51st Anniversary of the Washington Square Folk Riots

That Day near the Arch

Re-posted; Originally Published April 14, 2011 to commemorate the 50th Anniversary last year —

Last month, I wrote of a scheduled event at Washington Square Park April 9th to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the “Washington Square Folk Riots.” In the end, this event did not happen. Apparently, there was some disharmony between Izzy Young, a key figure of that day, and the organizer, Russell Hicks. Young canceled plans to come to NY from Sweden and Hicks then unfortunately canceled the event.

National Public Radio (NPR) did a piece that day on the 50th Anniversary —  “How the Beatnik Riot Helped Kick Off the ’60’s” :

Today, anybody can play music in Washington Square Park. But back then, city law required that you have a permit. That was really just a formality — until the spring of 1961 when the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation Commissioner Newbold Morris rejected the folkies’ application with no explanation.

But that didn’t stop [David Bennett] Cohen and a few hundred of his new friends from showing up to protest the denial.

“We came anyway,” Cohen says. “We never expected to get beat up, or arrested. I mean, how stupid can you be?”

Filmmaker Dan Drasin also came along, bringing some video equipment he’d borrowed from his bosses, cinema verite pioneers D.A. Pennebaker and Albert Maysles.

“I’d heard about this upcoming demonstration and thought, ‘Well, it would make a nice little subject for a documentary,'” Drasin says.

Fighting For The ‘Right To Sing’

In 1961, Izzy Young was running the Folklore Center on MacDougal Street, a few blocks away from the park. At the time, it was the heart of the Greenwich Village folk scene — a hangout for amateurs and professionals, including Bob Dylan and Dave Van Ronk.

Young was the one who applied for the Washington Square Park permit in the first place, and when it was rejected he helped organize the protest.

You can watch Dan Drasin’s 17 minute film, “Sunday” (note: this appears to have been moved; will try to locate and reinsert correct link) about events of that day. I had some trouble watching – the video kept stopping – but you’ll notice that, except for around the playground, there is a fence-less Washington Square Park.

Note: See original post for comments about cancellation of event and more.

* More history: WSP Blog on the 50th Anniversary of Washington Square Folk Riot April 9th; Community Board 2 to Discuss Commemorative Event

Photo: Harvey Zucker

Just because… Bob Dylan with Cats

Here and there, now and again, I’ve written about Bob Dylan and his relationship to WSP. And I’ve certainly written about cats (that need help), including black and white cats, also how things could be better in NYC for (cast aside) cats.

However, separate from all that, for your enjoyment — mainly because this is such a great shot — here is Bob Dylan with cats!

This photo comes via music site, Reviler.

Performance Crackdown at the Park — Parks Commissioner says Bob Dylan Could Still Play at WSP; With New Rules, Is That even True?

Updated — Over the last three days, the matter of artists and performers being issued tickets at Washington Square Park has been covered by Associated Press, New York Times, New York Daily News, NY1, Fox5 News, Epoch Times, A Walk in the Park Blog, and more.

The Associated Press credits the New York Times with revealing the “crackdown.” Really the Villager broke the story in their October 27th issue. This blog covered it here on October 28th. Nonetheless, I’m glad this is getting so much attention.

In the New York Times article yesterday, NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe stated: “If Bob Dylan wanted to come play there tomorrow, he could … although he might have to move away from the fountain.”

As bizarre as that even sounds, actually that’s not true. Although the article omitted this fact, the rules also require performers and artists to be 5 feet away from a park bench. 50 feet from a monument or fountain and 5 feet from a park bench pretty much rules out the entire park.

Ron Kuby, Tic and Tac, Norman Siegel at press conference Sunday

At a press conference held Sunday at Washington Square, artists and musicians gathered (pianist Colin Huggins, sand artist Joe Mangrum, performers Tic and Tac) along with attorneys Ron Kuby and Norman Siegel to speak out against the recently enacted regulations which first began being implemented in October of this year at the park.

The Parks Department is applying “expressive matter” rules — which were created to limit artist vendors in parks in 2010 — to musicians and artists who take donations.  

