The Magic of The Bottom Line

& WFDU-FM’s Traditions Playlist for July 5, 2015

Back in 1975, on my first day as a freshman at Fairleigh Dickinson University, I joined the college owned radio station WFDU-FM. My love for radio, and folk music, blossomed in our Teaneck, New Jersey, studios. While I did my best to keep up with my classes and studies, I spent more time at the radio station learning about broadcasting and also music. One of my “unofficial” classrooms was located at 15 West 4th Street in the heart of New York City’s Greenwich Village, a music venue known as the Bottom Line.

Logo from The Bottom Line

Logo from The Bottom Line

The Bottom Line opened its doors on February 12, 1974, with a performance from Dr. John. Owners Allan Pepper and Stanley Snadowsky rented the space from New York University in order to create a “music room” – not a folk club, or a rock club, or a jazz club but rather a room that would be home for many different styles of music and music fans. During its heyday in the 70s and 80s, the modest 400 seat room presented a score of music legends, innovators, and unknowns who would often go on to become stars. Allan and Stanley were not mere bookers, they were curators of a living musical exhibition. Artists who could fill much larger theaters and concert halls would grace the stage of the Bottom Line, offering performances at very reasonable prices. The lists of artists who performed there is like a who’s who of the late 20th century music- Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, the Ramones, Van Morrison, Prince, Billy Joel, Charles Mingus, Neil Sedaka, Emmy Lou Harris, Ravi Shankar, Leonard Cohen, Jerry Garcia and literally thousands of other artists musicians during a nearly 30 year run. Bruce Springsteen rocketed to stardom after doing showcase performances at the Bottom Line.

Although much time has passed, I still recall the very first show I attended at the Bottom Line – Loudon Wainwright III. I had recently been introduced to his music by a fellow DJ at the radio station and I convinced two of my best friends that we had to go check him out. We were not disappointed. The seating at the Bottom Line was intimate for both performer and audience. The stage was relatively small and close to the crowd, and audience members were packed in like sardines, but it was amicable. I remember that when the lights went up after that show was over, I turned to look at the table next to mine and realized I was sitting next to John Belushi. That was the beauty of the club. Everyone was close but respectful of one another. On another visit, I found myself standing next to Howard Stern in the men’s room. Like I said, close, but respectful. No one made a big deal that we were mingling with celebrities, and celebrities weren’t attending to be “seen.” We were all there because we loved music.

After that first night of seeing Loudon, my friends and I would make it a pilgrimage to go to the Bottom Line to see him there at least once a year. We also began traveling in from Jersey to partake of the opportunity to see so many other great artists that we loved and discovered new ones as well. The opening act for my first visit was the Pousette-Dart Band. Coincidentally, when I arrived at the station to do my show this week, I found a brand new CD from Jon Pousette-Dart, a folk-rocker who is still going strong.

The Bottom Line

The Bottom Line

While the music at the Bottom Line was always eclectic, folk music had a welcome home at the club. During their first few months of operation in 1974, the club schedule featured performances by Eric Andersen, Steve Goodman, the Dillards, John Hammond, Michael Bloomfield, Don McLean, Sleepy John Estes and Buffy Sainte-Marie among others. Sing Out! Magazine held a folk festival/benefit at the Bottom Line on May 13, 1974 with a lineup that included Pete Seeger, Happy and Artie Traum, Michael Cooney and others.

Over the years, I had many memorable nights at the Bottom Line seeing artists of all styles, including the surf-rock duo of Jan and Dean. Performers at the Bottom Line were not always the latest choices of top 40 radio, the focus was on quality and respect. I remember one show that was billed as a “folk music reunion” and featured a number of artists including Odetta, Ed McCurdy and Mimi Farina. I saw many other folk acts at the Bottom Line over the years, including Tom Paxton, Doc Watson, Country Joe McDonald and Eric Andersen. I even saw Uncle Floyd perform there, not knowing that one day he would host a radio show on WFDU-FM and I would be lucky to call him a peer.

One Bottom Line highlight for folkies was the annual “Fast Folk Revue”. Fast Folk was a musician’s cooperative organization founded by the late Jack Hardy. They provided encouragement to each other and helped perpetuate the singer-songwriter folk traditions in the Village and beyond. While Fast Folk held court at another Village club that they ran as part of the cooperative, the Speakeasy, they would present annual showcases at the Bottom Line featuring many of their up and coming folk artists including Jack Hardy, Rod MacDonald, David Massengill, Shawn Colvin, Lucy Kaplansky and so many others. Each artist would do one of their own songs and then a song by another artist. Highlights of these shows were released in issues of “Fast Folk Musical Magazine“, a semi-regular publication issued with an LP of artists who made up the folk community of the era. (The recordings are still available through Smithsonian Folkways as the Fast Folk catalog was acquired by the Smithsonian following the demise of the cooperative.) It was a great opportunity to expose this talented group to the regulars who frequented the Bottom Line, and I believe it gave the Fast Folk artists a bit more credibility in the eyes of the general music public.

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