"Our most ancient metaphor says life is a journey. Memoir is travel writing, then, notes taken along the way, telling how things looked and what thoughts occurred. . . .This is the traveler who goes on foot, living the journey, taking on mountains, enduring deserts, marveling at the lush green places...as a pilgrim, seeking, wondering." -Patricia Hampl

August 05, 2008

Old Folk (Music)'s Home: Reminiscing Club Passim

I've always fancied myself a maven of bad timing, born too late. In the early 1980's, just when I was discovering how to do the Airplane, disco's jive had left The Studio. And by the time I got my caterpillar, it was time to don the grungy, plaid button-downs and join the rock world in its state of Nirvana.

But one musical genre has survived in me since I was a young girl at a sleepaway camp. My counselors, rec staff (heck--especially the music and nature leaders), all of them survivors of the mid- to late-1960's, very passively, perhaps unknowingly, instilled in me a love for folk music. Between meals, or walking from (what I'm sure is still called) "farts and craps" (arts and crafts) to swimming, and always into the night beside a campfire, these then-young adults taught me the fundamentals of a kind of music that has probably contributed more to my being who I am perhaps as much as my parents could have. At the time--was I 9? 10?--I had no inkling about the political ideologies behind Woody Guthrie's This Land is Your Land or the Seegers' Ballad of the Unknown Soldier. Of course, songsters of the 70's crept into our repertoire, but we campers didn't care. Snack time would be soon, and I had my frozen Charleston Chew to look forward to, as long as I sang my heart out.

Flash forward to my early 20's, living in Western Massachusetts, a grad student with no intention to let my studies curb my wanderlust. Eager to explore New England and its coastline, I found the soundtrack of choice to my open road travels that of my youth: Dylan, Baez, Bob Marley, Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor, CSNY. And just when I'd mastered the rural routes between Stockridge and Boston, it was time to move on again, Master's degree in hand, to pound the proverbial pavement. I landed in Boston, eventually in Cambridge, home to the locally-famous Club 47 that had become known as Club Passim. Here, I could watch both unknown and legendary musicians, listen to their stories, and learn about the "new folk" scene in the area: all within walking distance of my humble apartment. Add to this luck my discovery of the Newport Folk Festival (a couple hours' drive from Cambridge) and the historic Somerville Theatre, where I had the fortune to hear Joan Baez play, and herein lay the makings of a devoted folkie.

It was at Club Passim that I saw some of the most memorable performances: old folk legends such as Dave Van Ronk, Ramblin' Jack Elliott (both of whom are rumored to have helped jumpstart Dylan's career), to new folksters such as Jess Klein, with whom I'd gone to high school. This tiny, often crowded, often hot, underground venue provided the backdrop to many a first date, dinner with a friend, or a night alone with my journal. During my tenure in Cambridge, it was almost a second home.

It has been six years since I've lived in the vicinity of Club Passim. On my way home from a Wegman's run the other day, NPR ran a segment heralding the 50th anniversary of the Club. I couldn't have felt farther away had I been abroad: here I am, "settled down" in Rochester, a house (rather than a dilapidated apartment), a husband, a baby on the way, groceries in the back seat. A wave of nostalgia brought me to tears--not hard these days, for the hormones surging through my body. And so, in my own tribute to Club Passim, I write this little remembrance. Thanks to the people who continue to make this magical place a staple of the music scene in Boston and for folk aficionados everywhere, and who keep alive the spirit of folk: a music by good people, for good people.