The End > Fare Thee Well, Not Goodbye

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Plowshares Coffee House Blog Word Cloud
Created by Susan Wageman on wordl.net

So, this is it. It is time to finish the last blog post for my San Francisco Bay Area History class. What a whirlwind it was! I am pretty sure that I did not get lost. However, I discovered that the jungle is much bigger than I ever imagined. You may recall that I chose to focus on the history of the Plowshares Coffee House, in part, to create reasonable boundaries for my project this quarter. A couple of weeks ago, I calculated that it would take about 429 hours just to process and notate the archival material that is already in my possession. That does not include analyzing, researching context, or writing about any of it! Another thing that I hadn’t considered was the enormity of the research required to set the Plowshares history within the context of the San Francisco Bay Area and broader histories. Developing this understanding ultimately required a significant portion of my effort to date.

My plan is to use this topic in my master’s degree classes—considering the story from the perspective of different disciplines (music, history, and anthropology). At the end of my studies, I will do some sort of project—an exhibit, website, or history concert, perhaps. (Suggestions are welcome.) After I complete my degree, I will continue learning, researching, and exploring ways to share the ever expanding story on my own. If I am lucky, I will find some other people who are interested in collaborating on the research, so it does not take more than one lifetime.

This blog will continue in some form. It is a handy way to “think out loud.” In a way, the various assignments have been a mini-version of my goal to approach the research and story from different perspectives. Perhaps the blog will help others who know pieces of the story—or want to help ferret it out—to find me. Overall, blogging has been an extremely useful process. I so rarely have this sort of time to refine the writing I do for work. What a luxury. It has been fun, exciting, and exhausting. The word cloud above provides a graphic representation of where my research and explorations have taken me so far.[1] Below, is a summary of my research to date.

I argue that the Plowshares Coffee House was a musical nexus that drew from and strengthened the Bay Area folk music scene and its diverse music communities that extend across the nation and around the world. Just as Plowshares was rooted in the musical heritage of its past, today’s vibrant and diverse folk music communities—both in the Bay Area and beyond— are part of the ecosystem that emerged from the collective dedication of performers, presenters, volunteers, audience members, and other community members.

The San Francisco Bay Area has been attracting migrants and immigrants pursuing their dreams of freedom, economic security, adventure, and new lives throughout its recorded history. The shifting demographics of the region over time reflects wars, famines, economic booms and busts, new technologies, perceived opportunities, and changing ideologies—not just locally, but also nationally and worldwide. As cultures meet, clash, blend, and change, music echoes these patterns—as demonstrated by the music presented at Plowshares.

Douglas Firth Anderson argues that the dominance of Catholics, who were the first European settlers in the region, over the later arriving Anglo-Protestants, who dominated politics and society in the Eastern United States, led to establishment of a secular and cosmopolitan society in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Gold Rush of 1848 attracted nearly 50,000 people intent on making their fortunes to the city of San Francisco. By 1870, San Francisco was a major center of immigration, with large Irish, German, Chinese, and Italian populations. By 1906, only 36 percent of the San Francisco population was religious. Cultural pluralism became the norm. Labor unions became the major political drivers.[2] Shifts in demographics continued throughout the twentieth century, as migrants and immigrants found their way to the San Francisco Bay Area. Marilynn Johnson argues that the influx of migrant workers who came to the San Francisco Bay Area between 1940 and 1945 reshaped society, culture, and politics in the region.[3] During the 1930s, multi-ethnic Europeans arrived with their cultural traditions and Oakies brought their country music. Robert Filene observes that the folk musics of the 1930s that the Lomaxes collected “show an underlying respect for pluralist democracy and depict an America whose strength lies in the diversity of its people and traditions.”[4] During World War II, more than 500,000 migrant workers, including many black and white southerners, arrived in the area, bringing their own versions of country music and blues.[5] The growth of radio and the recording industry spread folk music traditions far beyond their immediate communities.[6]

Both the political left and the right grew along with these population booms. Joshua Paddison argues that “grassroots activism helped change the course of politics and protest in the Bay Area and influenced national debates on anticommunism, academic freedom, and civil rights.”[7] Religions leaders, students, and activists rallied and sang in opposition to the House Un-American Activities Committee hearing on May 12, 1960.[8] In the mid-1960s, Joan Baez led protesting University of California, Berkeley students in singing The Times They Are A-Changing and We Shall Overcome. [9] Alan Jabbour argues that folk music revivals tap the past to intensify the values of the present. A participant in the revival of the 1960s, Jabbour recalls how they created “music to express simultaneously our quest for cultural roots, our admiration of democratic ideas and values, our solidarity with the culturally neglected, and our compulsion to forge our own culture for ourselves.”[10] Filene argues that in the 2000s, folk culture became a source of strength during a time of crisis.[11] Today, in the 2010s, as we struggle out of a recession (or maybe a depression – and, hopefully, we are heading out), folk music—in its many forms—is once again resurging.

