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Greenwich Village Folk History Documented in Canadian Film

By Andrea Swalec | October 17, 2011 8:31am | Updated on October 17, 2011 8:32am
Folk singers Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, who are both discussed in a new folk documentary, perform during a civil rights rally on Aug. 28, 1963 in Washington D.C.
Folk singers Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, who are both discussed in a new folk documentary, perform during a civil rights rally on Aug. 28, 1963 in Washington D.C.
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MANHATTAN — Long before Occupy Wall Street protesters assembled in Washington Square Park, socially minded folk musicians of the '60s and '70s gathered there to sing about the upheavals of their time. 

A recently released Canadian documentary that features interviews with Pete Seeger, Carly Simon and Kris Kristofferson captures an oral history of the Greenwich Village folk scene from 1961 to 1973. 

"Greenwich Village: Music that Defined a Generation," was released in Canada on Sept. 8 and combines more than 20 interviews with Village folk veterans, archival footage and new live performances to tell the story of the era's community and music, according to its website. 

"Artists were evolving and writing music, and Greenwich Village was the place where everyone could experiment with writing and [was] allowed to do what they wanted," the film's director, Laura Archibald, told Back Page Magazine

Singer/songwriters who played in Washington Square Park and at Village clubs including The Bitter End on Bleecker Street drew crowds as they sang about art, love and the topics of the day, veteran performers say in the film's trailer. 

"People that just came with a guitar could mesmerize a whole audience with their stories, their song, their narrative," musician Eric Andersen said. 

These performers, including Bob Dylan, drew international attention.

"The Village was where the whole rest of the world looked," musician and actor Kris Kristofferson said. 

"Being creative, being political, meeting interesting people, exposing yourself to the variety of life is what drew people to Greenwich Village," one of the Kristofferson's contemporaries said in the trailer. 

In addition to documenting a feeling of freedom in the Village of the '60s and '70s, the film covers the "Washington Square Folk Riot" of April 9, 1961, when nearly 3,000 "beatniks" protested an attempt by the Parks Department to eject "roving troubadours and their followers" from the park. 

Police arrested protesters and struck some with billy clubs, according to the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. The ban on singers in the park was lifted after more than 1,500 people signed a petition in favor of musicans. 

Information about Village screenings of the new film was not immediately available.

Another film about the Greenwich Village folk scene is in production now, according to Variety. Joel and Ethan Coen's next film will be loosely based on the Village cult figure Dave Van Ronk, the "Mayor of McDougal Street," according to The Guardian. 

Singer/songwriter Pete Seeger, who is now 92, stressed the importance of music in the trailer for "Greenwich Village: Music that Defined a Generation." 

"If there's a world here in a hundred years, one of the main reasons will be music," Seeger said.