When Carnegie Hall’s cornerstone was laid in 1891, Andrew Carnegie said, according to the Hall’s website, that “it is probable that this hall will intertwine itself with the history of our country.”
Given the venue’s history, it is fitting that Richard Barone will revive the history of New York’s folk movement there at his sold-out show, “Music + Revolution: Greenwich Village in the 1960s.” The concert will take place at Carnegie’s Hall’s Zankel Hall, Nov. 19.
When I was a young girl in the early 1970s, I would hold my grandmother’s hand as we walked past Carnegie Hall, situated a few blocks from where she lived; we would stop and stare up at its impressive structure and I assumed that something special — almost holy — happened within its walls.
I felt the same way when I watched Barone’s spectacular “Music + Revolution” show over the years at Joe’s Pub and Central Park’s SummerStage in New York, and the Outpost in the Burbs in Montclair. Listening to powerful, spiritual songs of resistance and watching images of folk artists that accompany his show, I felt moved and deeply grateful.
Barone — a pioneer of the New Jersey/New York indie rock scene as the frontman for The Bongos as well as an author and producer — has invited a masterful and eclectic roster of artists to join him, including several of the musicians profiled in his 2020 book, “Music + Revolution: Greenwich Village in the 1960s.” The show’s performers and speakers will include David Johansen, Marshall Crenshaw, The Bongos, José Feliciano, Eric Andersen, Tom Paxton, Carolyn Hester, Vernon Reid, David Amram, Lenny Kaye, Willie Nile, Terre Roche, Glenn Mercer, Mary Lee Kortes, Eric Ambel, Geoff Muldaur, Jenni Muldaur, Terri Thal, Happy Traum, Steve Katz, Marc Elliot, Anthony DeCurtis, Dennis Diken, Jared Michael Nickerson, Joe McGinty, Justin Vivian Bond and Kevin Twigg.
The songs to be performed were revolutionary at their time, due to their deeply personal and political content, and continue to resonate today in profound ways. Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs are examples of groundbreaking musicians who, Barone said in a recent interview, wrote “songs in the ’60s about us and we as opposed to me and I.”
Barone has hosted panel discussions at the New York Public Library and taught a class at The New School’s School of Jazz & Contemporary Music on these songs and the musicians who created them. He said his students find the songs relevant to their concerns about the climate crisis and economic inequities.
In his book and at his shows, Barone brings the history of this period to us with lively historical narrative, personal stories and insights from those who were there. “The concert is like the book coming alive,” he said.
I have enjoyed watching Barone develop this show, which has its roots in his 2017 album Sorrows & Promises: Greenwich Village in the 1960s, which features new versions of songs written by Dylan, Ochs, Eric Andersen, Janis Ian and others. Steve Addabbo, who produced Sorrows & Promises, has served as musical director for all the concerts in this series.
“This concert is more than just one event, or one night,” Barone said. “It is a kind of culmination of a project that began in 2015, when I started recording the Sorrows & Promises album.
“Before we recorded each song, I researched its origin, and the songwriter who wrote it, and a story began to form. A story about a musical movement that, besides often changing minds with its social commentary, changed the way the music industry worked, by giving performers the power to write their own songs. It all became about personal self-expression, and less about the hit-making song factory model that had been around for decades. And it was a tight community of musicians.
“The Greenwich Village artists broke new ground and that era changed how we perceive popular music.” He said that if you were a folk musician in this country, you eventually found your way to Greenwich Village.
“We did a precursor to this (Carnegie Hall) concert at the Museum of the City of New York last year on the week that that book was actually released,” Barone said, adding that “that was a hint of what we could do at Carnegie Hall. Because it’s a concert hall, we can have the enveloping sound that we like to hear with this music and the intimacy, too. It’s an acoustically perfect space that we’re going to be performing in.
“Delores ‘Dee’ Dixon came on the stage at the museum and talked about singing in her kitchen with Bob Dylan, who was visiting in Harlem … she was singing a song from the era of slavery, which was ‘No More Auction Block,’ to Bob, and that morphed before her eyes into ‘Blowin’ in the Wind.’ That, to me, was the book coming to life, because she was the one who helped inspire an anthem of the decade, or certainly the early ’60s.