The Plowshares Coffee House existed for just two decades (1977 to 1998).[12] It was one of the first thirty-six organizations to occupy the new Fort Mason Center, located in Golden Gate National Recreational Area, the nation’s first urban national park and now a “national model of building reuse and community programs.”[13] Plowshares was a place where people came together to hear many different kinds of folk music. The roots of the music played at Plowshares run deep into California’s past and far beyond, reflecting the origins, cultures, and passions of the state’s migrants and immigrants. The incredibly diverse populace in the Bay Area ensured both diverse local talent and interest in a variety of musics. During just the first three years Plowshares musical offerings included bluegrass, old time and country music, Western swing, ragtime and jazz, French bourees and polkas, Cajun and South American Altiplano music, railroad and cowboy songs, activist labor songs, sea shanties, vaudeville and music hall acts, music from Russia, Kentucky and Hawaii, and folk songs.[14] During a brief lull in popularity elsewhere in the nation, Plowshares contributed to the vitality of the local music scene and kept alive a variety of folk traditions in San Francisco, exposing local audiences to the masters and providing a training ground for those who would carry these traditions into the future. [15]

Some of today’s venerated folk musicians graced the stage of Plowshares early in their careers. Two of the three founders, volunteers, audience members, and many of the musicians who played there are still actively involved in music communities – volunteering, performing, teaching, and inspiring others. Plowshares attracted people like Jessica Bryan, Sally Greenberg, and Art Peterson who have continued the tradition of presenting and promoting folk music to this day. Although Plowshares is gone, the folk music ecosystem that the people of Plowshares helped nurture continues in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Freight & Salvage Coffee House, a small venue at the time, now attracts world class musicians from a great variety of folk music traditions. [16] The Bay Area Country Dance Society San Francisco Contra Dance series that started at Plowshares in 1980, is still a vital folk dance series—and there are many more in the San Francisco Bay Area.[17] The San Francisco Folk Music Club, from which Plowshares emerged, continues to promote “the enjoyment, dissemination, and preservation in individual, family and community life of that acoustic music roughly defined as folk.”[18] The San Francisco Free Folk Festival is just one of many events in a region where there are more musical choices available than any one person can track, every day of the year.

Plowshares also provides a link to the heritage of activist folk music that uses songs to carry messages of social justice and inspire change. Activist folk singers Faith Petric and Bruce “U. Utah” Phillips performed multiple concerts at Plowshares. Music continues to be an important tool for social justice. For example, Occupella uses music “to promote peace, justice, and an end to corporate domination” through weekly demonstrations. Just as the International Workers of the World published books of songs that set activist messages to popular and religious tunes in 1909, Occupella publishes similar songbooks for our times on their website.[19]

Music reflects our history, our cultures, and our national and personal identities. We use it to create hope and jobs, to stand up for civil rights and to change the world. Music has incorporated every human expression, whether we are singing along with Gene Autry or singing the blues. Folk music, the music of folks, follows along with history, and evolves as cultures meet, creating new musics that never existed before, just as peoples change when they are exposed to each other. Music has roots that ground us in our heritage, our histories, and our identities while we grow in new directions. Plowshares Coffee House is now a part of the folk legacy. It is there for us to draw inspiration and strength.

Although my research has been primarily focused on Plowshares, I suspect that research into any of the music communities in the Bay Area (or elsewhere) will reveal their impact on society. My foray into conceptualizing a relevant exhibit for the Hayward Area Historical Society suggests the potential.[20] There are many studies of folk musics, the folk revival movements, and folk music communities. However, these studies tend to paint broad strokes, explore a single genre, or focus on a small number of key individuals. I have found only a few studies that examine modern American folk music communities like the one that grew around Plowshares. Tanya Su-Kyung Lee argues that the Old Town School in Chicago demonstrates that the enduring legacy of folk revivals is the musical and social processes introduced into the middle-class.[21] Paul Malkoski argues that the history of the Denver Folklore Center and Swallow Hill Music Association prove the importance of folk music to the development of American culture.[22] Thomas Turino argues that “musical participation and experience are valuable for the processes of personal and social integration that make us whole.”[23] These are exciting ideas that begin to address my personal interest in how music communities such as Plowshares function as nexus points in society. I look forward to pursuing this line of research in the future.

I hope you have enjoyed the journey so far—and that you will check in from time to time to see where it goes from here. Let me know what you think. Explore some of the local folk music communities. Use songs to change the world. Perhaps I will see you at a contra dance, the Freight & Salvage, or a San Francisco Folk Music Club event like the San Francisco Free Folk Festival. The final video (for now) features the Cheap Suit Serenaders playing at the Freight & Salvage last September. Tony Marcus sings Wasting My Love On You. [24] Marcus was the second act to perform at Plowshares on opening night.[25] The Cheap Suit Serenaders played at Plowshares for the first time on February 18, 1979.[26]

[Word Count: 2577]


[1] Feinberg, Johnathan. “Wordle,”  http://www.wordle.net/, accessed May 30, 2013. The word cloud in in this blog posting was created with Wordl.net, which is a web-based utility program that generates random word clouds based upon the frequency of words in a text.

[2] Anderson, Douglas Firth. “”We Have Here a Different Civilization”: Protestant Identity in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1906-1909.” The Western Historical Quarterly 23, no. 2 (1992): 199-221, 201-218.

[3] Johnson, Marilynn S. “War as Watershed: The East Bay and World War II.” Pacific Historical Review 63, no. 3 (1994): 315-31, 317.

[4] Filene, Benjamin. “”Our Singing Country”: John and Alan Lomax, Leadbelly, and the Construction of an American Past.” American Quarterly 43, no. 4 (1991): 602-24, 607.

[5] Johnson, 315-330.

[6] Johnson, 323. Cohen, Ronald D. Folk Music: The Basics. New York: Routledge, 2006, 29-38.

[7] Paddision 201, 191.

[8i] Paddison, 197-199.

[9] Cohen, R., 153.

