Jim Kweskin, the leader of the ’60s jug band revival, has had a revival of his own in recent years, and he’s made several Nippertown tour stops with longtime musical partner Geoff Muldaur in recent years, both at The Egg and Caffe Lena.
Last month, back at Caffe Lena in front of a near-packed house, he switched things up, teaming with Woodstock folk luminary Happy Traum, rather than Muldaur. Traum dubbed the duo of veterans “the Sunshine Boys of Folk Music.” The results, however, were not particularly sparkling. But to be fair, it was their first night playing together and the start of their East Coast week-long tour.
It’s unfair to compare Traum (or anyone else, for that matter) to Geoff Muldaur, who doesn’t merely sing the blues, but rather climbs inside and completely inhabits them. Traum and Kweskin played together on stage for two hour-long sets, mostly alternately who took over the lead vocals. Traum offered selections from such legends as Pete Seeger (“Quite Early Morning”), Jimmie Rodgers (“Danville Girl”) and Bob Dylan (“I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”), as well as digging into the blues songbag for selections by Brownie McGee (“Careless Love”) and Lead Belly (“House of the Rising Sun” and “Midnight Special”).
First-time director Todd Kwait’s feature-length documentary, “Chasin’ Gus’ Ghost,” traces the history of jug band music from such 1920s pioneers as Gus Cannon and Cannon’s Jug Stompers to the ’60s revival spearheaded by the Jim Kweskin Jug Band to the contemporary Sankofa Strings (now known as the Carolina Chocolate Drops).
For the last several months, Caffe Lena has hosted a series of concerts in celebration of its 50 years of continuous operation in the second-floor converted loft on Phila Street in Saratoga Springs. The gala fundraiser on Friday, May 21 – a concert featuring Jim Kweskin and Geoff Muldaur – was the kick-off of the big anniversary weekend and yet another breakthrough for the Caffe in both a musical and, well, a fun, sense.
Being both an historic venue and a dry venue, the Caffe often has an earnest and respectful atmosphere: quiet conversation, coffee and tea, healthy snacks, maybe a “sinful” chocolate chip cookie.
In contrast, the Friday fundraiser was launched with an abundant reception in the adjacent theater. There was fine wine, boutique beer and plentiful finger food and designer pizza from local fine dining establishments. The tables in the Caffé were covered with crisp white linen tablecloths. Smartly dressed people were setting up and serving. About 45 minutes into it, the Caffe took on the mood and volume of a wedding reception – this was FUN! A local theater critic had red wine spilled on his white sport jacket – and he DIDN’T CARE! What’s going on here?
Photographer Joe Deuel hasn’t been documenting the performances at Caffe Lena for all of its 50 years, but he’s been there for a long, long time. And in honor of the Caffe’s 50th anniversary celebration this weekend, Nippertown.com is proud to be able to offer a photo a day this month from Deuel’s vast photographic archive.
Here’s one of Deuel’s photographs of Geoff Muldaur from 2005 – when an unannounced special guest John Sebastian dropped by to make some jug band magic on the stage:
Geoff Muldaur – a major folk-blues talent in his own right – reunites with jug band master Jim Kweskin, former leader of the seminal ’60s folk-revival band Jim Kweskin’s Jug Band, for a very special gala celebration at the Caffe at 7pm on Friday. Tix for the gala are $75, which includes hors d’oeuvres, beer, wine and dessert. We’ll be there. Please join us.
Yes, it was a half-century ago that Lena Spencer first opened the doors to a small second floor coffeehouse in Saratoga Springs. Since that day in May of 1960, Caffe Lena has hosted thousands of singers, songwriters, musicians, actors, poets and artists of all stripes.
The Caffe has weathered difficult economic times, as well as the death of Lena herself in 1989. But Caffe Lena just keeps on keeping on, due in large part to the countless volunteers who keep the place running, the managers who have been at the helm since Lena passed away – including current director Sarah Craig – and the fans who continue to flock to the landmark coffeehouse.
Caffe Lena’s half-century celebration weekend will take place Friday and Saturday, May 21-22.
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