There’s invariably a bigger post to be done on this subject, but inspired by the allusion to NYC's fleeting "Anti-Folk" scene in my post of the other day, I did a bit more digging and found some great stuff on YouTube.
Let me, once again, preface this by asserting that I was never a great fan of this stuff — Anti-Folk or actual Folk — whichever your preference, despite quite digging Roger Manning and King Missile (if the latter can even still be counted as such). I certainly never gave one good crap about the Moldy Peaches, but whatever. If you’re into that stuff, though, might I direct you to this two part documentary.
Somewhat prior to all that stuff, however, there was this band called The Washington Squares. I never actually went — or, honestly, harbored any desire — to see them, but I remember their flyers being up all over the place in the 80’s. Essentially, they were a group of veterans from various punk bands who basically did "a reverse Dylan" and went acoustic.
Their big haunt, somewhat unsurprisingly, was a joint down the strip from Bleecker Bob’s on West Third street called Folk City. Don’t bother looking for it now, obviously. It’s long gone — replaced by a bar of no great distinction or character.
I was still living up on the Upper East Side at the time, but as detailed, once again, in this post, I’d had a grade school friend I’ve been calling Spike (obviously, not his real name) who moved downtown to his dad’s place on Cornelia Street sometime around `82 or `83. From that address in the veritable heart of the Village, Spike and I fully immersed ourselves in the local attractions. And one of those attractions was Folk City.
We went a couple of times, but never to see any credible folk acts. I believe we went to a few open-mic stand-up comedy shows there, and — strangely — I believe we saw a performance by Steve Forbert. You might remember him from 1979’s radio staple, “Romeo’s Tune” and his fleeting cameo in the video for Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” ... which, incidentally, was filmed a couple of blocks away on Gay Street, but you probably knew that.
Folk City actually played host to a few bands I’d have liked to have seen at the time — notably an early, endearingly rough-round-the-edges incarnation of the Violent Femmes — but I didn’t get to those shows, for whatever reason.
Anyway, in terms of the Washington Squares, they always struck me as kinda schticky. I don’t doubt their reverence for genuine folk music, but their image just seemed like a send-up … or a piss-take. Later on in their career, they ditched their nyuck nyuck berets and stripy beatnik shirts in favor or a more straightforward approach (check out their cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows” for a bit of that … filmed in the heart of Times Square in the late `80s). Now, is there -- as that documentary suggests -- a genuine link between the Washington Squares and later acts like Paleface, Lach and Roger Manning, etc.? I'll defer to the acolytes of that scene answer that.
I believe the Washington Square broke up by the dawn of the `90's, but I have no idea. Folk City closed its doors on West Third Street in 1986, after a 25-year run. Even though they didn’t regularly host my type of shit, I was sad to see it go. It was a fun room.
Check out the clip below that profiles both the Washington Squares and gives you a tantalizing glimpse of the interiors of Folk City.