Washington Square Park Folk Festival Returns for Year Two at WSP This Weekend (9/15 & 16, 2012)


For the second year in a row, the Washington Square Park Folk Festival will take place for 2 days at the park this coming weekend on September 15th and 16th. I spoke to Eli Smith, the organizer, a musician and host of the Down Home Radio Show who also produces the Brooklyn Folk Festival (now in year four) about the upcoming festival at the park and year two!

This is your second year doing the festival at Washington Square Park. What did you learn from last year?

I thought it went great. I felt it could have been bigger. Last year, we had 9 bands; this year we have 13. We’ll set out more chairs! (laughs)

(Ed. note: Last year, there was a bit of a chair issue. There did not seem to be many set out!)

When did you find out you got the go ahead for year 2?

They told me right away after the first festival that they wanted it to continue. I was relieved when I checked in six months later to find out that it was [definitely] confirmed.

Rebecca Ferguson, the Park Administrator, whose idea the festival was, recently left her position. How has that impacted things?

She was super cool and kept on it as her final project of the park.

The folk music I saw last year was a bit more blue grass and string-oriented than perhaps what some think of when they hear the term “folk music.” Some might consider it to be a bit more “pop” such as the music associated with artists like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, for example. Are there different types of what is considered “folk” music?

Folk music is a very wide, expansive genre. With [advent of] Bob Dylan {and his success], seemingly anyone who wrote their own songs was considered folk music. in my mind, folk is the more traditionalist, old-time string and blues as well as some wonderful and talented singer-songwriters. The festival will have something for everybody – a wide range of what people think of as folk music and think of as Washington Square Park. We’ll also have some venerable performers with a history in Washington Square Park including Tracy Schwarz and Ginny Hawker. Schwarz played in WSP with the New Lost City Ramblers in the ’50s and ’60s. John Cohen, also of the New Lost City Ramblers, has a history at the park as does Randy Byrnes who played in the park in the ’60s and ’70s. The festival will feature those with a history of performance associated with the park as well as young talent from the city.

You have a lot of different sponsors for the festival, including Mario Batali. How did that come about?

Becky [Rebecca Ferguson] took care of that from her connections from Washington Square Park. Of course, Matt Umanov from Matt Umanov Guitars was the one who first recommended me to do the festival [last year]. Also, the Washington Square Hotel and Mario Batali Foundation. It’s super nice of them to kick in like that. I heard that Mario Batlai lives in the area of the park and is super into music. I started buying his pasta sauce.

I didn’t know he had a pasta sauce. Where do you buy it?

I buy it at Fairway. (laughs) I think he stopped by one day last year. (segues)

I also was contacted by Occupy Wall Street as there’s going to be an Occupy Wall Street Action at the same time on Saturday. We’re trying to give each other space.

* * *

Stop by Saturday, September 15th * 2-8 p.m. and Sunday, September 16th * 1- 8 p.m. It’s free!

There is further description of the Festival at the Parks Department web site and a breakdown of the performances at the Festival’s site.

This Blog on last year’s festival!

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Bagpipes at the Park


On Saturday, I was sitting near the Arch and I heard bag pipes emanating from somewhere in the park. They stopped and so I basically forgot about them; my attention diverted elsewhere. As I was leaving, they started up again and I snapped this pic of a young woman playing near the LaGuardia Place entrance on the southern end of the park! They were really nice to hear. It’s a distinct sound … it feels regimented and yet celebratory and meditative all at the same time.

Washington Square Music Festival Responds to Post on Scaling Back of Performances and Festival Relationship to Washington Sq Association

On Tuesday (7/31), this post appeared on this blog: Washington Square Music Festival Dramatically Scaled Back Performances at Washington Square Park This Year Due to Park Redesign; Final Concert of 54th Season Tonight. Washington Square Music Festival Executive Director Peggy Friedman, while not questioning the substance of the piece itself, wrote in to offer her position as far as the Washington Square Association’s relationship to the Washington Square Music Festival. She wrote, as follows:

Re: New stage in Washington Square and the WS Music Festival: While we are always glad for the coverage given to the Music Festival, I must take exception to the statement that I was somehow influenced by our parent organization, the Washington Square Association in the 2009 meeting before Landmarks Commission. So much water has gone under the bridge since then, that I would have to see a transcript to agree to how the Festival did or did not vote. We have never been satisfied with the stage, or the smaller audience space, but we are getting used to it, and had two fabulous concerts there recently. However, the suggestion that any vote I made was influenced IN ANY WAY by the Washington Square Association is false. We are our own entity and the Association respects us and supports us. It is not necessary for the two entities to agree on every point. Anne-Marie Sumner, president of the Association has always been particularly helpful, and I would like to clarify her and the Board’s policy of “non-interference”. Thank you, Peggy Friedman.

