Various Artists: Live at Caffè Lena: Music From America’s Legendary Coffeehouse (1967-2013)
The American landscape is littered with the corpses of former folk music venues that once thrived but long ago succumbed. Caffè Lena in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., is not among them. Since 1960, the tiny upstairs venue’s doors have remained open (Dylan played there the following year), and it is now the longest-running folk coffeehouse in the country, hosting traditional, mostly acoustic music, poetry readings and more. Thanks to an intrepid hunt by co-producers Jocelyn Arem and Steve Rosenthal, hundreds of tape recordings made at the venue since its earliest days have been gathered and digitized, and 47 live Caffè Lena souvenirs have been culled into this three-disc box set. The list of artists who’ve performed there through the decades is massive—here, you’ll find everyone from Dave Van Ronk to Kate McGarrigle, Arlo Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Rick Danko, as well as recent performances by
Chris Smither, Rory Block and others. The recording quality, especially on the earlier material, isn’t always stellar, but the music is—and that, along with providing a welcoming community space, is what Caffè Lena has always been about.