News / Arts & Entertainment

Coffeehouse Nurtured America's Folk Musicians Over Half a Century

Iconic Coffeehouse Nurtured America's Folk Musicians Over Half a Centuryi
X
December 11, 2013 10:43 PM
Saratoga Springs, in upstate New York, is far from America's musical hot spots of Nashville, Austin, Los Angeles and even New York City. But over the past five decades, a small coffeehouse there has hosted thousands of folk music and other acoustic concerts and helped many of America’s best-loved artists launch their careers. VOA’s June Soh takes us to Caffè Lena, which calls itself the oldest continuously running folk coffeehouse in the U.S. Carol Pearson narrates.
June Soh
Saratoga Springs, in upstate New York, is far from America's musical hot spots of Nashville, Austin, Los Angeles and even New York City. But over the past five decades, a small coffeehouse there has hosted thousands of folk music and other acoustic concerts and helped many of America’s best-loved artists launch their careers. Caffè Lena calls itself the oldest continuously running folk coffeehouse in the U.S.

Oliver Cravens and two friends formed the The Stray Birds folk group two years ago. They were recently feature performers at the coffeehouse for the first time.

"It is an honor to be on the same stage and the same space as some of the people who have inspired us to always do what we do," he said. "We will be happy to keep coming back to Caffè Lena."

Lena Spencer and her husband Bill opened the coffeehouse in 1960. Bill left two years later, but Lena kept the doors open until her death in 1989.  Steve Kovacik began performing on open mike nights 27 years ago, and has been a patron ever since.

"With musicians she [Lena Spencer] was very nurturing and very encouraging but she was also demanding," he said. "If you were a performer on the main stage doing a showcase you had to be able to deliver well, or she wasn’t happy.'
 
After Spencer’s passing, the Caffè became a non-profit organization. All the workers are volunteers. Sarah Craig, the group’s director, has run the club since 1995.

“When she died, everybody realized that, as much as they missed Lena, they just couldn’t let the club go," she said. "So they raised money to pay off the debts that the Caffè had at that time, and they developed the non-profit legal status."

For over 50 years, Caffè Lena has introduced thousands of folk musicians to audiences. Singer-songwriter Bob Dylan is one of many who went on to fame and fortune.  

“I think at this point the reputation of the club is such that if you want to be playing in the folk circuit in the United States, it is kind of one of those places that you have to stop and play," Craig said.

A new book and CD set celebrate the club's history and Lena Spencer's legacy. They are the result of extensive research by Jocelyn Arem, who first visited the club as a college music student.

“I remember walking up the stairs with my guitar over my shoulder and feeling like this place had a much bigger story that I wanted to know about," she said. "I recorded over 150 interviews over a 10-year period with musicians around the country and the photography collection we drew from for the book was 6,000 images."

Arem also recovered 700 hours of audio tapes that were recorded at the club from the early 1960s through the present.  She recently delivered them to the Library of Congress, where Todd Harvey is the American Folklife specialist.

“We are especially grateful such a wonderful documentation has been done," he said. "These will allow researchers to look at decades of traditional music performance and contemporary song composition and really get a sense of how these genres have evolved in the United States."

Next to the Caffè is a street named Lena Lane, commemorating the club and its founder who became a local legend.

This is a special place. Nurturing of new talent is still a strong part of the Caffè. I think it is great. I hope it keeps going forever after we are gone," said Steve Kovacik.

You May Like

Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Seen as a potential driver of recovery, Cairo’s plan to expand waterway had been raising hopes to give country much needed economic boost More

Ebola Maternity Ward in Sierra Leone First of its Kind

Country already had one of world's highest maternal mortality rates before Ebola arrived, virus has added even more complications to health care More

Malaysia Flight 370 Disappearance Ruled Accident

Aircraft disappeared on March 8, 2014; with ruling, families of 239 passengers and crew can now seek compensation from airline More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Productioni
X
George Putic
January 29, 2015 9:43 PM
The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Production

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Web

Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Freedom on Decline Worldwide, Report Says

The state of global freedom declined for the ninth consecutive year in 2014, according to global watchdog Freedom House's annual report released Wednesday. VOA's William Gallo has more.
Video

Video MRI Seems to Help Diagnose Prostate Cancer, Preliminary Study Shows

Just as with mammography used to detect breast cancer, there's a lot of controversy about tests used to diagnose prostate cancer. Fortunately, a new study shows doctors may now have a more reliable way to diagnose prostate cancer for high risk patients. More from VOA's Carol Pearson.
Video

Video Smartphones About to Make Leap, Carry Basic Senses

Long-distance communication contains mostly sounds and pictures - for now. But scientists in Britain say they are close to creating additions for our smartphones that will make it possible to send taste, smell and even a basic touch. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.
Video

Video Crowded Republican Presidential Field Off to Early Start for 2016

It seems early, but the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign is already heating up. Though no one has officially announced a candidacy, several potential Republican contenders have been busy speaking to conservative groups about making a White House run next year. Many of the possible contenders are critical of the Obama administration’s foreign policy record. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

 

 

 

 

 

Singer Leyla McCalla takes up not only the guitar, but the banjo and cello to perform songs from her new disc, “A Tribute to Langston Hughes,” music that mixes the Creole rhythms of Haiti with the French Quarter flavor of New Orleans on this edition of "The Hamilton Live."