Woodstock Folk Fest, Part II: Billy Faier

March 22nd, 2011

Billy Faier, one of the co-founders of the Woodstock Folk Festival, came to Woodstock as 14-year-old in 1945. According to Eleanor Walden, Billy was a very independent teenager. She remembers visiting his apartment in the mid-1940s in Greenwich Village and listening to folk and blues records. One time in 1946 she and Billy came up to Woodstock for the weekend. Faier loved Woodstock. When he was growing up in Brooklyn, he recalls on his website, he was patronized, ignored and abused by so-called schoolmates. Upon relocating to Woodstock he attended Kingston High School and found he was treated much the same. However, when he moved out and about in the Woodstock community he encountered a group of people who accepted him. These were the artists of the Woodstock Art Colony.

During the 1950s Faier became proficient on the five-string banjo. He recorded a series of albums, including two for the Riverside label and another on Electra. In 1959 he appeared at the Newport Folk Festival. By 1962 Billy was an accomplished and connected folk music veteran, so it makes sense that he co-founded the Woodstock Folk Festival, which occurred that year. After the festival Bernard and Mary Lou Paturel hired him as a talent booker for the Café Espresso.

The Café Espresso was the brainchild of Franklin “Bud” Drake and Jim Hamilton, two enterprising graduates of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. They transformed a former ice cream and sandwich eatery known as The Nook into a Parisian-style bistro. They set the ambience with a hand-painted bar, an indoor fountain and red-and-white-checked tablecloths. The carefree atmosphere encouraged artists and locals to mix in a warm and friendly manner. Drake and Hamilton were not restaurant professionals, so they relied on a Russian chef and a maître d’ with local connections to run the business. Faier made reference to the Drake/Hamilton management style on his album the beast of Billy Faier, in a cut titled, “The Unpleasantness at the Nook.”

Under the Paturels, who soon purchased the café, Faier began booking well-known local and national folk acts to play at the club. One such talent was Happy Traum. The latter came up to Woodstock on the bus from New York one cold spring weekend. Traum remembers that it was the weekend in 1963 that Bob Dylan played Town Hall. Other notable talents who played at the Espresso included Tom Paxton, Patrick Sky, Billy Batson, Jerry Moore, Major Wiley, along with many others.

One day in 1963 the Paturels lent their upstairs studio to Dylan to live and work. His presence attracted the likes of Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, John Sebastian, the Farinas, Joan Baez, Dave Van Ronk, and Peter, Paul and Mary to after-hour jam sessions at the café.

One Response to “Woodstock Folk Fest, Part II: Billy Faier”

  1. Robin says:

    I lived in woodstock from 1975-1983, and wored at the health food store in the center of town, which was a hub of activity. Billy was a regular there, but on a road trip out west, after I left Woodstock, in the 80’s I ran into Billy in No Cal and was reminded of the wonderful place I called home for 8 years

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