You know how a circle never ends

Springsteen was once refused a gig there.  Dylan played for free back in ’61, stealing the stage between other singers’ sets, just so he could say he performed there. In 1967 Bonnie Raitt chose to attend Radcliffe mainly due to its proximity to this celebrated venue, which promptly closed in 1968.  Fortunately for Raitt, and for those of us who have lived in the Boston area at some point during the past four decades, the place was born anew the following year.

Initially opened in an empty storefront at the then-dingy outskirts of Harvard Square, which is what 47 Mt. Auburn Street was considered in 1958, the Mt. Auburn Jazz Coffee House was conceived by a couple of female entrepreneurs who, just back from Paris, envisioned it as a high-brow, smoky kind of venue for live music and poetry.

But they weren’t a welcome addition to the neighborhood and the Cambridge police quickly shut it down, citing a blue law that prohibited more than three stringed instruments from being played in a public establishment that served food and beverages.  So the energetic proprietors obtained a non-profit educational charter and reopened their venue as the “private” Club 47, where patrons became members at the door.

In its early days jazz was featured most nights but because the musicians liked to take Tuesdays off, a young Boston University student who was initially listed on the playbill as “Girl with Guitar” was hired to provide the evening’s entertainment. Her name was Joan Baez and after building a major following (that made it possible for other folk acts to take the Club 47 stage) she continued to perform there well into the ‘60s.

By that time the club had been moved to 47 Palmer Street and garnered a reputation as a folk and bluegrass venue with a focus on the music, rather than on selling drinks (as it generally was in Greenwich Village).  Frequent performers in those days included: Phil Ochs, Tom Rush, Pete Seeger, Geoff & Maria Muldaur, Judy Collins, Jim Kweskin, Gordon Lightfoot, Emylou Harris and Joni Mitchell.

It also became one of the first Northeast venues to feature such black blues musicians as Muddy Waters, Jackie Washington, Taj Mahal and Mississippi John Hurt, despite the fact that (at first) none of the local hotels would rent them a room.  In a “can you imagine” response, staff and patrons stepped-in to give them places to stay.

When the folk-rock wave arrived, despite objections from some of its “traditionalist” regulars, Club 47 played a role in the new genre’s popularity by booking such acts as the Lovin’ Spoonful.  Blues-rock was featured too, with acts like the Butterfield Blues Band.

When it reopened in 1969 under new management, it was technically as a “gift shop” (those blue laws again) called Passim…which literally is text that is “found throughout” something that has been published, and generally denoted in a footnote. Interested in a more intimate venue, the new owners cut down on the seating and stuck to traditional jazz, blues, ethnic folk and singer/songwriter folk. While performers from the “early days” continue to appear at Club Passim, so do such “later” acts as:  Shawn Colvin, Patty Larkin, Suzanne Vega and Alison Krauss.

Many of us who attended college in the Boston area during the ‘70s well remember Mary McCaslin who often performed there with her husband (the late) Jim Ringer on fiddle.  Jocularly referring to themselves as the “Bramble and the Rose” this “circular” selection was one of their more popular numbers.

 LISTEN TO TODAY’S SELECTION – Tuesday 25 September

Circle of Friends

 I know they’re all part of you

You need them by your side

The ladies still think of you

In the circle of your arms is where they’ like to be again

And you just go round and round in your circle of friends

 Ah yes, your circle of friends

You know how a circle never ends

There’s always one or two good friends around

Like a backdoor to go to in every town

 I try not to think about you

Because it tears me apart

Though I know I’ll be without you

It’s going to be a while before this tearing cycle ends

Because there’s always part of you in our circle of friends

 Ah yes, our circle of friends

You know how a circle never ends

There’s always one or two good friends around

Like a backdoor to go to in every town.

 It’s dark and empty here

Time goes by so slow

I’ll never hold you near

But I know I’ll need someone before this long night ends

So once again I’ll turn to my circle of friends

Ah yes, my circle of friends

You know how a circle never ends

There’s always one or two good friends around

Like a backdoor to go to in every town.

Like a backdoor to go to in every town.

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