A year after its auspicious debut, the Village Trip – a music and culture festival celebrating the culture-shifting art that has originated in Greenwich Village over the last 100 years – is back. The 2019 Village Trip kicked off Thursday (Sept. 26) with a rousing hootenanny at the Bitter End, the iconic, well-worn folk club that’s hosted everyone from Bob Dylan to Joni Mitchell.
The evening was a tribute to late folklorist Izzy Young and featured Tom Chapin as host, with performances from Rory Block, David Amram, Martha Redbone, Diana Jones and David Massengill for a transfixed audience.
Amram, a Greenwich fixture who’s worked with everyone from Leonard Bernstein to Miles Davis to Loudon Wainwright III, still boasts an energetic, enigmatic charm even as he nears his 90th birthday. His playful piano work and sly wit were on display as he delivered a version of “What a Wonderful World” that featured him riffing on everything from the streets of Greenwich to greedy landlords.
Appalachian dulcimer player David Massengill gave a little history lesson prior to playing “The Great American Dream,” a beautiful gem that he says was “born at 4 o’clock outside the Bitter End” when a stranger came up to him and said, “Excuse me sir, I am a foreigner. Where is this place Green Witch?”
Martha Redbone, who said she was “grateful to share stage with so many bucket list folks,” performed “On Anothers Sorrow,” a bluesy roots song inspired by the poetry of William Blake that demonstrated the rich depth of her voice. Redbone has Cherokee and Choctaw roots, but it was Nashville singer-songwriter Diana Jones who most explicitly spoke to the Native American plight with her deeply affecting song “Pony,” sung from the perspective of a young girl grappling with assimilation.
Country blues exponent Rory Block stunned with “Lovin’ Whiskey,” a composition she penned inspired by a breakup letter to an alcoholic ex. Unlike plenty of sobering folk tunes, that one had a happy ending: the letter ended up inspiring the man to clean up, and the two remain friends.
After a surprise appearance from Eric Franzen (who taught Oscar Isaac finger-picking for the Greenwich-set Coen Brothers film Inside Llewyn Davis), the evening wrapped with two sing-alongs of enduring standards: Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” and Lead Belly’s “Goodnight, Irene.” The former included the oft-excised verse about trespassing on private property, and for the latter, Amram riffed an improv verse that shouted out Village Trip founder Liz Thomson, a British journalist and Joan Baez fanatic who conceived of the festival as a means of spotlighting the history and enduring appeal of the neighborhood.
And as six ace folkies traded the spotlight on Thursday night for a packed house at the Bitter End, it might as well have been 1962; not a cell phone was in sight, just an enraptured audience hanging on every lyric and sound from a guitar, piano or dulcimer.
The Village Trip continues through Sept. 29.