Young, who ran the Folklore Center, and Prendergast suggested that Porco offer folk music in the evenings at Gerdes. They would book the talent and handle the publicity. Young and Prendergast would sell tickets to pay for the performers, and Porco would keep the profits from whatever food and drink was served.
It was 1959 and Porco had seen the folk singers gathering in Washington Square Park. He thought it was a great idea to boost business. Thus, Gerdes Folk City, which soon became a coffeehouse, was born. It was located at 11 West 4th Street.
Ed McCurdy and Brother John Sellers were the first performers, later joined by the Clancy Brothers, the Tarriers, Eric Weissberg, Judy Collins, Tom Paxton, Jack Elliott, Dave Van Ronk and a very young Arlo Guthrie.
Doc Watson did his first solo performance at Gerdes. It was recorded and released as Doc Watson at Gerdes Folk City. Stefan Grossman set up his two track Tandberg tape machine to record his guitar teacher, the Rev. Gary Davis, at Gerdes. It was released as a definitive three CD box set.Within a year, Bob Dylan would play Folk City and the reputation of the venue would spread around the globe. But it wasn’t an easy start. Porco thought Dylan looked too young, and asked him to come back with proof of age. On February 13, 1961 Dylan returned, with his birth certificate, and started appearing at the club's weekly hootenannies.
On April 3, Porco took Dylan to get his union card, signed as his guardian, and fronted him the necessary money. On April 11, Dylan was booked at Gerdes for two weeks, opening for blues legend John Lee Hooker. Dylan would appear frequently at Porco's club throughout 1961 and 1962. His September 26, 1961, opening slot at Gerdes was enthusiastically reviewed in the New York Times by Robert Shelton, a review that helped Dylan achieve national fame. It was reprinted on the back of Dylan's debut album.In 1970, Mike Porco moved the club to 130 West 3rd Street (the old building was torn down) where it would remain open until 1987. For the past 50 years, Gerde’s has remained a vivid memory of the folk scene that so influenced popular music today.
Mike Porco’s grandson, Bob Porco, has been working on a book about the club and his grandfather. This Monday, June 7, he will present a 50th anniversary concert to celebrate the club’s opening. It will take place in the basement of the Village Underground, a club now located in the basement of 130 West 3rd Street.
Doors will open at 5 p.m., and the music will start at about 7 p.m. More than 30 Folk City alumni artists are scheduled to appear, including Eric Weissberg, David Massengill, Willie Nile, David Amram, Sylvia Tyson and Dominic Chianese (Junior Soprano from The Sopranos and an emcee at the original Folk City). I’ll be there taking pictures and am very excited about attending this historic concert.
(Image credits: Gerdes exterior from 71 W. 4th Street from Hulton Archive/Getty Images. Bob Dylan at Gerdes owned by Olof Bjorner)