The last time a concert was billed as “three days of peace, love and music,” an upstate New York farm bloomed into the epicenter of rock music.
The same thing is about to happen to Brooklyn.
For three days starting on May 15, folk musicologist Eli Smith will launch the first annual “Brooklyn Folk Festival” at Jalopy, a two-year-old Columbia Street music hall and guitar repair shop that has quickly become home to the city’s folk, blues and bluegrass fellow travelers.
“Manhattan has become inhospitable for live music,” said Smith, a Park Sloper who plays banjo in the Dust Busters (see schedule).
Smith didn’t need to look too far to put together three full nights of kick-ass music with performers who range from Delta blues guitarists, bluegrass fiddlers, country singers, a band of whistlers and even Artie Stile, who hums into a ceramic jug with an “XXX” on the side.
At a rehearsal and photo shoot this week, Smith pointed around the room at the wealth of talent that would be appearing at the festival — and everyone called Brooklyn the city’s true home for folk music.
Feral Foster, for example, relocated his weekly “Roots and Ruckus” blues, folk and bluegrass jam session from Village Ma on Macdougal Street in Manhattan to Jalopy last year and never looked back.
“This place is so much better than Macdougal Street,” said Foster, who’ll perform his apocalyptic blues on the second night of the festival. “All the good venues are in Brooklyn now. In Manhattan, the club owners are so worried about paying the rent that they have to compromise the quality.”
Hearing the conversation, blues guitarist Hubby Jenkins, all of 23 years old, came over and added his two bits.
“Manhattan is a symbol for all of what’s wrong with contemporary music right now,” he said, though frequently interrupted himself to sing Sonny Boy Williamson’s “9 Below Zero,” a song that makes Jenkins’s voice sound a lot older than 23 years.
“Contemporary music is just s–t,” he said. “Young people are realizing it and that’s why they are reaching back to the older forms, like folk and blues. Why listen to rap when you can listen to James Brown?”
Or, more precisely, a jam session at Jalopy? While a photographer set up the publicity shot, Smith started banging away on a 19th-century English banjo, guitarist Ernie Vega grabbed a mandolin and Jenkins played along on bone castanets. Suddenly, the trio was playing “Old Joe Clarke,” that World War I-era mountain ballad.
Meanwhile, Lynette Wiley, who started Jalopy with her husband Geoff after both got tired of their lives in Chicago, fluttered around like the new folk movement’s mother hen that she is.
“When we opened this place, I thought the hardest part would be finding talent to play, but that was the easy part,” said Wiley, who confessed that she and her husband scouted other Brooklyn-esque locations, including the two Portlands and San Francisco, before settling on Columbia Street.
She didn’t regret the decision.
“Within a 10-minute walk are some of the best musicians in America,” she said.
That explains why the formal schedule for the folk festival reads like a Greatest Hits album.
“I would have been a part of anything that Eli put together,” said Frank Hoier, the Bard of Bushwick, who’ll close out the opening night slate. “But this bill is so outrageous that I would have said ‘yes’ even if it was sponsored by McDonalds!”
The overall result is a Woodstock for Brooklyn’s booming folk scene.
“The goal is to have a real folk festival — not something that calls itself a folk festival, but is really just singer-songwriters,” Smith said. “We have traditional American music — blues, old time string music, New Orleans jazz, Appalachian ballads, plus West African and Mexican folk music.
“This is Brooklyn’s chance to take back the word ‘folk’ once and for all.”
Here’s the full schedule for the Brooklyn Folk Festival at Jalopy [315 Columbia St., between Hamilton Avenue and Woodhull Street in the Columbia Street Waterfront District, (718) 395-3214], May 15–17. Tickets are $10 per day or $25 for all three days. For info, visit www.brooklynfolkfest.com.:
Friday, May 15
8:45 pm: East River String Band
9:30 pm: Hubby Jenkins
10 pm: The Cangelosi Cards
11 pm: Jessy Carolina
11:40 pm: Brotherhood of the Jug Band Blues
12:20 am: Frank Hoier
Saturday, May 16
2–6:30 pm: Jam session*
7:30 pm: Willy Gantrim
8 pm: Whistling Wolves
8:45 pm: Sana Ndiaye
9:30 pm: Pat Conte
10 pm: Alex Battles with Banjorama
10:45 pm: Elizabeth Butters
11:20 pm: The Dust Busters
Midnight: Feral Foster
12:30 am: John Houx
Sunday, May 17
6:30 pm: Ernie Vega
7 pm: Mamie Minch
7:30 pm: Bob Malenky
8 pm: John Cohen
8:45 pm: Semilla
9:15 pm: Blind Boy Paxton
10 pm: Strung Out String Band
10:45 pm: Danny Kalb
* At the bar next door