[10] Jabbour, Alan. “Foreword.” In Transforming Tradition: Folk Music Revivals Examined, edited by Neil V. Rosenberg, xi-xiii. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993, xiii.

[11] Filene, Benjamin. “O Brother, What Next?: Making Sense of the Folk Fad.” Southern Cultures 10, no. 2 (Summer 2004): 50-69, 55.

[12] San Francisco Folk Music Club, the folknik, Nov/Dec 1977 and Sep/Oct 1998.

[13] San Francisco Folk Music Club, the folknik, Nov/Dec 1977. Rothman, Hal K. “The Park That Makes Its Own Weather: An Administrative History of Golden Gate National Recreation Area,” San Francisco: Golden Gate National Recreation Area, 2002, 164, http://www.nps.gov/goga/historyculture/publications.htm, accessed April 21, 2013. Chatfield-Taylor, Joan. “San Francisco’s Military Base with Scenery.” New York Times, October 16, 1988, A.21, accessed April 19, 2013, ProQuest Newstand. “Fort Mason Center History Tour.” edited by U.S. Department of the Interior National Park Service, Golden Gate National Recreation Area: National Park Service, http://www.fortmason.org/assets/File/Fort%20Mason%20Center%20History%20Tour.pdf, accessed April 23, 2013.

[14] San Francisco Folk Music Club, the folknik, Nov/Dec 1977 through May/Jun 1980.

[15] Gruning, Thomas Robert. “Crossroads of the Ordinary: Contemporary Singer/Songwriters and the Post-Revival Folk,” Ph.D. Dissertation, The University of Texas at Austin, 2003, 9. Accessed April 22, 2013, http://search.proquest.com/docview/305300081?accountid=28458.

[16] Peterson, Art. Informal Interview, May 20, 2013. Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse. “About Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse.” Freight & Salvage Coffee House, http://www.freightandsalvage.org/about-freight, accessed May 20, 2013. Manning, Lisa. “Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse Celebrates Grand Opening Week of New Green State-of-the-Art Folk Music Venue in Downtown Berkeley August 27-30, 2009.” Freight & Salvage Coffee House, http://www.freightandsalvage.org/press/F&S_Grand_Opening_080609.pdf, accessed May 20, 2013.

[17] San Francisco Folk Music Club, the folknik, May/June 1980. Bay Area Country Dance Society. “Schedule of Events January 2013.”  http://www.bacds.org/calendars/2013/01/, accessed May 21, 2013. Fenton, Charlie. Informal Interview, May 20, 2013.

[18] “San Francisco Folk Music Club.” Website, http://www.sffmc.org/, accessed May 21, 2013.

[19] Cohen, R., 67-70. Occupella. “Sing with Occupella.”  http://www.occupella.org/index.html, accessed May 15, 2013.

[20] By the way … That was far too brief an endeavor. I have so many exciting ideas about different ways to engage people in folk musics that I just did not have time to capture. Ask me about the instrument petting zoo sometime …

[21] Lee, Tanya Su-Kyung. “Music as a Birthright: Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music and Participatory Music Making in the Twenty-First Century.” Ph.D., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2011, 6.

[22] Malkoski, Paul Alexander. “Folk Music in Denver.” M.A., University of Colorado at Denver, 2007, Abstract.

[23] Turino, Thomas. Music as Social Life : The Politics of Participation. Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008, 1.

[24] banjojudy. “Wasting My Love on You,” YouTube, http://youtu.be/1T9xMcv4rXk, accessed May 29, 2013.

[25] San Francisco Folk Music Club, the folknik, Nov/Dec 1977.

[26] San Francisco Folk Music Club, the folknik, Jan/Feb 1979.

The Exhibition > Hayward Area Folk Music Heritage

Oakland Museum of California
“Forces of Change” Exhibit.
Courtesy of Oakland Museum of California, 2011.
Photo: Jason Lew.

This week, we enter an alternate universe where there is no need to consider the cost of an endeavor. Everything else is the same: history, physics, technological development, etc. In this alternate world, the Hayward Area Historical Society (HAHS) has requested a proposal for an exhibition based upon my Plowshares Coffee House research. HAHS is particularly interested in creating a dynamic experience that will engage the public.

At first, it may seem that the history of the Plowshares Coffee House is not particularly relevant to the Hayward area. However, Hayward is an integral part of the San Francisco Bay Area. Waves of migrants and immigrants settled in the region and their music spread and evolved as cultures interacted. This exhibition offers an opportunity to reveal some of the Hayward Area folk music heritage and relate it to the broader Bay Area and national stories. Instead of focusing on the Plowshares Coffee House, the HAHS exhibit will highlight Hayward area folk music communities. This also is an opportunity to partner with local organizations that promote folk music.

The Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History has developed a successful model of engaging community groups in their programming and exhibit development. This process taps the expertise of local community members and enables this small museum to regularly offer events and programs that draw diverse audiences from their community. The ultimate goal of this approach is to establish the museum as a community center. MAH executive director, Nina Simon, writes extensively about this process on her Museum 2.0 blog and additional information is available on the museum website.[1]

The Oakland Museum of California has pioneered a variety of techniques to bring diverse voices and expertise into the process of co-creating exhibits for their galleries. The museum commissioned individuals to create small exhibits that reflected their experiences in the 1960s for their Forces of Change exhibit. The museum provided Post-its and a large wall space so that visitors could comment and add their own experiences. When I visited during the opening weekend, the walls were covered with stories that reflected a broad range of experiences, complementing and expanding on the formal exhibits. The photo above does not really show the magnitude of the engagement.[2]

The “big idea” for this exhibition is: “folk music is a living tradition that reflects the origins, cultures, histories, and passions of the people who settled and lived in the region.” Beverly Serrell argues that “a powerful exhibition idea will clarify, limit, and focus the nature and scope of an exhibition and provide a well-defined goal against which to rate its success.[3] In many ways, it is like a thesis for the exhibit. This concept is used as an exhibit organizer, but not necessarily as a title or text for the exhibition. Taking the time to craft a good big idea statement can save time and provide clarity throughout a process that can be quite messy.[4]

The introduction to the Hayward Area Folk Music Heritage exhibition (working title) tells the story of the waves of immigrants who came to the San Francisco Bay Area, particularly those who settled in the Hayward area – where they came from, why they came, and the music they brought. Photos, recordings, and videos illustrate the storyline. The Hayward Area Historical Society website provides brief histories of the area’s cities, Hayward, San Lorenzo, and Castro Valley that describe the local impact of the regional demographic changes that I have described in my earlier blog entries.[5] Depending on the organization of the new museum, the music element might be woven into the storyline of the general exhibits, providing a richer multi-sensory experience.

My brief research revealed a few local folk music traditions that can be connected to the broader history of the area and region. Some traditions may have faded in the area, but others continue to grow and evolve. By engaging individuals and groups who play folk musics in the exhibit and program development process, the HAHS experience will be richer for all, new audiences will become engaged in the museum, and HAHS can help nurture and encourage local music traditions.

The San Lorenzo Barber Shoppers were established by 1950. Their president, Chet Wilkinson, described their music as a form of American folk music that was once a part of small town life, when the barber shop was a community gathering place.[6] Today, the New Dimension Chorus, an affiliate of the Barbershop Harmony Society, meets at the Calvary Lutheran Church in San Lorenzo.[7] Members of the group could help uncover and share the story of the barbershop music tradition in the Hayward area. They likely have photos and artifacts that might be loaned for the exhibit. Perhaps they could be part of a barbershop recreation where volunteers and visitors could enjoy music making and share local stories of the past and present.

The Bay Area Blues Society has been presenting the Hayward Russell City Blues Festival since 1999. In 2012, a week of activities including lectures (at the library and a bar) and photo displays (at Sun Gallery and Cinema Place) led up to the two-day event on July 7 and 8. The festival “celebrates the rich history, musical and cultural art form found in Russell City and Hayward during the post war years from the 1940’s thru the 1960’s.”[8] The new HAHS might be a venue for future festivals and provide a year-round place for exploring the blues heritage of the region. Another great resource for regional blues history is the legendary Chris Strachwitz, founder of roots music label Arhoolie Records and author of Hear Me Howling! Blues, Ballads, & Beyond as Recorded by the San Francisco Bay .[9]

HAHS could partner with the organizers of the Ukulele Festival of Northern California to develop an exhibit and programs on the local Pacific Islands music heritage. UFNC has been presenting festivals since 1994. The 19th annual festival was on April 7, 2013 at Chabot College.[10] The East Bay Regional Parks’ annual Garin Apple Festival includes folk music and songs.[11] Chabot College Theater Arts Instructor Dov Hassan and Emeritus professor Dennis Chowenhill were director and musical director, respectively, for the college’s 2011 production of the play Grapes of Wrath.[12] These are just a few examples. Each of these groups and individuals could be partners in developing and sharing the folk music heritage stories of their traditions.

Hayward Area Folk Music Heritage could be an exhibition. Or, it could be an ongoing program of exhibits, events, concerts, plays, storytelling, and community gathering. The possibilities are endless in an area that is so diverse.

I leave you Little Jr. Crudup and the Bay Area Blues Society Caravan All-Stars at the 2011 Hayward/Russell City Blues Festival.[13]

[Word Count: 1423]


[1] Simon, Nina. “Museum 2.0,”  http://museumtwo.blogspot.com/, accessed May 28, 2013. Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History at the McPherson Center, “Our Exhibition Philosophy,” http://www.santacruzmah.org/our-exhibition-philosophy/, accessed May 28, 2013.

[2] McLean, Kathleen. “Whose Questions? Whose Conversations?” in Letting Go?: Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World, edited by Bill Adair, 70-79. Philadelphia, PA: Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, distributed by Left Coast Press, 2011. Lew, Jason. Untitled. Oakland California: Oakland Musueum Of California, 2011. Photograph, http://www.museumca.org/gallery/gallery-california-history-press-images, accessed May 28, 2013.

[3] Serrell, Beverly. Exhibit Labels: An Interpretive Approach.  Walnut Creek: Alta Mira Press, 1996, 1.

[4] Serrell, 1-8.

[5] Hayward Area Historical Society. “History of Area.” http://www.haywardareahistory.org/education/history_of_area, accessed May 28, 2013.

[6] “Barber Shoppers Grow Rapidly in San Lorenzo.” The [Hayward] Daily Review, November 21, 1950, 6.

[7] New Dimension Chorus. “Our Chorus,” http://www.ndchorus.com/component/k2/item/16-our-chorus, accessed May 28, 2013.

[8] Bay Area Blues Society. “Hayward/Russell City Blues Festival: From Mississippi to Russell City, July 12 & 13, 2008,” http://www.bayareabluessociety.net/haywardrussellcity2.html, accessed May 23, 2013. Bay Area Blues Society. “Hayward Russell City Blues Festival 2013,”  http://www.bayareabluessociety.net/HRCBF.html, accessed May 23, 2013.

[9] Strachwitz, Chris, and Adam Machado. Hear Me Howling! Blues, Ballads, & Beyond as Recorded by the San Francisco Bay. El Cerrito, Calif.: Arhoolie,, 2010. sound recording :, 4 sound discs : digital ; 4 3/4 in. + 1 book (135 p. : ill. ; 29 cm.), 518 A-D Arhoolie.

[10] Ukulele Festival of Northern California. “19th ‘Ukulele Festival of Northern California Celebration of the ‘Ukulele!” http://ukulelefestivalnorcal.org/, accessed May 23, 2013.

[11] East Bay Regional Parks. “Garin/Dry Creek Pioneer Regional Parks.” http://www.ebparks.org/parks/garin, accessed May 23, 2013.

[12] Chabot College. “Chabot College to Present “Grapes of Wrath” Play with Folk Music, Songs, and Dance,” http://www.clpccd.org/newsroom/ChabotReleases2011.php, accessed May 23, 2013.

[13] pcrudup. “Hayward/Russell City Blues Festival: Little Jr. Crudup on Stage,” YouTube, http://youtu.be/09GrpSvKCaM, accessed May 28, 2013, accessed May 29, 2013.

Pulling It All Together > Wrangling All the Pieces

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Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Fans
Today’s folk music fans–and folk musics–are extremely diverse.
These folks enjoyed the March Forth Marching Band at the 2010 Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival.
Photo by Susan Wageman

The time has come to rein in the research and writing of the past few weeks. I always find it difficult to stop exploring. There are plenty more leads to follow and context to understand. I am particularly eager to finish indexing all the archival material and recordings I have found, so that I can arrange meaningful interviews with more of the people who were involved with Plowshares. However, there also is something satisfying about wrangling all the pieces into a coherent story. Telling the story occasionally during the process can help focus the project and reveal significance. Every time I talk or write about Plowshares and every time I read a new book or article, I discover new ways to think about the subject. Although we are turning into the home stretch for this class, I expect to continue my Plowshares research for several more years. This is just the beginning. Now, it is time to make my best case for the significance of Plowshares Coffee House in San Francisco Bay Area history.

The Plowshares Coffee House existed for just two decades (1977 to 1998).[1] It was one of the first thirty-six organizations to occupy the new Fort Mason Center, located in Golden Gate National Recreational Area, the nation’s first urban national park and now a “national model of building reuse and community programs.”[2] Plowshares was a place where people came together to hear many different kinds of folk music.[3] During a brief lull in popularity elsewhere in the nation, it contributed to the vitality of the local music scene and kept alive a variety of folk traditions in San Francisco, exposing local audiences to the masters and providing a training ground for those who would carry these traditions into the future. [4] Some of today’s venerated folk musicians graced the stage of Plowshares early in their careers. I argue that the Plowshares Coffee House was a musical nexus that drew from and strengthened the Bay Area folk music scene and its diverse music communities that extend across the nation and around the world. Just as Plowshares was rooted in the musical heritage of its past, today’s vibrant and diverse folk music communities—both in the Bay Area and beyond— are part of the ecosystem that emerged from the collective dedication of performers, presenters, volunteers, audience members, and other people who nurture music communities such as the one based at Plowshares Coffee House.

The San Francisco Bay Area has been attracting migrants and immigrants pursuing their dreams of freedom, economic security, adventure, and new lives throughout its recorded history. The shifting demographics of the region over time reflects wars, famines, economic booms and busts, new technologies, perceived opportunities, and changing ideologies—not just locally, but also nationally and worldwide. As cultures meet, clash, blend, and change, music echoes these patterns—as demonstrated by the music presented at Plowshares.

Douglas Firth Anderson argues that unique circumstances led to establishment of a secular and cosmopolitan society in the San Francisco Bay Area. Because the first European settlers were Catholics, the power of Anglo-Protestants, who dominated politics and society in the Eastern United States, was limited. The Gold Rush of 1848 attracted nearly 50,000 people intent on making their fortunes to the city of San Francisco. By 1870, San Francisco was a major center of immigration, with large Irish, German, Chinese, and Italian populations. By 1906, only 36 percent of the San Francisco population was religious. Cultural pluralism became the norm. Labor unions became the major political drivers.[5] Shifts in demographics continued throughout the twentieth century, as migrants and immigrants found their way to the San Francisco Bay Area. Marilynn Johnson argues that the influx of migrant workers who came to the San Francisco Bay Area between 1940 and 1945 reshaped society, culture, and politics in the region.[6] They certainly expanded the range of music in the Bay Area. During the 1930’s, multi-ethnic Europeans arrived with their cultural traditions and Oakies brought their country music. More than 500,000 migrant workers, including many black and white southerners, arrived during World War II, bringing their own versions of country music and blues.[7] The growth of radio and the recording industry spread folk music traditions far beyond their immediate communities.[8]

Both the political left (Communists, socialists, and unabashedly radical unionists) and the right grew in the region along with these population booms. Joshua Paddison argues that “grassroots activism helped change the course of politics and protest in the Bay Area and influenced national debates on anticommunism, academic freedom, and civil rights.”[9] Religions leaders, students, and activists rallied and sang in opposition to the House Un-American Activities Committee hearing on May 12, 1960.[10] In the mid-1960s, Joan Baez led protesting University of California, Berkeley students in singing The Times They Are A-Changing and We Shall Overcome. [11]

The roots of the music played at Plowshares run deep into California’s past and far beyond, reflecting the origins, cultures, and passions of the state’s migrants and immigrants. The variety of music presented during just the first two years included bluegrass, old time and country music, Western swing, ragtime and jazz, French bourees and polkas, Cajun and South American Altiplano music, railroad and cowboy songs, activist labor songs, sea shanties, vaudeville and music hall acts, music from Russia, Kentucky and Hawaii, and folk songs.

