Rick Danko: The Man Behind the Music

December 20th, 2013
Carol Caffin and Rick Danko in Pennsauken, NJ, September 1990

Carol Caffin and Rick Danko in Pennsauken, NJ, September 1990

On December 29, Rick Danko, the bass player and singer in The Band, would have been 70. Danko grew up in Ontario, Canada, and left school at 14 to become a rock musician. His break came when he was tapped by Ronnie Hawkins to join The Hawks, one of Canada’s hottest bands at the time. It was there that he met Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Robbie Robertson and Richard Manuel. In 1963 Danko, Helm, Robertson, Hudson and Manuel broke away from Ronnie Hawkins to form their own group. According to Rick’s obituary in the New York Times they toured under such names as the Canadian Squires. After performing session work for John Hammond, Jr., the group met John Hammond, Sr., who in turn introduced them to Bob Dylan. They soon joined Dylan in Woodstock. During Dylan’s hiatus from touring, they began to record in the basement of the big pink house in West Saugerties, which was found by Rick Danko. The tapes from those sessions became known as The Basement Tapes. The group became known as The Band and went on to record ten albums that are considered among the most influential of all time. In 1994, Rick joined fellow group members Garth Hudson and Robbie Robertson on stage when The Band were inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.

To get a sense of the man behind the touring persona, I recently talked with Carol Caffin, Rick’s friend and longtime publicist. She described Rick as a “badass,” but in the next breath spoke of him as having an “innocent quality”—one of looking at the world around him with a sense of wonder. He was also by turns goofy, crazy, and shy. Not book-educated, he was thrust into the spotlight, into the world of rock and roll, and was able to adapt. “Stage Fright,” the song, was a good fit for his personality. He had a charismatic, one-of-a-kind spirit. Read the rest of this entry »

Woodstock Soundout @ Bearsville Theater

May 21st, 2013
Woodstock Soundout poster for May 26, 2013

Woodstock Soundout poster for May 26, 2013

On May 26, 2013, at the Bearsville Theater, Happy Traum will host Marco Benevento, Tracy Bonham, Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams, Jay Collins, Dave Dreiwitz Donald Fagan, Amy Helm, Connor Kennedy, Jerry Marotta, Tim Moore, A.C. Newman, Jane Scarpantoni, Jim Weider, Doug Yoel and Peter Dougan & The WDS Advance Ensemble, among others, singing songs from Bob Dylan’s catalog at the Woodstock Soundout. The doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the concert starts at 8 p.m.

The Woodstock Soundouts began in September 1967 as an outdoor folk/rock concert produced by Pan Copeland and Jocko Moffitt. Moffitt, a roofer and drummer from California, modeled them after festivals he had seen in his native state. Acts like Richie Havens, Billy Batson, Phil Ochs and Tim Hardin performed in 1967. The concerts occurred yearly until 1970. Due to mass gathering limits—on the Town of Saugerties books—of no more than 200 people allowed, the concert series became unprofitable and were discontinued. In 2008 they were resuscitated by the Woodstock Day School(WDS) as a fundraising event. The school is located across the road from the old site on lower Glasco Turnpike in West Saugerties. In 2009 Happy Traum, a Soundout Festival vet from the 1960s, co-founded the Bob Dylan birthday celebration at the Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild with Lu Ann Bielawa. Last year the WDS Soundout series was merged with the annual Dylan birthday celebration.


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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Woodstock and Camp Woodland

October 19th, 2010

A Woodstock Playhouse program cover from August 1960, courtesy of Joe Hickerson

The Historical Society of Woodstock’s Folk Songs of the Catskills: The Spirit of Camp Woodland exhibit and related events drew hundreds of attendees this past summer. For example, on August 14 nearly 100 people attended the presentation/folk concert with Sue Rosenberg, Pat Lamanna, Joe Hickerson, Mickey Vandow and Eric Weissberg.

During the exhibit people asked about the linkage between Camp Woodland (near Phoenicia, NY) and Woodstock. As it happens, there are innumerable links. Herb Haufrecht, one of the authors of Folk Songs of the Catskills, and a Camp Woodland music counselor, lived in Shady, NY, a hamlet of Woodstock. Another connection was through Barbara Moncure, a local folk singer. She and Alf Evers (for many years the Woodstock Town Historian, and author of Woodstock: History of an American Town) used to venture over to Camp Woodland for the annual festivals. Barbara performed at them, and eventually recorded an album of Catskill Mountain songs for Folkways. In 1959, Alf organized the First Annual Catskill Mountain Folk Music Festival at the Colony Arts Center. Several Catskill Mountain folk singers like “Squire” Elwyn Davis and Harry Siemson, who had previously appeared at Camp Woodland, performed at that festival. Another instance of Camp Woodland/Woodstock linkage occurred in August 1960 when Joe Hickerson, a counselor at the camp, headlined a concert with Carolyn Hester at the Woodstock Playhouse.

Pete Seeger, a big influence at the camp, was connected to Woodstock via his wife, Toshi, who grew up in the town. Pete played at a Woodstock Playhouse concert in 1962. Funds from that concert partially financed the Woodstock Folk Festival at the Woodstock Estates in 1962. Bob Dylan arrived in town around 1963 and John Herald, a former camper, came up to Woodstock in 1965. John Cohen, a former camp counselor, played the Sound-Outs with his band the New Lost City Ramblers.

Many of these interconnections are spelled out in Roots of the 1969 Woodstock Festival, published last year by WoodstockArts.

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