Gerde’s Folk City

Gerde’s Folk City

11 West 4th Street, New York, NY 10014

Gerde’s Folk City was one of the many coffeehouses around MacDougal Street that hosted hootenannies.


Folk Music Thrives in the Village


Folk was also the music of the moment, and the best place to read about it was the Village Voice. Writers for that neighborhood paper had a connection to the downtown arts scenes that was far more intimate than, say, reporters from larger media organizations like the New York Times. Coverage from independent media outlets such as the Voice—and, later, the East Village Other and SoHo Weekly News—generated momentum and publicity for these scenes that allowed them to grow. It was a mutually constitutive relationship. Michael Smith and Richard Goldstein (who became the Voice’s theater and rock critics) shaped their respective scenes through their writing, and the same was true of the paper’s coverage of the folk phenomenon. The Bronx-born Goldstein first discovered the Village Voice in the late 1950s after listening to the independent Pacifica radio station, WBAI, which also cultivated the downtown’s underground scenes. Reading the Voice, he learned about the folk music that was happening in coffeehouses and at Washington Square Park, and began taking the subway down there with friends. “The club that we went to the most was Gerde’s Folk City in the Village, off MacDougal Street,” Goldstein said. “Gerde’s Folk City was one of the places that had these open mic events that we called hootenannies. That’s where I saw Dylan first.” The Gaslight was another coffeehouse that Dylan frequented, a basement venue that could squeeze in about 125 people. The older Italians who lived on the upper floors complained about the noise that wafted up from below, and they retaliated by throwing things down the airshaft. “So instead of clapping, if people liked a performance they were supposed to snap their fingers,” folk musician Dave Van Ronk explained. “Of course, along with solving the noise problem, that also had some beatnik cachet.”

From Chapter 4 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore