Brooklyn Folk Fest Panel Remembers Izzy Young's Folklore Center

On Saturday, April 6, I was honored to be on the panel of a discussion on Izzy Young, founder of New York’s Folklore Center from 1957 to 1973, held at the fabulous Brooklyn Folk Fest. This is an annual event put together by Eli Smith, musician and Keeper Of The Flame for old-timey music in New York. 

Izzy Young was a true character, opening his first location on MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village, eventually moving it to 6th Ave at W.3rd Street. The Folklore Center was exactly that, a true center for people to find books, records, instruments, and all kinds of info on folk music past and present. It was also, very importantly, a meeting place, a clubhouse where you could run into anyone in the folk world, hang out, exchange information, get the latest news. Something else that Izzy did there was to put on concerts of both known and unknown musicians, all for unbelievably low admission prices; I attended many of those shows back in those years. In fact, Izzy was the very first person ever to put on Bob Dylan in a performance, at Carnegie Chapter Hall, in 1961 (admission $2; he sold about forty tickets). Izzy's goal was never to make money from these shows or from anything; he did all this for the love of it. He was a real character known for his generosity, his knowledge, his irascibility, and more. 

I was doing guitar repair and restoration in various locations in lower Manhattan from 1964 to 1969, moving whenever space availability ran out, and for a while in 1967 running my repair business in the Folklore Center itself through Izzy’s graciousness. During those years and in all my locations, I got to meet and do repair work for Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan Judy Collins, Steven Stills, the list goes on, as the only one they would trust with their treasured instruments. Eventually, after being set up in Danny Armstrong’s store and hand-building the prototype for Danny’s iconic Plexiglas electric guitars, I opened my own store on Bedford St. along with Susan Ruskin, shortly after we were married. A great sidelight: Susie and I were married by Izzy, at the folklore Center in 1969. Izzy had just gotten his certificate from the Universal Life Church, for five bucks, And yes it was legal. And one heck of a party.

The Brooklyn Folk Festival features teriffic live performances held over three days, along with workshops and other events related to the world of folk music. The aim of this panel discussion was to laud Izzy, who died only a few weeks ago in Stockholm, Sweden, where he had moved to in the mid-1970s. On the panel, showing from left to right in the picture are: me; Peter K. Siegel, a record producer of “our” music since forever and member of the famed Even Dozen Jug Band in the 1960s; the moderator, Scott Baretta, who edited the volume of Izzy's writings, "Conscience of the Folk Revival"; John Cohen, founding member of the New Lost City Ramblers, musicologist and filmmaker; Mitch Blank, collector of materials from the folk scene in Greenwich Village and curator of the Bob Dylan Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. All of us knew Izzy well, spent countless hours with him and at his place in those years. The photo was taken by Kate Clements, a musician, staff member of my store in the 1990s, currently with the photo department of the New York Fire Department. 

The Brooklyn Folk Fest is an important event and most of all a LOT of fun, and all of you should plan to attend it next year.