In other news, The Villager has a nice profile of Ms. Friedman this week.

Washington Square Music Festival Dramatically Scaled Back Performances at Washington Square Park This Year Due to Park Redesign; Final Concert of 54th Season Tonight

Charles Mingus Orchestra on previous stage at WSP

Updated-There is a story behind the scaled back number of concerts the Washington Square Music Festival is performing this year at Washington Square Park. Traditionally, the Festival, which has performed in its namesake park for 54 years, would present four or five concerts each season at the landmark park. This year, the number of concerts taking place was scaled back to two. The other performances have taken place at nearby St. Joseph’s Church, traditionally the ‘rain date’ venue. The final concert of the season takes place tonight at Washington Square.

Executive Director Peggy Friedman told the New York Times that the festival “kept clear of the park it was named for this summer, partly because of construction and partly because the music on its first two programs was better suited to the festival’s rain space — St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church, on Sixth Avenue at Waverly Place — than to the traditional outdoor setting.”

However, that’s not entirely accurate; perhaps she didn’t think the New York Times was going to care about all the specifics behind this decision but Ms. Friedman knew this blog would. It would be hard for any one involved in the years’ long saga behind the park’s redesign not to have known that the stage would ultimately not work out for the Music Festival. Last year was the first year the Washington Square Music Festival (WSMF) performed on it after Phase II opened in June.

The reconfigured stage was forced upon the community and the park by the Parks Department despite the concerns the Music Festival – and pretty much everyone involved – expressed. The WSMF said publicly upon viewing the plans that they anticipated problems with the sight lines, the size of the stage, the height of the stage (28″ versus a standard and acceptable 36″), the fact that there is no railing, and no real back stage.

One of the ‘stipulations’ of the (basically non-binding) “Gerson-Quinn Agreement” was that the redesigned stage work for the Washington Square Music Festival. (The Gerson-Quinn Agreement was an intervention of sorts by former NY City Council Member Alan Gerson – WSP fell in his district – and Council Speaker Christine Quinn – neighboring parts of Greenwich Village were, and are, in her district – which acted as a quasi-blueprint to alleviate some of the concerns the community had about park’s redesign.) It was clear all along that it wouldn’t.

However, if the Music Festival had spoken up to the Landmarks Preservation Commission in April of 2009 before Phase II was approved and stated ‘it just wouldn’t work,’ the Parks Department and designer George Vellonakis would have had to go back to the drawing board. Instead, the WSMF told the Landmarks Preservation Commission they reluctantly supported the plans. The reason the organization did not (and I gather felt it could not) speak out is because they are under the “auspices” of the Washington Square Association — which was in favor of the Bloomberg Administration’s redesign of the park. And so, they sealed their fate and the fate of others who would utilize the stage by not speaking out.

Executive Director Peggy Friedman told me before the season started why the Music Festival had scaled back this year:

We faced two challenges last summer on the new stage that need to be addressed  1) the total lack of security and the inability to contact police help 2) the overwhelming heat now that the trees that used to surround the stage near Garibaldi have been cut down.  We are hiring private security which is a considerable new expense and probably performing in the Wenger Wagon, a covered stage which must be rented from Parks, another new expenseTherefore we have designed two indoor concerts of music that is more appropriate in a controlled, indoor space.  It is cheaper to do concerts indoors and St. Joseph’s has been very generous to us.

