About the Book (powerHouse Books, October 2013)
Order the book here
Caffè Lena is the inspiring story of a pioneering woman who gave everything she had to steadfastly nurture the creative development of America’s most influential folk artists and songwriters.
Through her determination, Lena’s dream of creating a second home for artists gave hundreds of songwriters a unique training ground.
Bob Dylan, Tim Robbins, Arlo Guthrie, and Ani DiFranco all found a welcoming stage at this one small venue before the rest of the world discovered them.
Why did PBS film a documentary about Caffè Lena? Why did the venue receive a congratulatory phone call from the Kennedy Center? Inspired by national celebration of its 50th Anniversary in 2010, the answers to these questions will be captured in a coffeetable book documenting the 1960s folk scene, shown through the revolutionary venue that nurtured half a century of America’s artistic counter-culture. The book features:
A foreword by Tim Robbins
Introduction by History Project Director Jocelyn Arem
Original texts by Lena Spencer and Sarah Craig
225 never before seen images capture fifty years of music history in the making, including a young Bob Dylan and Ani DiFranco playing some of their first concerts, and legendary Delta bluesmen Skip James and Mississippi John Hurt playing some of their last, as well as actors Spalding Gray and Liz LeCompte in their earliest roles.
Excerpts from over 100 firsthand interviews with the blues, country and jazz and theater worlds’ leading figures
Praise for the book:
“How do you condense the memories, the experience and the love that spans these decades? They could fill a book, and someday they will.”
- Lena Spencer
"An account of the misfits, poets and prophets who passed through this fabled New York club during and long after the folk boom." - Rolling Stone
"An exhaustively researched coffee-table book, CD boxed set and an audio archive destined for the Library of Congress…together make a case for the club as a landmark outpost of folk music in America. The book’s very existence highlights one of the little-told stories of the folk movement - The New York Times
"Really fulfilling... highly recommended to anyone who loves great music played at a great venue." - Sing Out! Magazine
"Captures the gaslit atmospheres of the ’60s US folk boom in moody monochrome.” – Mojo - 4 Stars
“I’m looking forward to this book. It will be a classic. I’ll always remember Lena. What she did is a modern miracle, which may save the world. I’m very glad you’re writing about her. I can see it being read by somebody thousands of miles away in Japan or Germany, who will say by gosh, we could do something like that right here where we are.”
- Pete Seeger
“I love the idea of a place and a legacy like Caffè Lena - it's a great idea for a documentary, and an inspired and organic way to bring together artists to ultimately tell a great story about a culture and a people - highlighted of course by the wonderful music!
- Alison Small, Paramount Pictures
“They gathered spontaneously around Lena Spencer and Caffe Lena, the small bohemian coffeehouse she ran in Saratoga Springs from 1960 until her death in 1989. The oldest continuously-running coffeehouse in the country, Caffe Lena endures as almost a time capsule - and a natural documentary subject.”
-Jeremy Bloom, The New York Times
“Caffè Lena’s recorded history is a veritable window into America’s folk heritage. It has had an enormous impact on folk and traditional music nationwide.”
- Peggy Bulger, Former Director of the American Folklife Center and early Caffè performer
“What this project is doing represents the work of Alan Lomax.”
- Tim Robbins
“Caffè Lena holds an important place in the folk and traditional music communities. For me it was the gateway to so many things I hold dear about music.”
- Scott Goldman, The GRAMMY Foundation
“The story of Caffè Lena is the secret history of the folk-music scene. Lena was a pioneering woman in a man's world and her story needs to be told.”
- Holly George-Warren, Coeditor of The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll and coauthor of the New York Times best-seller, The Road to Woodstock
“During the twelve years of the Jazz Loft Project, I often said, 'This project isn't really about jazz. It's a story of human beings. It just so happens that many of them are jazz musicians.' The same is true with the remarkable Caffe Lena project. It's not really about folk music or musicians; instead it's a story of American history and culture, and Lena by herself is a story worthy of literature. The most transcendent and lasting stories are the ones that are most specific. Bernard Malamud's Jewish grocery stores and shoe shops in Brooklyn and Joseph Mitchell's fish restaurants on Fulton Street were worlds of human complexity. The same is true with Caffe Lena, it just so happens the story of Lena and her cafe also involves important and wonderful music."
-Sam Stephenson, Author of The Jazz Loft Project
“I've often thought of the similarities between the 1970s punk scene and the 1960s folk revival movement. Both were pivotal times for the music, the underground clubs they were played in, and our culture. The Caffè Lena History Project sheds light on how a local music experience was responsible for historic changes in our culture on an international level. I'm excited to see its story published.”
- Scott Ryser, The Units
“I went to Caffè Lena when I was at Yaddo in the 1960s. It is mentioned in my novel Real People, where a group of artists and writers go to 'a place called Lola's, a rural bohemian hangout.’I'm glad to know there is a Caffè Lena collection and people interested in it."
- Allison Lurie, Pulitzer Prize winning author of “Real People
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