watson:

When Tom Paley left the New Lost City Ramblers, John (Cohen) and Mike (Seeger) asked Doc to take his place in the trio. Doc said no, he didn't want to travel so much. A short time later he played at the Newport Folk Festival and he's been traveling ever since.

Len

Oct. 20 2010 02:29 PM
Pam from NYC

Your guest has said that by the late '70s, the original folk revivalists were gone. Not true: van Ronk, Havens, Paxton, and others were still fixtures on the scene.

Oct. 20 2010 02:22 PM
BigMax

More myth than fact. There were plenty of folks who stuck it out but the volume was insane. As for "face down" at Gerdes, I usually made it across the street to the basketball court to go "face down"

Oct. 20 2010 02:21 PM
a g from n j

i really dig the politics of folk. some of the music i really like. but a lot of it sounds like
what i'll call "caucasian spirituals"

Oct. 20 2010 02:17 PM
C.E. Connelly from Manhattan

This was at the second Gerde's (though lots of your vanished venues had more than one incarnation), but The Replacements first New York City was at Gerde's. According to several published accounts they brought in their Marshall stacks and played so loud they cleared the room. Even the soundman walked out.

Oct. 20 2010 02:16 PM
peter

It's important to remember that Dylan was just the MC at the old Gerdes. He wore an engineers hat and rarely got to play.

Oct. 20 2010 02:15 PM
BigMax from nyc

I agree w/ Capt. Jay. Folk City in the later years mid 80s or so use to have 3 bands/$3 bucks Weds. shows (Todd Ambramson booked-Pat DiNunzio of the Smithereens worked the door). Replacements,Husker Du,Lyres,Big Sandy,Morphine,Loud Fast Rules (Soul Asylum) etc... are just a few to name some of the great shows I saw there. Ditto for the 5th Ave. Lone Star where in a two week period I saw the otiginal Fabulous Thunderbirds w/Johnny Winter, Roy Oribison and Jerry Jeff Walker. The original Tramps at Union Square with too many acts to even mention. Great venues,great shows.

Oct. 20 2010 02:07 PM
Amy B. from queens, n.y.

Even though I had already been aware of folk music in high school in the mid 1970's and had been studying guitar with the Joan Baez songbook in my N.Y.C. public H.S. music class, I never attended a live folk music concert in a nightclub before , until I went to Folk City . During winter break from an upstate college, a friend brought me there. It cost five dollars which seemed like alot of money at that time. I saw Rod MacDonald along with several other singer songwriters that were amazing. I became a regular after that night.

Oct. 20 2010 01:12 PM
Richard from New York City

To Leigh above - you were there in spirit, along with so many others.

Of course, the West 3rd Street location was not the original setting of Gerde's. That was on 4th and Mercer and Mike Porco had the good sense to feed the locals Mississippi John Hurt and the New Lost City Ramblers along with the pasta, beer and wine.

Mike and his brother John were of a breed of club owners that seems to have largely vanished. Caring, discerning and sincere.

I was glad to be part of the 50th Anniversary show for Folk City, organized by Mike's grandson, Bob Porco. Bob has the generosity of spirit that his grandpa embodied.

Oct. 20 2010 09:10 AM
Stephen from Prospect Heights

Not denying the importance of Gerde's, but according to Izzy Young, his Folklore Center on MacDougal was more formative and important to the burgeoning Folk scene and Dylan in the early 60's.

Oct. 20 2010 09:03 AM
Stephen Klein

Not denying the importance of Gerde's, but according to Izzy Young, his Folklore Center on MacDougal was more formative and important to the burgeoning Folk scene and Dylan in the early 60's.

Oct. 20 2010 09:02 AM
Capt Jay from Sea Cliff, NY

Vanished Venues? I'LL TELL YOU ABOUT VANISHED VENUES!!! Since your 10/18 show highlights Gerde's (yes, Dylan, Van Ronk, et al) - what happened when Steve Weitz (?) resurrected it as The Village Underground and featured eclectic one-off shows (some of my favs: R L Burnside, Solomon Burke, Link Wray, lots more) - how about some mention of Slugs for us old school jazz aficionados, or the Gaslight for the folkies (Lightnin Hopkins & other authentics) - at least a week on the Fillmore East would be appropriate & most appreciated (listening to Albert King almost every Sat nite til sunrise) - but to the point of this missive - how has B B King's managed to suffocate our local blues clubs (an example or two of favorite evenings may suffice) - the original Tramps (Big Joe Turner), Lone Star Cafe (Buddy Guy, Junior Wells & Son Seals all in one evening; another when they sent some limos to LaGuardia & picked up Fats Domino w/entire NOLA band for a 1 niter), Manny's Car Wash (come back, Jimmy Thackery & Drivers, NYC loves you), Chicago Blues (too, too many to list - the best - my weekly hang)- someone PLEASE gimme some!!! JRH