Shortly after the 2009 LPC hearing at which the new stage was addressed, a comment came in to this blog with some interesting feedback from reader Elton:

“Praise be to Commissioner Roberta Brandes Gratz for her stand in redirecting the Phase II design proposals toward stated community needs. Another community need I feel is getting very short shrift in Phase II is the PERFORMANCE STAGE. Its design and location should be restudied, especially in the light of potentially expanding long-range uses of the park, and in line with the recommendations envisioned by many park-use evaluations. For instance, in past seasons, attending musical performances at Teen Plaza, one must contend with competition from being seated in the middle of a crossroads, limited stage area, no acoustical baffles or wind (or even slight, provisional weather) protection, etc., and Phase II envisions even more compromised conditions. Why can’t a STATE OF THE ART PERFORMANCE STAGE be insisted on as a FOCUS and (geometric, if that’s the winning buzzword) FEATURE of that axis of the park, not a badly-served and watered-down afterthought? Wouldn’t this be an essential part of a long-range plan to underscore the park’s continued and expanding viability as a performance venue?”

However, there was no rethinking of the plan. At some point, years from now, I believe this stage will be readdressed but, for now, you can catch the last concert of the Washington Square Music Festival’s season at the park tonight at 8 p.m.

July 31, 8 pm: DEEP SAHARA BAND — free
Washington Square, main stage south of Fifth Avenue
Abdoulaye Alhassane Touré leader and vocal soloist
performs music of West Africa, the roots of American jazz, on guitar, Kora,(African harp), ngoni (ancestor of American banjo), talking drum, tama, drum set, conga, djembé (a rope-tuned skin-covered drum played with bare hands)

**************************************************************
Review of first concert this season New York Times (July 11), Dickinson and Dylan Thomas, Set for Strings and Voices

Review, New York Times (July 19th), Echoes of Vienna and Byron

Previously at WSP Blog:

Landmarks Preservation Commission Approves Phase II of WSP Redesign; Parks Department Agrees to Increase # of Alcoves

On the 2011 season

Photo: Nan Melville

Make Music NY comes to NYC Public Spaces including WSP’s Garibaldi Stage Thursday, June 21st 12-4 p.m. and 6-7 p.m.

Make Music NY — at which there are “over 1,000 free outdoor concerts on a single day” at NYC public spaces — will happen again this year on the first day of summer, Thursday, June 21st! The event comes to Washington Square and the Garibaldi Stage (which has the action at the park, just east of the Fountain) with a solar powered stage in the afternoon.

Songwriter’s Beat from 12 noon to 4 p.m.:

Songwriter’s Beat is one of NYC’s premiere nights for performing songwriters – where all are encouraged to perform new material in a supportive and encouraging atmosphere.

Founded by NYC singer-songwriter Valerie Ghent in 2000, Songwriter’s Beat has presented over 330 songwriters from around the world, hosted over 50 benefit concerts, produced seven annual festivals plus a song contest and has fostered the creation of hundreds of new songs.

Lineup to include: Solar Punch, Marla Mase w/ Tomas Doncker, Valerie Ghent, Fred Gillen w/ Hope Machine, Deborah Berg, Ann Klein, Roshni, and Lucy Foley.

Mass Appeal : Clarinets 5:45 p.m. – 7:15 p.m.

From the choir: For the fourth year, our clarinet choir is performing in the Make Music New York music festival. We’re playing on June 21st, from 6 to 7 pm, in Washington Square Park. It’s free, the setting is beautiful, and the sound is terrific! We’re playing a mix of great old and new pieces by Brahms, Dvorak, Mozart, Grundman, and Ravel, among others.

Everything’s free! To find another location in the city, visit this page.

Make Music NY website.

Friday Night, Near Garibaldi …

Ingrid Vollset

Two days after I wrote wondering where all the female singers at the park are, you rarely see any — other than the Opera Gals Under the Arch —  one appeared!

Ingrid Vollset – a non-NYU student – was singing a song called “Wavelength” in the slightly empty, dark park Friday night near Garibaldi Plaza. One of the lines of the song stood out to me “You know you’re blind so when you dream what do you see?” (Okay, I may not have that entirely correct but pretty close.) She had a lot of energy performing there with her guitar.

Ingrid said she’d performed at WSP before but not in the last couple months.

It would be great to have more female performers in the park. (So they can be ticketed too?)

p.s. Why is there no light by Garibaldi statue, I’ve been wondering?

