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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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

Washington Square Park Folk Festival This Weekend September 17th-18th


Eli Smith, host of the DownHome Radio Show, was hired by the city’s Parks Department to produce the first ever Washington Square Park Folk Festival this coming weekend Saturday, September 17th and Sunday, September 18th on the Garibaldi Stage (eastern end). Smith will be MC and also perform on Sunday with his band, the Dust Busters.

Here’s the schedule:

Saturday Sept 17th:

2pm The Calamity Janes – old time string band
3pm Feral Foster – original songs and blues
4pm East River String Band – country blues & old time
5pm Whiskey Spitters – country blues & old time

Sunday Sept 18th

2pm Bob Malenky – country blues
3pm Brotherhood of the Jug Band Blues – jug band music
4pm The Dust Busters with John Cohen – old time string band
5pm Willy Gantrim & the Phantoms – original songs, country & blues
6pm Peter Stampfel and the Ether Frolic Mob – make a wish for a potato

On his web site, Smith writes:

2011 also marks the 50th anniversary of the 1961 “Washington Square Folk Music Riot” when the City tried to revoke the permit for folk musicians to play and sing on Sundays in the park.  They needed to clear undesirable people out so that they could  satisfy local real estate interests and I heard possibly enact a crazy plan to extend 5th ave. through the park! Luckily folkies resisted the attempt by the police to kick them out of their public space, resulting in the “riot,” and the planned extension of 5th ave never materialized. Lately there’s been a film made about the “riot” and the film will be screened at the festival, check it out… coverage of the so called riot has been offered by The Indypendent and NPR.

Mario Batali‘s Foundation is involved somehow in sponsoring this event. I’m going to talk to Eli Smith and find out more about the festival but wanted to get the info up!