Oct. 18 2010 10:06 PM
Leigh Harrison from Queens, NY, USA

I first played at Folk City back in the summer of 1972 to late 1973,and then again around 1975, when I still spelled my name "Li Harrison." Mike Porco was a terrific guy -- used to give us a free beer now and then, when we were a bit low on funds, and the Open Mic was where I first met a number of the other singer-songwriters in the NYC music scene. One of the Open Mic hosts back then was Richard Lewis, who later went on to fame as a top comedian. The scene was fun, welcoming, and I learned so much from the other players I met. I would have been at the memorial for Mike Porco earlier this year, but was ill.

Oct. 18 2010 05:44 PM
Mark Ross from Eugene OR

It was 1967 and I was starting to play the basket houses (as the turnover act, people would stay all night because there wasn't a cover charge, and you needed a way to get new money in the door) . Mike Porco heard me on Hoot Night and hired me as MC and opening act for Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry. Paid me 5 bucks a night and a bottle of beer and a sandwich, and you know what?
I was worth every penny. Hell, I would have paid him if I'd had any money!

Oct. 18 2010 03:56 PM
Michael Allinger from Ithaca, NY

It was the early 1980's when two friends, Mary Anne Christopher and Ginny Connelly and I, first ventured to the village to perform at open mic night at Folk City. Under the name of 'Second Chance' we performed originals and covers many times over several years at Folk City and met some amazing people like Hugh Blumenfeld, Christine Lavin, John Gorka and the beautiful Sonny Ochs. It seemed everyone we met were very encouraging and supportive of each other.
The last time we performed at Folk City was during their 25th anniversary celebration. The culmination of the night was singing with David Massengill on his song "The Great American Dream" along with a dozen other singers including Suzanne Vega. Man, what memories and what a community we had back then.

Oct. 18 2010 01:15 PM
Ned Treanor from Los Angeles

There were so many wonderful memories of FOLK CITY, even tho' I frittered-away my mis-spent youth with similar excursions to haunts such as the Musicians' Cooperative @ the Speakeasy, Bottom Line & Other End/Bitter End!
One such memory was Mike Seeger and Elizabeth Cotten bringing Appalachian "roots" music to an "urban" setting, fascinating their audience of largely fellow-musicians with their unconventional tunings & melodies, but also with their obvious love & respect for their music, audience and each other!

Oct. 18 2010 06:27 AM
Joe Virga from Ft Myers Florida

It was 1973 I had just got out of the NAVY two days before and I decided to try out three of the five songs I had written while in the service at folk city on a Monday night I drew my first card from the deck.
Lucky me I drew the 8th position in the lineup. I got up performed my three chord dirges as if they were the greatest songs in the world. So full of myself until the next act who was Hugh Presatwood singing a song called Love Is Such A changing Thing.
It was at that point I realized I needed to know a little more about songwriting and performing

Oct. 18 2010 06:01 AM
Dan Daley from NYC/Nashville

Our high school duo, Revival, began playing at FC when we were about 17. It quickly grew into a four-pice of the same name, playing several times a month with patter in between by MCs like Carl Waxman and loony Bruce from Detroit. (God, what was his last name...?) Allan Pepper and Stan Snadowsky took on management of the place, and shortly there after management of us, too, leading to a signing of the band by Neil Bogart on the Kama Sutra label. That led to graduating to being face down at Kenny's Castaways for a while, which, unlike many of our contemporaries, remains standing. Mike Porco always treated us as adults, which led to accelerated maturity that helped offset the extended childhood that is necessary to the creative environment.
If I had to pick one physical aspect of FC that I think made it unique, it was the window at street level. It let you gauge the ebb and flow of the street, helped you figure out how to work a crowd.

Oct. 18 2010 04:04 AM

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