Brooklyn Roots


“Folk music in New York City” prompts a mental rewind to the decades when Pete Seeger, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan played in Village coffeehouses. A few years ago a whole new slew of folk musicians revived the Village folk scene by busking in Washington Square Park. After a time they started a weekly folk/old time/blues show that became known as Roots & Ruckus. Its ringleader was Feral Foster (above), and its home was the unlikely karaoke belly of Village Ma, a Thai restaurant on MacDougal Street that Foster calls, a “chintzy, screwed-up little hell-hole of a place.”

What would soon become the Brooklyn folk scene was beginning to take root…in Manhattan of all places.

Foster continued to meet musicians who would be influential in shaping New York folk, like Eli Smith, the producer and host of the Down Home Radio Show, a “hardcore, unreconstructed, paleo-acoustic folk music program.” On top of interviewing guests like Bela Fleck, The Carolina Chocolate Drops and Pete Seeger, he plucks the banjo for the old-time string band, The Dust Busters, and has been known to play fiddle and washboard, among other instruments. Oh, and The Dust Busters also host square dances at private Brooklyn locations that you don’t want to miss.

In 2008, Smith engineered the relocation of the Foster’s Roots & Ruckus to Jalopy Theatre and School of Music in Red Hook–arguably the prime folk joint in Brooklyn (other hot spots include The Lovin’ Cup and the new-ish Brooklyn Rod & Gun). This re-rooting took place shortly after Geoff Wiley, the husband in the husband-and-wife team that runs Jalopy, visited Village Ma to investigate the scene.

Jalopy (pictured above during a banjo workshop with John Cohen) began as a community center for teaching and playing traditional music and soon added an instrument and repair shop, art shows and nightly music. As Lynette Wiley puts it, “So many musicians learned at their grandparents’ knees, sitting on the front porch. We started the music school for adults who didn’t have elders to learn from.”

Jalopy is also home to the Brooklyn Folk Festival, organized by Eli Smith and taking place for the second year this Friday through Sunday. He models the festival after the Newport Folk Festival in its 1960’s heyday and assembles an eclectic and packed line-up that includes traditional jazz, old ballads, blues, pre-blues, and Mexican, Greek, and African music.

On Friday night, the good-looking, good-sounding, almost all-female old-time string quintet, The Calamity Janes will be crooning immediately before The Dust Busters go on. On Saturday and Sunday afternoon and evening well-known area folk musicians like Willy Gantrim, The Dough Rollers and Feral Foster will take the stage. The performance-heavy days will be interspersed with workshops, a greeting from Brooklyn prez, Marty Markowtiz himself, and even an outdoor square dance at a nearby park. Grab a partner, and do-si-do down to Red Hook.

Text by Alicia Kachmar, sent by Annaliese. Photos courtesy of Eli Smith/Down Home.

One Response

  1. Helenrose11 -

    IMPACT 2012 Festival at the Culture Project
    All the Way from America: A night of Woody Guthrie, Labor, Union and Anti-Corporate Songs – hosted by Eli Smith

    On Friday August 3rd, Eli Smith, host and producer of the Brooklyn Folk Festival and the Washington Square Park Folk Festival presents a night of historical and contemporary labor, union and anti-corporate songs.  In our climate of culture scarcity and political stagnation, one could forget that America has produced in its history a wealth of great protest songs.  Come to the Culture Project on Friday August 3rd for a healthy dose of this great historic material as well as original songs from today!  The show will feature several of the artists performing songs by Woody Guthrie, who would have been 100 years old this year. 

    Bob Malenky – Folk and Blues singer/guitarist

    Jessy Carolina – Jazz and Folk singer and songwriter

    Eli Smith and Peter K. Siegel – Old time union songs, with guitar and banjo, etc.

    Jesse Lenat – Folk singer/guitarist and songwriter

    IMPACT Festival
    at The Culture Project
    45 Bleecker Street (at Lafayette)
    New York, NY 10012
    212 925 1806
    Details:Friday August 3rdShowtime: 8pm$10Tickets:


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