Looking Backward: Club 47 and the 1960s Folk Music Revival

by Jennifer Hance

Bob Dylan never made it in Cambridge. This was one of many fascinating stories told by folklorist Millie Rahn, who travels around the country to collect and document the history of the folk music movement. Closer to home, Millie is the folklorist for Club Passim and other regional folk music venues. She produced a documentary on Club 47 for WGBH and is currently at work on a book on the same subject.

Joan Baez in one of her early performances at Club 47. Photo courtesy of Millie Rahn

Club 47 was the center of New England’s folk music revival in the 1960s. Joan Baez got her start there and played every Tuesday night until her career took off at the Newport Folk Festival. Bob Dylan joined groups onstage and played between sets, but to his regret, he never headlined at Club 47 before his career blossomed. Millie highlighted the careers of Cambridge musicians, as well as those of others from all over the country who came to play Newport and then Club 47. As photos from the old club were shown, the audience gasped happily in recognition.

Chris Smither playing at the Newport Folk Festival in 1967. Later he was a regular at Club Passim, and most recently he performed at the tribute to Club 47 on May 21 on the Cambridge Common. Photo courtesy of Millie Rahn

Club 47 opened as a jazz club in 1958 at 47 Mt. Auburn Street. In 1969, it was reorganized as Passim, and run by Bob and Ray Anne Donlin on Palmer Street ―between the Coops. That location was given the address of 47 Palmer Street to help maintain the connection with Club 47. In 1994, it was reorganized as Club Passim. You can still visit the original site, renumbered 45½ Mt. Auburn Street. The building, which now features a second story with a greenhouse roof, is occupied by Daedelus Restaurant and Bar, which generously supplied refreshments for the event.