More than five decades ago, in the clubs, coffee shops, and hangouts of Cambridge and Boston, a music scene emerged. A bunch of teenagers playing guitars didn’t seem like much at the time, but this folk revival would prove to be instrumental in shaping legendary artists of the genre. It was spots like Cambridge’s Club 47 that gave a Boston University dropout named Joan Baez a stage, or occasionally let a quiet kid named Bob Dylan play harmonica.
The new Folk & Americana Music Series at the Boch Center, which kicks off April 18 at the Shubert Theatre, offers a look back to that transformative period in American popular music, paying tribute to folk legends while shining a spotlight on emerging artists who are carrying the torch in the modern age.
For Boch Center President & CEO Josiah Spaulding, there are some personal motivations behind the series. A music fanatic himself, he released an album and toured as a singer-songwriter as a younger man; as a fan, he attended the festivals at Woodstock and Watkins Glen. But more importantly, he wants to show to audiences, new and old, that all musical genres share some of the same DNA.
“The more I had been in this business, I realized that almost every artist out there has come from folk, Americana backgrounds. Whether they went into bluegrass or jazz or rock or country, it pretty much started that way,” he explains. “Boston and Cambridge, we became a hub of folk music, and therefore we should celebrate that more.”
The series will kick off with the Weight Band, which features members of the Band, the Levon Helm Band, the Rick Danko Group, and the Midnight Ramble Band. The Weight will stick around for four more performances in the fall, with a rotating group of guest artists. For this month’s show, they will joined by the Guthrie Family (Abe, Cathy, Annie, and Sarah Lee), who will honor the rich songbook of patriarch Woody, and Hudson Valley folk-rockers the Mammals. “There’s going to be different special guests joining us at all these shows we’re putting on, which I think is really important,” says Jim Weider, who joined a later incarnation of the Band in 1985 and currently plays guitar and sings in the Weight. “It reminds me of the [Midnight] Rambles we did at Levon’s barn with the Helm band; we had different people always sitting in with us,” he says of the shindigs at the late Band drummer’s home in Woodstock. “It’s going to be loose and exciting, and that’s what music is all about.”
Tying the atmosphere together will be Boston archivist David Bieber’s massive collection of folk and Americana-related memorabilia, which will be on display in the Shubert. From concert posters to album covers to everything in between, Bieber hopes that his collection will provide context to the music and bring the folk scene back to life for the audience. “I think people do have a real curiosity of where things came from,” he says in a phone interview. “These songs, these artists, and these ideas didn’t spontaneously explode on the scene; they had been percolating and existing for decades. The great thing is if you can chronicle all this and present it in front of a public that’s coming to see music, then that fills a lot of the blanks.”
With folk veterans and a museum’s worth of memorabilia all in one theater, the Folk & Americana Series will be a fitting nostalgia trip back to the early ’60s music scene. But by also featuring new, younger talents alongside the older ones, the series hopes to emphasize the fact that no matter the artist, era, or genre, folk is alive and here to stay.
“You fast-forward to today, and the Milk Carton Kids, the Lumineers, Mumford & Sons — these are all bands today that attract the younger generation that refer to themselves as ‘folk,’” Spaulding says. “That’s important. So when I say to my friends, ‘Hey guys, have you listened to the Milk Carton Kids?’ the same thing goes when I ask young people who the Band was. You need to know both of them, and this is an opportunity to experience it and hear the stories.”
Folk & Americana Music Series
At the Shubert Theatre, Boston, April 18 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets: From $25, 866-348-9738, www.bochcenter.org
Robert Steiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org