Foto David Appelgren

26 November 2018

 Izzy Young’s Folklore Centrum closes

At the end of this month, the Folklore Centrum, one of the world’s greatest music venues, will officially close after having been run by the legendary Izzy Young for over 60 years.

Called the “the citadel of Americana folk music” by regular visitor Bob Dylan, the Folklore Center was the center of the Greenwich Village folklore scene.

Israel “Izzy” Young first opened the Folklore Center in New York City in 1957. He reopened it in Stockholm as the Folklore Centrum when he moved to Sweden in 1973. Izzy has been running it in Stockholm from then until this year.

Izzy celebrated his 90th birthday at the Folklore Centrum in March this year. At that time Izzy was remarkably still opening the “store” on a daily basis and hosting regular concerts there in the same way he had done for over 60 years.

Due to Izzy’s age, the store will now close at the end of November.

Izzy’s daughter, Swedish actress Philomène Grandin, has spent the last few months cataloging and packing up Izzy’s vast folklore library, which consists of some 2,000 titles, with a view to selling it as one collection to any interested parties. The Swedish part of the library has already found at a home at the Mannaminne Museum in northern Sweden.

“I’m so happy that Izzy had the chance to be in the store to the very last moment that it still was possible,” says Philomène. “This spring he was still presenting concerts in the store and in May this year he even held his own poetry reading. It’s sad to close the place, but it has been a beautiful ride and it’s so nice to see all the love and music that Izzy is still surrounded with.”

Background

Izzy opened the first Folklore Center on April 7, 1957, at 110 MacDougal Street, in the heart of New York City’s Greenwich Village. It immediately became a village institution and the de facto headquarters of the American folk-music revival that was spearheaded in the 1940s by singers such as Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger and reached its peak in the 1960s.

Izzy sold all kinds of music related items from The Folklore Centre including instruments, records, music sheets and books. He also hosted regular concerts there. Its main role however was soon to serve as a kind of clubhouse for the main players on the New York City folk scene of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Izzy met and knew most of these people, including Bob Dylan.

Izzy was an early champion of Dylan and organized the young singer’s first major public concert to take place beyond the Greenwich Village coffee shops. The concert was held in November 1961 at the Carnegie Hall Chapter Hall. Izzy split the door money with Dylan 50-50, a policy he proudly employed at every concert he ever hosted.

Izzy and Dylan became friends during this period and Dylan spends several pages of his 2004 autobiography Chronicles talking fondly about Izzy and the Folklore Center, which Dylan calls  “the citadel of Americana folk music.” When Dylan received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016, Izzy was invited to attend the prize giving ceremony in honor of his role in launching Dylan’s career.

Other notable figures that played concerts early in their career at the Folklore Center include Peter Paul and Mary, John Sebastian from the Lovin’ Spoonful (Izzy managed one of Sebastian’s early bands), Joni Mitchell, Emmylou Harris and Tim Buckley. A live album by Buckley recorded at the Folklore Centre in 1967 was released a few years ago. Patti Smith used to read poetry there and also became friends with Izzy.  

In 1973, Izzy moved to Stockholm, Sweden, and rechristened his center the Folklore Centrum. It was run from various locations before settling in the 1980s at its location in the now hip area of Sodermalm, where it would remain until this month’s closure.

Izzy continued to operate the Swedish Folklore Centrum exactly as he had done in New York, hosting concerts by local musicians, giving his own poetry readings and using it as base from which to produce a Swedish folklore catalogue that highlighted and promoted the Swedish folk music scene and was sent to thousands of subscribers.   

He also hosted friends from America there, such the beat poet Allen Ginsberg who gave Izzy a handwritten copy of his poem Father Death Blues which hung proudly on the centrum’s walls, as well as promoting concerts in Stockholm by people like his great friend and idol Pete Seeger.

Izzy always struggled to make money from his passion but a few years ago he sold two songs to a private collector that Dylan had written especially for him back in the early 1960s. One of the songs Dylan wrote was called Talking Folklore Center.

This sale, along with the purchase by the American Library of Congress of Izzy’s prodigious diaries, journals, notebooks, scrap books, pictures and recordings, all chronicling his life, the US folk scene, its many famous characters and the goings on at the various incarnations of the Folklore Centre, helped him keep the Folklore Centrum open until his recent retirement.

Izzy now receives daily visits from numerous friends to his home. Many are musicians who played regularly throughout the years at the Folklore Centrum. Occasionally they will strike up a song and turn his home into the latest manifestation of Izzy Young’s Folklore Center.