Attorney Ron Kuby said: “Mayor Bloomberg wants to be the neutron bomb of fun. Parks are not museums for Michael Bloomberg and his rich friends to look at the statuary. They have their own museums.” (Comments about Mayor Bloomberg – made by at least three of the speakers – were, interestingly enough, omitted in all the coverage.)

Geoffrey Croft from NYC Park Advocates who organized the press conference stated: “[Parks] employees are forced to issue these summons. It’s all of us who lose. They [Parks Department] make these things up. It’s completely arbitrary. … Unless paying for a license by the city, they don’t want performers.”

Joe Mangrum interviewed by Fox News

Columnist Clyde Haberman today via the New York Times City Room blog :

A certain wacky flavor — including the guy who rolls out his baby grand piano on weekends or the performers known as Tic and Tac — has been part of Washington Square for as long as anyone can remember. On weekends, the park is our equivalent of Victor Hugo’s “cour des miracles,” the courtyard of miracles in front of Notre Dame where everyone gathered: musicians and beggars, holy men and hucksters.

The city says it is simply trying to harmonize an assortment of interests. The commissioner of parks and recreation, Adrian Benepe, in a ’60s music moment of his own, said the balance was between the performers and those who go to the park to “enjoy the sounds of silence or the trees blowing in the wind.”

An aide to the commissioner noted that fewer than two dozen summonses had been issued, hardly the hallmark of a brutal crackdown. “We really love musicians,” said Vickie Karp, a parks department spokeswoman. “This is not about the musicians. It’s about sharing the park.”

But if you truly craved the sounds of silence, you would head to the likes of Central Park or Prospect Park. Since when is Washington Square Park anyone’s idea of a bucolic retreat?

“We’re talking weekends, we’re talking tourists who love this stuff,” Mr. Kuby said. “Nobody ever comes back from their visit to New York and complains, ‘You know, Washington Square Park was so beautiful, but the fountain was all filled with people. I couldn’t see the architecture.’ It’s one of the few authentic pieces of New York left for people to experience.”

It’s important to also recognize what Robert Lederman, President of ARTIST (Artists’ Response To Illegal State Tactics), articulates in a recent Letter to the Editor submitted to the Times:

The public should understand that the choice is not between quiet parks with no vending or parks filled with artists and performers. The choice is between public parks where free speech is the rule, or privatized parks where only those with the most money are allowed to express themselves.

The AP article notes: “The Parks Department website calls the famous Greenwich Village park a ‘gathering spot for avant-garde artists.'”

Perhaps the Parks Department should reference its own materials.
____________________________________________________________________

Note: I’ve received word Community Board 2 may come out of hiding on issues relating to WSP and hold a public forum in mid-December. Update! Information confirmed: CB2 Washington Square Park Speak Out — Monday, December 19, 6:30 p.m. at the NYU Kimmel Center, 60 Washington Square South, 8th Floor.

Coverage:

New York Times: City Cracks Down on Washington Square Park Performers December 5, 2011

WNYC-FM: City cracks down on performers in parks December 5, 2011

New York Daily News: A ‘fine’ time for city park performers December 3, 2011

NY1: Street Performers Speak Out Against Summonses Issued at Washington Square December 5, 2011

Epoch Times: Washington Square Park Musicians Protest Summonses December 5, 2011

Fox 5 New York: Park Performance Ban in NYC December 5, 2011

The Villager: Musicians are told to keep their distance from fountain, seats! October 27, 2011

WSP Blog: City Parks Department’s “Regulations” Take Away From the Very Spirit of What People Come to Washington Square Park For – No Performances Allowed Near Fountain, Benches October 28, 2011

The 50th Anniversary of the Washington Square Folk Riots; Commemorative Event Canceled; NPR Does Story

That Day near the Arch

Last month, I wrote of a scheduled event at Washington Square Park April 9th (last Saturday) to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the “Washington Square Folk Riots.” In the end, this event did not happen. Apparently, there was some disharmony between Izzy Young, a key figure of that day, and the organizer, Russell Hicks. Young canceled plans to come to NY from Sweden and Hicks then unfortunately canceled the event.