Although the Plowshares concert series at Fort Mason closed down by October 1998, its influence continues.[12] Two of the three founders, volunteers, audience members, and many of the musicians who played there are still actively involved in music communities – volunteering, performing, teaching, and inspiring others. Many community members have told me that Plowshares was their first connection with the Folk Club and that it was once an important part of their lives.

Jessica Bryan moved to the area from Philadelphia in the 1980s after hearing about Plowshares, the San Francisco Folk Music Club, and the Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse in Berkeley. She was director of the Berkeley Free Folk Festival from 1995 until 2000. She still hopes for a Plowshares revival. When Sally Greenberg arrived in the Bay Area in 1984, she was “instantly drawn to the Plowshares Coffeehouse.” She credits Faith Petric, one of Plowshare’s founders, for “being the force behind the folk scene in the Bay Area.”[13] Today, Greenberg actively promotes musicians from England and Scotland and occasionally hosts house concerts.

Art Peterson recalls how he installed the sound system at the second Plowshares location at Fort Mason. He is quick to note that the Plowshares concerts provided income for the musicians who played there. At the time, Plowshares was one of the largest venues available for folk music concerts in the region, seating 300 people. The Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse could only seat 87. Today, the Freight has a capacity of 440 and is the premier folk music venue in the Bay Area. Peterson figures that the ability of Plowshares to draw folk music headliners to the area in the early days probably had something to do with the Freight’s success today.[14] Charlie Fenton, a Plowshares founder and member of the booking committee, recalls that the Bay Area Country Dance Society San Francisco Contra Dance series started with dances to live music at Plowshares in 1980. Dance community members celebrated the series’ 30th anniversary at St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church in January 2013.[15]

Peterson traces the heritage of Plowshares back to when the International Workers of the World encouraged singing by the people.[16] In 1909, the IWW began publishing books of songs that set activist messages to popular and religious tunes.[17] Activist folk singers Faith Petric and Bruce “U. Utah” Phillips carried on this tradition of advocacy for labor rights and social justice. They performed multiple concerts at Plowshares. This music continues to be an important tool for social justice today. Occupella uses music “to promote peace, justice, and an end to corporate domination” through weekly demonstrations. Four downloadable songbooks are available on their website.[18] Earlier this month on May 13, 2013, activists organized a flash mob to protest the pending closure of a Berkeley Post Office, utilizing the well-honed practice of reworking a popular song to communicate their message.[19]

The San Francisco Folk Music Club, from which Plowshares emerged, continues to promote “the enjoyment, dissemination, and preservation in individual, family and community life of that acoustic music roughly defined as folk.” The Club publishes the folknik newsletter, which includes a directory of music and dance events, six times a year, hosts “musical meetings” every other week, offer four music camps, and presents the San Francisco Free Folk Festival, which is now in its thirty-seventh year. [20]

The incredibly diverse populace in the Bay Area ensured both diverse local talent and interest in a variety of musics, setting the stage for Plowshares. The Bay Area continues to be a musical nexus as exemplified by the 2013 San Francisco Free Folk Festival, which will present more than 65 musical acts, 101 music and dance workshops, seven films, family activities, and informal jams over two days, June 8-9, 2013.[21] Yet, this is just one event in a region where there are more musical choices available than any one person can track, every day of the year.

Robert Filene observes that the folk musics of the 1930s that the Lomaxes collected “show an underlying respect for pluralist democracy and depict an America whose strength lies in the diversity of its people and traditions.”[22] Filene argues that in the 2000s, folk culture became a source of strength during a time of crisis.[23] Alan Jabbour argues that folk music revivals tap the past to intensify the values of the present. A participant in the revival of the 1960s, Jabbour remembers how they created “music to express simultaneously our quest for cultural roots, our admiration of democratic ideas and values, our solidarity with the culturally neglected, and our compulsion to forge our own culture for ourselves.”[24] Ever shifting demographics and relentless change can shake the grounding of any person. It seems that, once again, as we struggle out of a recession (or maybe a depression – and, hopefully, we are heading out), folk music—in its many forms—is once again resurging.

Music reflects our history, our cultures, and our national and personal identities. We use it to create hope and jobs, to stand up for civil rights and to change the world. Music has incorporated every human expression, whether we are singing along with Gene Autry or singing the blues. Folk music, the music of folks, follows along with history, and evolves as cultures meet, creating new musics that never existed before, just as peoples change when they are exposed to each other. Music has roots that ground us in our heritage, our histories, and our identities while we grow in new directions. Plowshares Coffee House is now a part of the folk legacy. It is there for us to draw inspiration and strength.

A flash mob sings “Mr. Postman” with new words by Hali Hammer to protest the selling of Berkeley’s historic Post Office with its New Deal murals and art.[25]

[Word Count: 2284]


[1] San Francisco Folk Music Club, the folknik, Nov/Dec 1977 and Sep/Oct 1998.

