In celebration of Caffe Lena‘s 5Oth year as the oldest continuous running coffeehouse in North America, the hallowed folk music institution has organized a series of duo concerts celebrating each distinct decade of its existence. Kicking off the series on Friday night were guitar-toting singer-songwriters Jack Landron (formerly known as Jackie Washington) and Bill Staines representing the ’60s decade.
Caffe Lena manager Sarah Craig wanted to make the performance something extra special, so she invited Times Union arts writer and folk musician Michael Eck to moderate a Q&A discussion between these two folk music icons to kick off the evening’s performance. And they regaled the sold-out audience with their personal stories and tales about the Caffe’s early days.
Landron – a veteran of the early ’60s Boston-Cambridge folk scene, where his contemporaries were Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Tom Rush, among many other notables – spoke about his Puerto Rican heritage, working as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s personal assistant in Mississippi, leaving the music scene in the mid-’60s to go to college and becoming an actor/voice-over artist in national TV commercials.
Landron was the perfect musician to launch the Caffe’s 50th anniversary celebration, as he was the very first performer to grace the coffeehouse’s venerable stage when it opened its doors on May 21, 1960. Then known as Jackie Washington, he was 21 years of age at the time. On Friday, he asked with a smile, “Where did the time go?”
Staines is certainly no stranger to the Caffe stage. He first played there as a 20-year-old in 1968, and he has returned every year since. He spoke fondly about his accidental Caffe debut – he had driven through a wild winter storm to audition for owner Lena Spencer, but because of the blizzard, the scheduled performers of the night never arrived in Saratoga Springs, so Staines found himself headlining that evening’s performance in front of a hearty handful of people.
He added that whenever he performs at Lena’s he always feels as though he’s playing for friends in his living room. Among those friends on Friday night, there even two longtime Lena’s supporters who have been there from the very beginning – both remembering the Caffe debuts of Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs and Jackie Washington all those many years ago.
Review and photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk