‘Hot Town!’ Summer(Stage) in the City

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Greenwich Village icons of the 1960s turned the clock back to music that sparked a cultural revolution


  • Cindy Lee Berryhill paid homage to the Velvet Underground. Photo: Jon Friedman

  • John Sebastian on stage. Photo: Jon Friedman

Apparently, there was one house rule in effect Sunday night at the free, three-hour pop music extravaganza at SummerStage in Central Park.

Frowning was strictly prohibited, as were bad vibes of any kind, at the remarkable “Music + Revolution: Greenwich Village in the 1960s,” hosted by the witty and effervescent Richard Barone.

But then, how could anybody resist gaping and gawking in delight at the lineup of Greenwich Village mainstays and 1960s icons? Who could resist singing along with the performers behind evocative song after song — gems and anthems that you hadn’t checked in with since ... who knows when?

Think about it. When did you last catch Maria “Midnight at the Oasis” Muldaur? How long has it been since you heard Melanie, the flower-child symbol of the Woodstock festival with the brand new roller skate and key? Jose “Light My Fire” Feliciano, anyone — 50 years after he electrified the 1968 World Series in riot-ravaged Detroit with his unforgettable rendition of the National Anthem? Come on people now, smile on Jesse Colin Young of the Youngbloods.

They were all there, sounding terrific, turning the clock back and reminding the audience just how special a time it was when they and many others like them were fixtures on New York’s FM airwaves. If only the late, legendary WNEW-FM disc jockey Pete Fornatale, who tried so hard to introduce new performers to his audience, had lived long enough to see this event, he would have loved it and fit in perfectly.

John Sebastian, the leader of the wonderful Lovin’ Spoonful and a Greenwich Village baby himself, opened the show with “Summer in the City” (natch). “Hot town! Summer in the city!” He came on at the end to sing a few Spoonful classics, “Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?” and “Do You Believe in Magic?”

The show stirred happy memories. Led by Happy Traum, the artists paid tribute to legends of folk (Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton, Tim Hardin, Fred Neil). Cindy Lee Berryhill and Syd Straw movingly paid homage to the Velvet Underground, a highly influential New York band. Anthony DeCurtis, the acclaimed rock journalist and Lou Reed biographer, told the audience the essence of Reed and his Velvets, and DeCurtis even got in on the act by convincingly singing a song.

Marshall Crenshaw (one of my favorite singer-songwriters) offered a tribute to Buddy Holly, who lived the last months of his much-too-short life in Greenwich Village, by singing Holly’s catchy tune, “Learning the Game.” Jeffrey Gaines, Nellie McKay, the Kennedys and Jenni Muldaur also entertained the audience with their music.

If there was a secret hero on stage, it was eighty-seven-year-old David Amram. He played a multitude of instruments and won the crowd over with his wit and talent.

I felt a connection to many of the performers. Sebastian was the headliner at the fifth concert I ever saw. I could remember seeing Crenshaw at the Mercury Lounge. My pals and I used to catch Berryhill as she learned her craft on stage in the East Village in the early 1990s. The Kennedys addressed a New School class I took, dealing with appreciating Bob Dylan’s music, about 15 years ago. I’m pretty sure I met one of the performers at a New Year’s Eve party a few yeas back as well.

At this kind of 1960s-appreciation event, it would have been easy to see nostalgia cross a line and succumb to self-parody. A cynic might contend that this happened during the group-sing finale of “Get Together,” the Youngbloods’ FM radio mainstay.

Maybe it did. But so what?

This was a night to celebrate the good vibes of the 1960s and remember the great music of the Greenwich Village stalwarts who, once upon a time, made people think about the world around them.

Their music sparked a cultural revolution and made the world a happier place.

Jon Friedman, who writes the Public Eye column, is the author of “Forget About Today: Bob Dylan’s Genius for (Re)invention, Shunning the Naysayers, and Creating a Personal Revolution.”

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