National Public Radio (NPR) did a piece that day on the 50th Anniversary —  “How the Beatnik Riot Helped Kick Off the ’60’s” :

Today, anybody can play music in Washington Square Park. But back then, city law required that you have a permit. That was really just a formality — until the spring of 1961 when the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation Commissioner Newbold Morris rejected the folkies’ application with no explanation.

But that didn’t stop [David Bennett] Cohen and a few hundred of his new friends from showing up to protest the denial.

“We came anyway,” Cohen says. “We never expected to get beat up, or arrested. I mean, how stupid can you be?”

Filmmaker Dan Drasin also came along, bringing some video equipment he’d borrowed from his bosses, cinema verite pioneers D.A. Pennebaker and Albert Maysles.

“I’d heard about this upcoming demonstration and thought, ‘Well, it would make a nice little subject for a documentary,'” Drasin says.

Fighting For The ‘Right To Sing’

In 1961, Izzy Young was running the Folklore Center on MacDougal Street, a few blocks away from the park. At the time, it was the heart of the Greenwich Village folk scene — a hangout for amateurs and professionals, including Bob Dylan and Dave Van Ronk.

Young was the one who applied for the Washington Square Park permit in the first place, and when it was rejected he helped organize the protest.

You can watch Dan Drasin’s 17 minute film, “Sunday” about events of that day. I had some trouble watching – the video kept stopping – but you’ll notice that, except for around the playground, there is a fence-less Washington Square Park.

* More history at WSP Blog Post: 50th Anniversary of Washington Square Folk Riot April 9th; Community Board 2 to Discuss Commemorative Event

Photo: Harvey Zucker

Suze Rotolo 1943-2011

Bob Dylan, Suze Rotolo, Lena Spencer (w/ unidentified cat) at Caffe Lena, 1961

From New York Times:

Suze Rotolo, who became widely known for her romance with Bob Dylan in the early 1960s, strongly influenced his early songwriting and, in one of the decade’s signature images, walked with him arm-in-arm for the cover photo of his breakthrough album, “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan,” died on Friday at her home in Manhattan. She was 67.

In her teens — “Artistically inclined, she began haunting Washington Square Park and Greenwich Village as the folk revival gathered steam, while taking part in demonstrations against American nuclear policy and racial injustice.”

The Guardian:

As a teenager, Washington Square Park – with its poets, singers and chess players – became the centre of her universe, and her involvement in protest movements began in 1958, when she joined 10,000 other students on the Youth March for Integrated Schools, led by Harry Belafonte, in Washington DC.

New York Daily News:

Her affair with Dylan was impassioned, but relatively brief, and she moved on to become a teacher, painter and book illustrator. She was also a singer herself for a time, appearing in downtown folk clubs.

In 1970 she married Italian filmmaker Enzo Bartoccioli and had a son, Luca. She lived in the Village all her life.

Photo from NY Daily News, courtesy of Caffe Lena (Saratoga Springs, NY)

Rocker Pete Wentz and Band Fall Out Boy Attempt “spontaneous” concert at Washington Sq Park

On Monday (12/15), with the goal of channeling some Bob Dylan territory of spontaneous Washington Square Park performances (and maybe some publicity), musician Pete Wentz and his band Fall Out Boy attempted to do the same.

The announcement was posted on Sunday on Wentz’s blog in cryptic style, he wrote: “sometimes it should be free. dangerous. open and in the clear.” Accompanying the post was a picture of Bob Dylan in a park. The blog told fans to show up around 3:30 or 4 p.m. Of the location, he says, “its under construction.” When you click on the Dylan photo, it leads to the Wikipedia entry for Washington Square Park. Pretty clever, eh?

Although it leads one to believe that the park Dylan is sitting in is Washington Square Park (note the REALLY high fence – which is, thankfully, not at WSP), someone posted a comment on Wentz’s blog that it’s actually Sheridan Square.

But then, on Monday, when about 200 people showed up at the park, police arrived and wouldn’t let the band perform amplified or with instruments. Mazzah First hand Source Blog (which covers NYU and NYC) has some photos. Wentz and company performed for a short while a cappella. Not sure how long it went on.

If they had been ready to start performing before the call time for the crowd to appear(it’s doubtful the police were scouring Wentz’s blog for announcements of impromptu, un-permitted performances – it was the crowd that tipped them off), they might have pulled this off.