Folk, roots, old-time revival – whatever you want to call it, there is something stirring in the music dens of New York. Encompassing bluegrass, old time, blues and more, the music and melodies are woven into the fabric of a rich American culture. But don’t think of it as static, stuck in the past, or confined to the hinterland – the Coen brothers are tapping the scene for their anticipated film ‘Inside Llewn Davis’ due out next year, whilst bustling New York has plenty of places to run the hoedown, tap the washboard, and find a bit of country in the city. New York flights are also cheap and widely available, so if music’s your thing why not plan a visit to the Big Apple?
New York’s Folk Music Revival
Squeeze In & Listen
If it’s big venue entertainment you’re after and you want to explore the US’s rich blues heritage, check out the free live music every night at Lucille’s Grill at BB King Blues Club and Grill on West 42nd. You’ll find local talent performing soulful blues, and there’s great food on offer too. Plus it’s on Manhattan Island itself, so it’s a great way to wind up a day out downtown.
But to get under the skin of traditional music in New York, it’s worth heading further afield to find those lesser known gems: small venues which are not only intimate, but where you’ll find communities of artists and musicians happy to share their knowledge and passion with you, particularly if you’re doing more than just passing through. Expect a variety of up and coming acts, genuine undiscovered talent and a feeling of being right at home in the vast metropolis. Here are three to get your feet tapping:
Small’s Jazz Club, 183 W 10th St, Greenwich Village
The name describes the venue, but not the history, or the music: Small’s Jazz Club is archetypal: brick and cobblestone in a basement, and lots of surprise performances. The club used to charge $10 for entrance and folk would bring their own drinks to stay and play until dawn or until they fell asleep. Now you can pick up a drink there too, but the cover charge still lasts until closing so you can enjoy their jam sessions from just after midday until 3am.
Jalopy’s Theatre and School of Music, 315 Columbia Street, Brooklyn
The endearingly named Jalopy’s Theatre, as well as running all kinds of classes with the most friendly, skilled and talented teachers you might find anywhere, is literally a prayer hall for talented fiddlers, pianists, and more, with wooden pews facing its theatrical stage.
Roots ‘n Ruckus nights every Wednesday give you a free taste of the most authentic folk in New York City, with tub-basses, kazoos and harmonicas galore, but they also have ticketed events hosting talents such as Cynthia Sayer and Paul Geremia.
There’s also a café, and an instrument store in case you get really inspired.
Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain, 513 Henry Street, Brooklyn
Whether or not you want to watch or join in, the acoustic Old-time Jam with Alan Friend every Tuesday at Brooklyn Farmacy Soda Fountain is a friendly place to enjoy music.
The place’s motto, “fresh, friendly, local” could be said to apply to its music just as much as to its artisanal foods and selection of sodas. They also offer some great desserts in this charming historical venue.
In fact, it’s a great place for a sweet treat for the whole family during the day. They also have other family-friendly events from time-to-time, such as morning jams and sing-a-longs.
Learn To Play
The classes at Jalopy’s cover everything including klezmer fiddle, off-beat banjo tunings, Kentucky fiddle bowing techniques, country harmony singing, ukulele, mandolin, and banjo stylings.
You learn in songs, in groups, and can rent an instrument too, which is particularly handy if you’re just trying out. Alan Friend who organizes the jams at the Farmacy, teaches banjo, guitar, concertina and fiddle.
Also at Jalopy’s is the New York City Barn Dance. They teach and walk-through all the dances, so you don’t need to know before you go – but it’s not a class.
Everybody’s keen to get on with the dancing and they welcome participation regardless of experience – probably the most fun way to learn a staple of American culture, and listen to the calls of the traditional square dance.