“That song kicked off a movement of that type of personal, political songwriting. Maybe because of its popularity, but also because of the quality of the writing. It kicked off a revolution.”
Barone is anticipating more scenes like that at Carnegie Hall.
“I would like Eric Andersen to speak,” he said. “He was one of Phil Ochs’ best friends … Everyone in the show is an absolute star and important artist in their own way.
“I’m thrilled to have Eric Andersen on board. He’s romantically poetic and also politically connected, covering a lot of ground with his music from the ’60s, such as in his 1966 album Changes (full title: ‘Bout Changes ‘n’ Things). His song ‘Thirsty Boots,’ juxtaposed with personal politics like ‘Close the Door Lightly When You Go.’ He covered a lot of ground with his lyrics. He’s symbolically very important when looking at that era. He was also interested in the beats, and jazz, and the world of Andy Warhol. And the pop art world. He crossed a lot of different boundaries.”
I hope we hear from David Amram, who Barone considers a “force of nature,” present before and after the 1960s. “He saw it all and contributed extraordinary musicianship to so many of the Greenwich Village artists. He knew and worked with them all.”
He said that Hester “is a pure example of what made the media aim their spotlights on the Village … She’s a wonderful example of the first and second wave of the folk revival … She’s a name we don’t often hear, but I’d like us to hear her. She’s historically and musically important.
“In the ’50s, she was working with Buddy Holly’s producer Norman Petty in New Mexico … making folk albums which Buddy Holly heard, and (he) was inspired to perform a folk song as his opening song on his last tour. She was important because she bridges the ’50s and ’60s: She worked with Buddy Holly and then she worked with Bob Dylan, who was her harmonica player on her first album.”
He has invited artists from the ’70s and ’80s too. “Marshall Crenshaw, Lenny Kaye, Jenni Muldaur, Glenn Mercer … these are dear friends who happen to also love and resonate with the music,” he said. “Like the Greenwich Village scene itself, I see our ensemble as a tight community, with a lot of mutual love and respect for each other.”
During the pandemic, Barone’s world slowed down enough to give him the opportunity to write his book, which now serves as the textbook of his class. “My kitchen became my library and working space,” he said. “In 2020 and 2021, I wrote the book. I did over 80 interviews.”
Barone always kept his guitar next to him when he wrote his book so he could play the songs he discovered as he wrote about them. “I felt the songs even more … I know it sounds supernatural or metaphysical, but I was feeling some of the spirits around me,” he said. “I especially felt the spirit of Dave Von Ronk. I live on the street where much of this happened — Waverly Place. My block is one block from his apartment, the crash pad for all the folksingers.”
Why is Barone so passionate about music from this era?
“This music is important, and the message of the music is equally important,” he said. “It was written by young people for young people, expressing dissatisfaction with how things were, or expressions of joy of discovering themselves and new emotions. The energy within this songwriting makes it timeless.”
We discussed the connection between poetry and lyrics.
“That’s a big topic in my ‘Music + Revolution’ class,” he said, adding that “in fact, that’s what we are studying now: how folk singers were influenced by beat poets, by reading (Allen) Ginsberg and (Jack) Kerouac and how the lyrics changed into something more poetic at that time.”
Do you teach your students about the social and political movements behind these songs?
“Yes, right from the beginning we discuss politics,” he said. “I explain that Pete Seeger and the others were attending meetings of the Communist Party USA that got them in trouble. Seeger was in college at Harvard attending meetings. At first, it was seen as a way to support civil rights and the labor movements for workers’ rights. Those were two reasons for folk music to exist. It was used as messaging and beautifully used as a way to unify groups. Even the word hootenanny comes from unions. They were fundraisers for the unions. We talk about that in the classroom: that protections for workers didn’t exist until (unions organized) and music was intertwined in that.
“The first new songs in the folk revival were workers’ songs like Pete’s ‘If I Had a Hammer.’ He wrote it with Lee Hays in the 1940s.”
I asked about Janis Ian’s influence.
“Janis Ian is one of my favorite artists and a great example of someone who used music to help others through her own struggles,” he said. “Even (the song) ‘Society’s Child’ could have other meanings. It’s about racial (prejudice), but it’s also about how (outsiders) are accepted by others. It’s such a beautiful song. She (also) had an album about the FBI. Her whole family was under investigation because of her parents’ leanings. She had to learn at a young age about how the world works.