Washington Square Park Folk Festival – Interview with Organizer Eli Smith + Photos from Day 1

Banner for the Festival

This weekend there’s a new music event at the park, the Washington Square Park Folk Festival. The two day event, which began yesterday, is being produced by Eli Smith, organizer of the Brooklyn Folk Festival in Red Hook for the last three years and host of the Down Home Radio Show. The festival was the idea of WSP administrator Rebecca Ferguson who learned of Smith upon asking Matt Umanov — of the eponymous famous guitar shop on Bleecker Street — for a recommendation of someone to produce the show.

In putting together the event, Smith, who grew up in the Village on Barrow Street, said he “tried to bring in musicians who had a history with Washington Square Park.” The festival features musicians such as John Colen and Peter Stampfel who “have been playing music in Washington Square Park since the 1950′s” as well as newer musicians who have busked in the park. The goal was for a “diversity of sounds and good stuff.”

This year is the 50th Anniversary of the Washington Square Folk Riots in which people were banned by city government from playing folk music in the park. This weekend’s event is being organized by the city’s Parks Department. Smith was considering showing Dan Drasin’s film “Sunday” which captured the events of that day 50 years ago at today’s performance. He remarked that many have been “profoundly shaped by their experiences with music in Washington Square Park and young people come from all over to find music there.”

The performances on Saturday had an emphasis on string, old-time, blues and bluegrass. There’s more today and it will go from 2 p.m. until 7 p.m. so swing on by!

Here are some pictures from Saturday —

East River String Band

East River String Band, Stage and Audience

Whiskey Spitters

Eli Smith, emcee and organizer of event

Note: Eden from the East River String Band writes the Slum Goddess Blog.

Banner, top: C. Cassano

All other photos: Cathryn

Last Night at Washington Square

Red-tailed Hawk Bobby Perched Atop the Judson Church Cross While…


This is neighborhood Red-tailed hawk Bobby, I presume, atop the Judson Church cross. Previously noted as one of his favorite haunts around the park, he lingered there for a long time.

Baby Soda Band Played on the Garibaldi Stage


Baby Soda (above) last night at the Park. They were quite good!

From their web site:

Baby Soda is on the forefront of a new movement loosely known as street jazz; with an eclectic set of influences ranging from 30’s era swing, New Orleans jazz, and southern gospel. The ensemble doesn’t desire to recreate the past, rather they bring the concept and joy of the music to the present.

Baby Soda is an adaptable and ever changing group made up of New York’s finest musicians; featuring trumpet, trombone, clarinet, banjo and the unique one string box bass.

Thomas Wesley Stern Engages with Music from New EP at the Arch

Thomas Wesley Stern debuts New EP at the Arch

New Jersey-based foursome Thomas Wesley Stern performed at the Arch Monday right after the Mike Myers-Mario Batali ping pong match and attracted quite a crowd. They came to Washington Square with their new EP, “Hope Folk,” hot off the presses.

People-Watching

Commenter Dana Clayton wrote quite accurately of the band on iTunes: “Infectious happiness. They have such a unique way with words, melody and harmony. If you get to see them in person they are all Good Energy!”

The band was a big hit with park goers, from the very, very young to a bit older.

Perhaps they’ll make their way back to Washington Square one day soon.

— Find Thomas Wesley Stern on Facebook.

Washington Square Music Festival Two Concerts Left — Tuesdays, July 22nd and July 29th – Don’t Miss It!

Washington Square Music Festival July 8, 2008

Washington Square Music Festival July 8, 2008

The New York Times review (July 18th) of last week’s concert of the Washington Square Music Festival at Washington Square Park included some history, commentary on the Park and festival audience:

Perhaps it’s an illusion fostered by the fenced-off reconstruction work in Washington Square Park, but it seems as though the Washington Square Music Festival is shoehorned into a smaller section of the park every summer. The festival, in its 50th year, has done its own shrinking as well. Once a series of orchestra concerts, it is now a handful of chamber music programs, framed by folk and jazz concerts, with ensembles amplified to overcome the ambient noise of the park and the not-so-distant rumble of traffic.

But the festival has an audience, a larger one than its tiny slice of the park can accommodate. On Tuesday evening a reasonably large crowd watched from outside the metal barriers that set off the seating area, and as soon as a seat emptied, someone came in to fill it. In terms of age and race, you could hardly ask for a more diverse audience.

* Next Concert! * Tuesday, July 22nd at 8 p.m.

Pianist David Oei and Gamelan Son of Lion

An eclectic concert of works by (more…)