Remembering Robert Durand

We received word tonight that a History Project friend has passed away – Robert Durand was responsible for creating the original Caffè Lena ZBS Radio Shows in the early 1970s, and with the help of Tom Lopez, drew our attention to the archived tapes for preservation and digitization as part of our efforts to document the recorded history of the Caffè. What was most uncanny about this particular History Project meeting was that Robert kindly coordinated the transfer and donation of the original tapes in New York via email from his home far away in Panama. In our email correspondence, Robert shared enthusiastic memories of meeting Lena Spencer for the first time, recording her singing her own song “Lena the Queen of Saratoga” on the ZBS...

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Clarence Ashley at Lena’s

The following email and archival article comes courtesy of Caffè Lena board member George Ward: “I just stumbled across this Gazette page (“The Schenectady Gazette” in those days) on Google. Interesting that the Greenbriar Boys were also in the neighborhood that weekend. Not beyond Ralph Rinzler to have hustled Tom a Lena gig, especially if they were touring somewhat together. The second volume of ‘Old Time Music at Clarence Ashleys’ was either just out or just coming out, and the world (thanks to Harry Smith,  Ralph and others) had discovered Doc Watson and his world by then. Those were Doc’s first recorded appearances. I believe....

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Remembering Harry Dutcher August 1945-January 2012

We are saddened this month by the loss of our dear friend Harry Dutcher, a long-time devotee to Lena’s and a quiet rock over the years. Harry knew Lena, helped bail her out many times, and was a strong supporter of the non-profit Lena’s, being on the board, a very supportive neighbor in his 25-year role as Director of The Saratoga Springs Public Library, an active committee member, patron, and folk music enthusiast. We are grateful for Harry’s steadfast belief in the history and mission of Caffè Lena. In 2005 he assisted the Caffè Lena History Project in the creation of Caffè Lena’s 45th Anniversary archival exhibition. This past fall, he remained dedicated to raising grant funding to support Caffè Lena’s...

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Happy Birthday Lena

Lena Spencer was born Pasqualina Rosa Nargi on January 4, 1923. She died at age 65. Today she would be 89 years old. Happy birthday, Lena. Your Caffè is now 52 years old and still going strong.

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Caffè Lena Recordings Travel to NYC for Preservation: Part Two

In 2010 the Caffè Lena History Project uncovered a rare collection of live recordings made at the Caffè from 1960-1975. This at-risk collection includes over fifty reel-to-reel recordings of artists including Pete Seeger, Mike Seeger, Hedy West, Jean Ritchie, and Jerry Jeff Walker performing at Caffè Lena at the height of the folk music revival. The CLHP recognized signs of deterioration on the recordings and the urgent need to catalog and preserve them to ensure their survival. In 2011 a GRAMMY Foundation preservation grant enabled the successful physical transfer of the recordings from Saratoga Springs to Magic Shop Recording Studio in New York City and planning for the preservation of these rare materials. In June we posted a blog about...

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Newport Jazz and two sons on their jungle gym

Here is a story from the CLHP archives about the power of community to inspire great art: In the spring of 1960 just before the opening of Caffè Lena, David Wasser was introduced to Bill & Lena Spencer. A local Saratogian with a deep love for folk music, he soon became a weekend regular and gave the couple a 10 watt amplifier to use for their sound system along with their first mic stand and what he describes as “a cheap Shure mic.” When Happy Traum’s wife proved allergic to Lena’s cat Pasha, David’s house became a guest house for performers including Happy, Dave Van Ronk, Hedy West, Barry Kornfeld, Jean Redpath, Molly Scott, Ralph Rinzler and many others featured in early photographs by Joe Alper, who himself housed performers...

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Another Slice of American Pie – The Story’s Bigger than the Song

American Pie, the 1971 anthem inducted into the GRAMMY hall of fame and later covered by Eddie Vedder and Madonna, catapulted songwriter Don McLean from his humble beginnings at Caffè Lena to international stardom. For years the tune has been said to have its origins in Saratoga Springs. Legend has it that while drinking, McLean wrote the song’s lyrics on a napkin at the Tin and Lint bar just down the street from the Caffè where he’d performed earlier that night. According to the story retold by the bar’s owner, Saratoga community members, and storyteller Utah Phillips, McLean passed out and his buddies saved his napkin to return to him. For years, including in a 2005 interview recorded for the Caffè Lena History Project archives, Don McLean...

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