Richard Barone to Host SummerStage Tribute: 'Music + Revolution: Greenwich Village in the 1960s'

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Nathaniel HL
The cover photo for Richard Barone's album, Sorrows & Promises: Greenwich Village in the 1960s, evokes the street imagery used for the cover of The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan released in 1963.

Pioneers of the folk music movement, and those they inspired, will join their voices in song at New York’s SummerStage in Central Park Aug. 12 during a tribute to one of the city’s most iconic and influential neighborhoods.

Music + Revolution: Greenwich Village in the 1960s, hosted by singer/songwriter and longtime village resident Richard Barone, will bring together a multigenerational cast of musicians who found inspiration in the streets surrounding New York’s Washington Square Park.

The evening of music and stories will feature a remarkable lineup including: John Sebastian, Jesse Colin Young, Melanie, José Feliciano, Maria and Jenni Muldaur, Marshall Crenshaw, Jeffrey Gaines, Nellie McKay, David Amram, Happy Traum, The Kennedys, Tammy Faye Starlite, music journalist and author Anthony DeCurtis, Cindy Lee Berryhill, Steve Addabbo, Joe McGinty and Jeordie, with “cameo appearances” by Elvis Perkins, Syd Straw and WFUV’s John Platt. 

“The show is a guided tour of an era,” says Barone, who came to prominence in New York in the the early 1980s as frontman and songwriter for the power-pop trio the Bongos, based in Hoboken, N.J. For Barone, the SummerStage event is a labor of love and an offshoot of his 2016 album Sorrows & Promises: Greenwich Village in The 1960s.

The concept for that album came from writer and veteran A&R executive Mitchell Cohen, who waylaid Barone one night after a performance at City Winery in Manhattan’s Tribeca neighborhood.  “He pulled me aside and said, `I have a project for you. Are you free tomorrow?’”

Barone and Cohen talked about the singer/songwriter tradition in Greenwich Village in the 1960s with a perspective that extended well beyond the topical folk songs for which the era is perhaps best remembered.  Their vision embraced Buddy Holly, who lived just north of Washington Square Park before his plane crash on the day the music died in 1959; Feliciano, who brought his training in Spanish classical guitar to the clubs of Bleecker Street in the early 1960s, and proto-punk Lou Reed, whose band, the Velvet Underground, shared the same record producer, Tom Wilson, with Simon & Garfunkel.

“I wanted to do an album that explored the depth, variety, and complexity of the music being written in the 1960s (and just over a year before the start of the decade, in Holly’s case) in downtown New York City,” Cohen writes in the liner notes of Sorrows & Promises.“The album I envisioned would gather together a dozen or so of those songs and, I hoped, put them in the context they deserved, as songs that belonged in any definition of the Great American Songbook.”

On Sorrows &  Promises, Barone collaborated with many of the artists who will appear at the SummerStage event. On the album, he and Sebastian of the Lovin’ Spoonful duet on “Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind?”  Nellie McKay joins Barone on Richard Fariña’s “Pack Up Your Sorrows.” Multi-instrumentalist and composer David Amram, whose history in Greenwich Village goes back to his days hanging with Jack Kerouac in the 1950s, is featured on a version of Tim Hardin’s “Don’t Make Promises.”  Jenni Muldaur brings her voice to “Sunday Morning,” which was written by Reed and bandmate John Cale and released by the Velvet Underground & Nico.  “Even the [Velvet’s]  song `Heroin' is almost like a folk song,” says Barone.  “`Sunday Morning’ has very much the quality of a Simon & Garfunkel song.”

Cohen and Barone made inspired choices to bookend Sorrows & Promises, which was produced by Addabbo and recorded at Shelter Island Sound in New York’s Flatiron District. The album opens with a little-known song from Buddy Holly, “Learning the Game,” which the singer left behind as a demo tape — and suggests Holly might have pioneered folk-rock, had he lived.”It's remarkable to think what could have happened,” says Barone. 

Sorrows and Promises closes with the Kennedys — the husband and wife duo of Pete and Maura Kennedy who will perform in the house band at SummerStage, joining Barone on “Bleeker Street,” which appeared on Simon & Garfunkel’s 1964 debut album Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. “We ended the album with that because it describes a walk through the village,” say Barone, describing the song’s “beautiful and poetic” lyrics.

Other artists were essential to the vision behind the SummerStage event. Feliciano’s presence, for example, is a reminder of the importance of Latin culture in New York in the 1950s and 1960s. (Barone notes that his Central Park performance comes 50 years after Feliciano was infamously booed after singing a Latin jazz version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” before Game Five of the 1968 World Series between the Detroit Tigers and the St. Louis Cardinals.) And Traum was one of the group of musicians — including Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs and others — who recorded an album called Broadsides in 1963 for Folkways Records.  With his group, the New World Singers, Traum recorded the first version of Dylan’s “Blowin’ In The Wind.”

Barone’s musical exploration of Greenwich Village in the 1960s will not end once the final note sounds at SummerStage. This fall he will teach a course, with the same title as the SummerStage event, at the School of Jazz & Contemporary Music at The New School in Manhattan.

“My course is geared for students to be able to understand that this music is important because, for one thing, this is perpetually youthful music. I'm trying to keep that spirit in this concert — regardless [of the fact] that David Amram is 87,” Barone quips. “David Amram is just as young as anyone that I know.”

“One thing I wanted to add,” continues Barone, “is the importance of the idea of the message in this music. Just the idea of self-expression is a political statement and an expression of our First Amendment rights. That's why the title of the concert is `Music + Revolution.’ The revolution does not have to be necessarily overtly political. But it's a political statement to express yourself. And that's what this concert is really all about.”


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