“She went through a lot. I love her. There were so many wonderful artists in the same place at the same time. It was a miracle.”
For Barone, teaching about this era is “not about nostalgia,” he said.” “It’s about timeless music and absolutely relevant today. Even if Tom Paxton does ‘Lyndon Johnson Told the Nation’ (at Carnegie Hall), it’s relevant to all wars.”
Barone has played at Carnegie Hall several times, including at a tribute concert for Peggy Lee in 2003 and in 2008 when his first book, “Frontman: Surviving the Rock Star Myth,” was released. “I’ve loved it as a music fan and as a producer of shows there,” he said. “I feel at home there. They treat music with a lot of respect and I feel that the music we are doing should be treated with a lot of respect. It belongs in a concert hall of this type.”
Barone grew up in Florida, so learning about the history of Greenwich Village, where he now lives, was fascinating. He was too young in the ’60s to venture out on his own to New York.
“I had to learn about it myself and that became an exciting journey,” he said.
Since the show is sold out, I wondered if Barone will book another evening at Carnegie Hall.
“I would like the show to return again and again with different and some of the same artists,” he said. “I’d like it to be an annual event. It’s timeless music.”
Barone is contemplating writing a book about music in the ’70s. He has the title picked, but cannot release details yet. “It’s the next step from ‘Music + Revolution’: Without the revolution of the ’60s in music, ’70s (music) could not have existed,” he said, adding that “the ’60s artists opened the doors of creativity, as well as sexual and political freedom. A lot of R&B artists took up the mantle of protest music … like Gil Scott-Heron had songs about the black experience.”
Can music change the world?
“I think it can change it for good and bad. I find that there’s not enough music that addresses social issues. I think that changes the world. Artists should exercise their right to speak their minds.”
Barone is also busy with his band The Bongos, who played at the Hoboken Art and Music Festival on Oct. 1. In September, RCA Records released an 40th anniversary remastered edition of the Bongos EP Numbers With Wings, featuring eight bonus tracks recorded live in 1985 at the Tradewinds nightclub in Sea Bright. This follows an expanded reissue of the band’s Beat Hotel album that came out in 2021.
“We reignited our relationship with our record company,” Barone said. “We were signed to RCA Records, which became Sony. They’ve been very supportive of our new releases and are excited about us putting them out. We mixed them with Steve Addabbo at his studio — it sounds great.”
Will you tour?
“Could be,” he said. “We might have other surprises around the holiday time.”
We discussed the threads that connect the Greenwich Village music with The Bongos and his solo projects.
“Without the ’60s music in the ‘Music + Revolution’ era, I don’t think the Bongos or any of the bands I’ve worked with would even exist for the simple reason that in the early 1960s — around the time of ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ — artists insisted on writing their own songs,” he said.
“Before that, people got their songs from publishing companies, or Broadway shows or movies, or the Brill Building … Then in the ’60s, singers started writing their own songs. It started a wave that we are still riding on. The Bongos and all the bands that played with us wrote their own songs. Greenwich Village replaced the big song factories.
“I’m really happy that I’m in a place where I can do these things. Certainly, performing as a solo artist — I love doing that. And performing with The Bongos, when we can all get together. I’m happy to be a professor and share what I’ve learned with my students. And that’s what it’s about.
“I love working with other bands that I produce. I’ve been working with one all year and they just got signed to a major label. (He will announce that soon). I love being able to write articles. I write for a few magazines, Tape Op, Magnet magazine. And I have another book in me. I see it all as one thing. One creative thing.”
Barone also hosts the “Folk Radio” show on the WBAI radio station (99.5 FM, New York), rotating with several other hosts. The show airs Thursdays from 10 p.m. to midnight and streams live.
The songs birthed in Greenwich Village in the 1960s remind us to take action, and serve as a reminder to defy conformity and remain vigilant. As Bob Dylan sang in “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding),” “He not busy being born is busy dying.”
“Music + Revolution: Greenwich Village in the 1960s” takes place at Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall, Nov. 19 at 7:30 p.m., with proceeds benefiting MusiCares and the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. Visit carnegiehall.org.
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