[2] San Francisco Folk Music Club, the folknik, Nov/Dec 1977. Rothman, Hal K. “The Park That Makes Its Own Weather: An Administrative History of Golden Gate National Recreation Area,” San Francisco: Golden Gate National Recreation Area, 2002, 164, http://www.nps.gov/goga/historyculture/publications.htm, accessed April 21, 2013. Chatfield-Taylor, Joan. “San Francisco’s Military Base with Scenery.” New York Times, October 16, 1988, A.21, accessed April 19, 2013, ProQuest Newstand. “Fort Mason Center History Tour.” edited by U.S. Department of the Interior National Park Service, Golden Gate National Recreation Area: National Park Service, http://www.fortmason.org/assets/File/Fort%20Mason%20Center%20History%20Tour.pdf, accessed April 23, 2013.

[3] San Francisco Folk Music Club, the folknik, Nov/Dec 1977 through Sep/Oct 1998.

[4] Gruning, Thomas Robert. “Crossroads of the Ordinary: Contemporary Singer/Songwriters and the Post-Revival Folk,” Ph.D. Dissertation, The University of Texas at Austin, 2003, 9. Accessed April 22, 2013, http://search.proquest.com/docview/305300081?accountid=28458.

[5] Anderson, Douglas Firth. “”We Have Here a Different Civilization”: Protestant Identity in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1906-1909.” The Western Historical Quarterly 23, no. 2 (1992): 199-221, 201-218.

[6] Johnson, Marilynn S. “War as Watershed: The East Bay and World War II.” Pacific Historical Review 63, no. 3 (1994): 315-31, 317.

[7] Johnson, 315-330.

[8] Johnson, 323. Cohen, Ronald D. Folk Music : The Basics. New York: Routledge, 2006, 29-38.

[9] Paddision 201, 191.

[10] Paddison, 197-199.

[11] Cohen, R., 153.

[12] “Community Notes: SF Folk Music Center/Bill Staines.” the folknik, Sept/Oct 1998. Accessed April 14, 2013, http://www.sffmc.org/archives/sep98/f09commu.html.

[13] Greenberg, Sally. “[Far-West] Far West Botw.” FAR-West: Folk Alliance Region – West, http://www.folkserv.net/pipermail/farwest/2008-July/003400.html, accessed April 14, 2013.

[14] Peterson, Art. Informal Interview, May 20, 2013. Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse. “About Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse.” Freight & Salvage Coffee House, http://www.freightandsalvage.org/about-freight, accessed May 20, 2013. Manning, Lisa. “Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse Celebrates Grand Opening Week of New Green State-of-the-Art Folk Music Venue in Downtown Berkeley August 27-30, 2009.” Freight & Salvage Coffee House, http://www.freightandsalvage.org/press/F&S_Grand_Opening_080609.pdf, accessed May 20, 2013.

[15] San Francisco Folk Music Club, the folknik, May/June 1980. Bay Area Country Dance Society. “Schedule of Events January 2013.”  http://www.bacds.org/calendars/2013/01/, accessed May 21, 2013. Fenton, Charlie. Informal Interview, May 20, 2013.

[16] Peterson, May 20, 2013.

[17] Cohen, R., 67-70.

[18] Occupella. “Sing with Occupella.”  http://www.occupella.org/index.html, accessed May 15, 2013.

[19] Law, Mori, Hali Hammer, and Margot Smith. “Berkeley Post Office Flash Mob Protest!” Berkeley, CA: YouTube. http://youtu.be/9z6bPbRX_q4, accessed May 13, 2013.

[20] “San Francisco Folk Music Club.” Website, http://www.sffmc.org/, accessed May 21, 2013.

[21] “San Francisco Free Folk Festival Program.” San Francisco Folk Music Club, http://www.sffolkfest.org/2013/index.shtml, accessed 5/15/2013.

[22] Filene, Benjamin. “”Our Singing Country”: John and Alan Lomax, Leadbelly, and the Construction of an American Past.” American Quarterly 43, no. 4 (1991): 602-24, 607.

[23] Filene, Benjamin. “O Brother, What Next?: Making Sense of the Folk Fad.” Southern Cultures 10, no. 2 (Summer 2004): 50-69, 55.

[24] Jabbour, Alan. “Foreword.” In Transforming Tradition: Folk Music Revivals Examined, edited by Neil V. Rosenberg, xi-xiii. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993, xiii.

[25] Law, et. al.

Get Out There! > Exploring the Wonders of the Jungle

“Research Jungle”
Photograph by Susan Wageman, 2013

I recall the warning of my M.A. thesis adviser, Barclay Hudson, about how easy it is to get lost in the research jungle. When he suggested that I might want to reduce the scope of my proposed topic, I replied, “I like exploring the jungle.” That is true. However, I sometimes would prefer a cozy bed to the jungle between my brain, the books, and the computer.

Our focus this week is primary sources – the first-hand records, or evidence, of what happened in the past. The types of primary sources that I have used on our journey so far include government and organizational documents, newsletters, photographs, newspaper articles, and songs. The possibilities are surprisingly rich. It seems that everywhere I look new sources emerge. There are four sets of primary sources that I would like to incorporate into this blog, but it is clear that time will run out before I can fully explore all these treasures.

