It’s that indecision time of the year. What do you get for who? Or is that whom? Of course, the perfect gift for everyone on your list is a WUMB membership, but what if you’ve already done that? Well, I have a suggestion.
Admittedly it was a hike (read that hitch-hike) from where I grew up to Saratoga Springs, NY, but I spent (or wasted, depending on your point of view) some of the best days of my young life at the Caffe Lena. It was the domain of Lena Spenser, sometimes earth mother, sometimes diva, who presented just the best music in the world. Everyone form Bob Dylan to a pre “American Pie” Don McLean. From Rev. Gary Davis to Guy Davis and beyond.
The Caffe is still in operation even though Lena left us years ago, and is said to be the longest running Coffee House in the US. Whether that is true or not, it was certainly one of the most important during the folk revival up to today. There is a new book that documents the Caffe in the words of those who played there and Lena herself. Those who are no longer with us are represented by hand written letters to Lena and in the case of Gil Robbins, a heartfelt essay from his son Tim. (Yes, that Tim Robbins.)
The book is beautifully printed and generously illustrated with photo from that time period by the legendary folk and jazz photographer Joe Alper who lived nearby.
The book is not only work of nostalgia for those of us who drank Lena’s coffee and listed to her loudly playing Scrabble in the back room during shows, it is a document of the Folk Revival but everything that has come after, from the days when Rosalie Sorrels and Utah Philips practically lived there through the period when Christine Lavin was one of the waitresses, to today and many of the artist who currently grace that little stage in the corner.
The Caffe Lena History Project has also produced a three CD set of recordings made at the Caffe over a 50 year period. I could go on to list (and extol) the music it contains but you can get a look at the list, and even sample the recording using the links below.
Let me remind you, if you do buy either the book or the recording for yourself or as a gift, and you happen to want to buy them from Amazon, go to WUMB.ORG first and click on the Amazon logo you’ll find there. That way Amazon will donate a portion of the proceeds of your purchase to WUMB without it costing you anything.
Here are the links, and happy holidays: