The Times They Were a-Changin': Pictures from the Birth of Folk Music

A trove of images from the heyday of an iconic venue

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In 1960, Lena and Bill Spencer opened a small coffeehouse in upstate New York village of Saratoga Springs.  The married couple — fans of the burgeoning folk scene — named their new establishment Caffè Lena and spent a lot of time in Boston and New York City searching for artists to play their venue.

Blues legends like Mississipi John Hurt, Jackie Washington, and Bernice Johnson Reagon all made the 3-hour trip from Manhattan  to play in the cramped second-floor venue. Don Maclean played there in 1965—seven years before “American Pie.” And in 1962, so did a shy folk singer named Bob Dylan.

A new book, Caffè Lena: Inside America’s Legendary Folk Music Coffeehouse, offers a fascinating visual history of this famed venue — still open and hosting concerts more than half a century later. (Of course, the new Coen brothers movie Inside Llewyn Davis — loosely based on the career of Dylan pal Dave Von Ronk —  has raised interest in this storied musical scene.)

Browse the images in this gallery for a intimate look at a cultural movement that helped define a generation.

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Caffè Lena: Inside America’s Legendary Folk Music Coffeehouse, edited by Jocelyn Arem in collaboration with Caffè Lena, published by powerHouse Books.

More Photography from Time

1 comments
JBoudreau
JBoudreau

"Pictures from the Birth of Folk Music"? Even if the photos had been taken by Nicéphore Niépce, folk music would have been around for centuries.
Time makes a common mistake, confusing the so-called folk revival of the 60's and the subsequent acoustic pop music it spanned that many today perceive as folk with authentic folk music.
Even Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger shunned the 
appellation, preferring the terms "troubadour" and "river singer", respectively.