At Passim’s 60th anniversary show, an evening of memories and music
By Stuart Munro Globe correspondent,Updated November 15, 2019, 6:20 p.m.
A concert celebrating the 60th anniversary of what the evening’s host, WGBH’s Brian O’Donovan, called “the little club that could” — first as Club 47, and then in its present incarnation as Club Passim — was bound to include plenty of talk about those 60 years. That was an integral part of Thursday evening’s show before a packed house at the Shubert Theatre, and it was almost as entertaining as the music.
Dar Williams called the venue “the gold standard” for folk music, and recounted how she managed to wangle her first gig there — as it happened, opening for one of the evening’s other performers, Patty Griffin. Josh Ritter spoke of knowing about the place when he lived thousands of miles away in his native Idaho before eventually relocating to the area, and Rose Cousins recalled the long drive from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to play there. The inimitable Peter Wolf shared tales of how his apartment, a block away from Club 47, became what he called a “clubhouse” for blues legends like Muddy Waters, Junior Wells, and Howlin’ Wolf, who had come to town to play the Harvard Square spot.
The sentiment expressed again and again over the course of the evening was that Passim had not only given every one of those artists the opportunity to start their musical careers, but had supported and nurtured those careers and fostered a community of like-minded artists and listeners, while encouraging those who could to outgrow that little space and go on to bigger things, as many of the evening’s performers have done. That enduring character was embodied by Club 47 founding member Betsy Siggins, who came onstage to receive the first Passim Lifetime Achievement Award from Joan Baez, her longtime friend and another woman who was there from the beginning. Of course, along with the reminiscing and the expressions of gratitude and love, the performers came to give musical voice to what Passim has meant over those six decades, and in that regard they delivered in spades, each coming up with something special to suit the occasion.
Williams reprised the first song she had played when she first set foot on the Passim stage in 1992, “The Babysitter’s Here.” Ritter said that he always wanted to have something new to offer whenever he played there, so he stayed true to form and performed a new one before bringing out a string quartet for three songs, including a delightfully dreamy “Lights.”
With his Midnight Travelers, Wolf took things in a different direction (“He’s going to rock the roof off the joint!” exclaimed O’Donovan), prowling the stage as ever and paying tribute to the blues side of the equation with “Homework.” Then he pulled another change-up, going from Muddy to Monroe via a marvelous acoustic mashup of bluegrass standard “When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again” and the J. Geils Band’s “Love Stinks” that saw band member Duke Levine running the frets of a mandolin instead of a guitar.
Griffin offered a smoking throwback sound with her ode to Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, “Hourglass,” and she commented on current affairs with her song about her family’s immigration tale, “Boys From Tralee” (one of several song choices during the evening that nodded to the progressive legacy of Passim). But her closing version of raucous gospel song “Move Up” arguably provided the highlight of the evening; as she launched into the song, Baez joined her — not to sing, but to bust dance moves all over the stage. That was the capstone to a worthy celebration of Passim’s