‘Club 47’ film premiere to bring fans back to roots of Cambridge folk

Sure, folk music fans can hit Club Passim on April 17 and see Girlyman and Edie Carey. But they’re onstage the next two days, while that same date is the premiere (and only local) showing of “For the Love of the Music: The Club 47 Folk Revival” — a documentary about the life of the iconic Harvard Square coffeehouse and start of Club Passim.

Ideally, the film would be shown in Cambridge, but instead it’s a few stops down the red line at Park Street at a 6 p.m. event at the AMC Loews Boston Common, part of the Boston International Film Festival. “It’s not a Cambridge film festival,” executive producer and co-director Todd Kwait explained Thursday. “I entered the film thinking it was as close as I could get. If people love it, I hope to screen it in Cambridge as many times as they’ll let me.”

The film’s trailer:

Kwait and co-producer and co-director Rob Stegman promise unreleased music and rare photographs of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Eric Von Schmidt and others, as well as interviews with Baez, Tom Rush, Taj Mahal, Judy Collins, Maria and Geoff Muldaur, Jim Kweskin, Jackie Washington, Jim Rooney, Peter Rowan and others, all of whom launched careers from the stage in Harvard Square.

“They were always running tape in ’47 … taping was a big part of the process” and how folk artists learned and shared their work, Kwait said. Over the years, the tapes were tracked down and gathered, resulting in astonishing finds of never-heard recordings by Dylan and others.

“For the Love of the Music” focuses on the decade starting 1958 — so far back that Club 47 did jazz, not folk — at the 47 Mount Auburn St. club, which later moved to 47 Palmer St.

In a way, this is all about Baez. The reason why, as one reminiscence describes it, is that in 1958:

a young Boston University student named Joan Baez talked her way onto the Club 47 stage where she puzzled the jazz crowd with a medley of Child ballads and Carter family licks. The club’s management liked the novelty but balked at her request to come back and play the next Sunday. They gave in, she packed the house with her friends, the show turned a profit, and the result was a regular Sunday afternoon gig to which she invited her sister, Mimi, her folk singing friends in and around Harvard Square and a Harvard grad by the name of Pete Seeger, son of a well-to-do family turned union organizing minstrel in the tradition of Joe Hill and the Wobblies. Thus was born the Cambridge folk revival.

(Dylan, by the way, played the club but did so between other acts and was never actually billed. “Club 47 had become such a standard that performers like Dylan welcomed the opportunity just to say that they had played there,” a Harvard Crimson piece explains.)

Immediately after what Stegman calls the club’s 10-year “Camelot moment,” the club shut and was reopened, renamed, as a gift shop. But an unending trickle of fans and musicians eroded the resistance of the owners, and they turned the shop slowly back into a folk club. Now it’s got a hallowed, 54-year history, year-round schedule and attached Veggie Planet restaurant, but it remains a nonprofit with a strong community and educational component.

“The Club 47 scene was unique,” Kwait said. “Unlike the Greenwich Village folk scene that was developing at about the same time in New York, Club 47 wasn’t a bar run by a club owner but rather a nonprofit coffeehouse. That made for more of free-flowing atmosphere with more collaboration between the club and the artists.”

“For the Love of the Music” also explores the harsh business realities the club faced over the decades while also providing a platform for the civil rights and anti-war movements. And the film looks forward to the influence Club 47 and, later, Passim, has had and continues to have on folk, blues, bluegrass and rock ‘n roll.

Stegman said, “This was an unusual group of extraordinarily talented musicians, coming together almost by chance, yet launching a revolution in American music that inspired generations of artists and music lovers.”

Wrapping the film hasn’t ended the filmmakers’ relationship with Cambridge or Passim. Kwait said he was back at the club last week getting footage for a film about Rush, the Harvard student who became a folk legend and, while based in Vermont, carries on the Club 47 name with eponymous tours with acts such as Baez and Emmylou Harris and newer names including Shawn Colvin and Alison Krauss.

“Passim has been great to me,” Kwait said. “I’m hoping this is just the beginning.”

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