Stephen Petrus and Ronald D. Cohen
FOLK CITY: NEW YORK and
THE AMERICAN FOLK MUSIC REVIVAL
Oxford University Press
Straightforward and engaging, breezily fresh and poignant, rich in reminiscences and primary as well as secondary sources, Folk City: New York and the American Folk Music Revival is the inviting companion publication to the Museum of the City of New York’s similarly titled exhibit that runs through November. Authored by the team of Stephen Petrus, the exhibition’s heads-up curator, and folk music historian Ronald D. Cohen – who was the co-producer/writer of the recent 10-CD boxed set extravaganza Songs for Political Action: Folk Music, Topical Songs and the American Left, 1926-1954 – the scholarly Folk City adds an enlightening, often enlivening, depth to a character-filled narrative that begins with Woody Guthrie visiting the Big Apple in 1940 and ends with Bob Dylan arriving in the winter of 1960 and is centered in Greenwich Village, where the hootenannies of the Red Scare 1950s evolved into the left-leaning singing and songwriting Folk Renaissance of the 1960s. Occasional two-page Recollections offer recent, incisive personal insights about the period from the likes of Josh White, Jr., Len Chandler, Tom Paxton, Carolyn Hester and Eric Andersen, while the book’s eight chapters (Dylan has one of his own) vividly capture the high spirits and magic of the time while introducing the reader to a host of record company producers, club owners (remember the Gaslight, Gerdes and Club 47?), concert promoters, musicologists, agents, writers, entrepreneurs and festival organizers—not to overlook a profusion of talented musicians and hip audiences. Sections dealing with Dave Van Ronk, Izzy Young’s Folklore Center, Happy Traum, the New Lost City Ramblers, Sing Out! And Broadside magazines, WNYC radio, Moses Asch and Folkways Records, Pete Seeger and the Weavers and the Washington Square Park scene are favorites. An abundance of both black-and-white and color images, collected from the exhibition, are mostly new to me. By 1966, a pair of Village-based folk-rocking groups, John Sebastian’s Lovin’ Spoonful and John Phillips’ Mamas and Papas, had broken through commercially and one of the most culturally altering eras in American music was fading fast.
— Gary von Tersch