Last fall, San Francisco Folk Music Club members arranged to donate a large collection of folk music newsletters (from around the world) to Northwestern University. I volunteered to scan the San Francisco Folk Music Club newsletters before sending them to the University. Although the San Francisco Library has a complete collection, I thought that it would be useful for the club to retain a digital version that could be easily accessible to members. To date, I have scanned eighty-five newsletters between the dates of October 1959 and January 1980.[1] Fourteen of these issues include articles on Plowshares. I must review 102 more issues to cover the entire Plowshares period. I have kept running indexes of every mention of Plowshares in the newsletter (headline, issue, page, and column), all the performances (date, performers, description of music, and issue), and people who have been involved (name, how involved, and issue). Although I could save the scanning for later and look through the paper issues to find the Plowshares information, this would require additional handling. Some issues are a bit fragile. I take care scanning each issue and check to ensure that it is straight and legible. I build my indexes from the scanned copy. The entire process of scanning and indexing takes about a half hour per issue. I am eager to compile a complete list of the performers and identify the key volunteers and their activities. This would allow me to analyze demographics, social systems, and changes over time. I keep wondering if, with my current research limited to the first two years, I may be missing something special. However, I know I am not going to find fifty-one hours to complete scans and indexes for the Plowshares years within the next few weeks. I hope to add at least another year before I complete my blog.

Perhaps the most precious primary source that I have found is a collection of forty-two recordings of Plowshares concerts dating between 1977 and 1984, including the Gala Benefit Opening on November 6, 1977.[2] I have leads on two other collections of recordings. I believe that the choice of performers and their choice of songs will provide clues about the music’s relevance to social, cultural, and political issues of the time. A friend is digitizing these recordings. Already, he has transferred eight concerts. Kyvig & Myron recommend creating a topic list by time for oral histories, especially if the resources are not available for a complete transcription.[3] I listened to one recording, taking notes on timing and content. Pop Wagner and Bob Bovee performed at Plowshares on May 6, 1979. At one point, before introducing a song that he learned from an old 78 record, Bovee talks about searching in junk stores for good music that has been forgotten.[4] Somehow, my Plowshares search seems very similar. It took me two hours to notate the first twenty minutes of this concert. Concerts typically run between 90 minutes and two hours. At this rate, it will take me at least 378 hours to notate the forty-two tapes I have already found – and there may be more, if my contacts find the tapes that they think they have. I may still be able to use some of these recordings for my blog. However, full processing and analysis will just have to wait.

I have been trying to figure out a way to include oral histories in this blog project without becoming overwhelmed. The idea of additional tapes to notate and analyze is a bit daunting. Simply taking notes during an interview or using a survey form are also acceptable.[5] I hope to include research from some informal interviews in my final posting. Since starting work on my Master’s degree, I have been speaking about my Plowshares project with founders, volunteers, musicians, and people who attended the Plowshares concerts. Last week, I sent an email about my Plowshares project and blog to the San Francisco Folk Music Club Harmony Email List. Eleven people responded with stories about their involvement with Plowshares, suggestions of people I might contact to learn more, and ideas to help me with my project. Now, in addition to the lists of musicians and volunteers from the folknik, I have made contact with additional people who ran the sound system, booked performers, attended concerts, and served on the San Francisco Folk Music Center board.

One more “treasure chest” that I have not yet sought out is the collection of papers that were stored away after the San Francisco Folk Music Center closed its office. I already have so much material that I think I will have to wait until the next project before trying to pursue this lead. I know that they are in a safe place and I want to have time to document what is there, since it is a private collection.

It is possible that there are Plowshares photographs in the Golden Gate National Park Archives and Records Center collections. I found one photograph in a publication and Amanda Williford, the Curator & Reference Archivist, wrote that there may be additional images.[6] I also found some newspaper articles that mention Plowshares. Mary Ann Cook writes about a Pete Seeger show produced by Jane Fleming, who first met Seeger when she was booking concerts for Plowshares.[7] Jesse Hamlin mentions Plowshares as co-presenter of the 1992 San Francisco Free Folk Festival.[8] Mack Lundstrom’s 1994 obituary for Susan Udell mentions that she performed at Plowshares.[9] It is not yet clear if any of these articles will be useful in making the case for the historical significance of Plowshares.

I have not had a chance to assess several secondary sources. Folk revival references include Michael Scully’s The Never Ending Revival, Robert Cantwell’s When We Were Good, and Rachel Donaldson’s dissertation, “Music for the People.”[10] I found two music ethnographies that include folk music: Ruth Finnegan’s The Hidden Musicians and Thomas Turino’s Music as Social Life.[11] Dissertations and theses to review include Tanya Lee’s “Music as a Birthright,” Hans Peter L’Orange’s “The Musical Soul of America,” and Paul Malkoski’s “Folk Music in Denver.”[12]

I also have several secondary sources that I know will be useful in explaining the historical significance of Plowshares. Albert Camarillo writes about the demographic shifts of the 1980s and 1990s that created so many cities in California where minorities are the majority. He argues that the result of these shifts was not limited to conflict, tension and misunderstanding, the shifts fostered cooperation and collaboration.[13] Marilynn Johnson argues that the influx of migrant workers who came to the San Francisco Bay Area between 1940 and 1945 reshaped society, culture, and politics in the region.[14] Joshua Paddison argues that “grassroots activism helped change the course of politics and protest in the Bay Area and influenced national debates on anticommunism, academic freedom, and civil rights,” all common themes in activist folk songs.[15] Douglas Firth Anderson discusses the waves of immigration that changed the Bay Area between 1848 and 1930.[16]

I argue that these demographic changes were instrumental in creating both the opportunity for and receptiveness to the establishment of the Plowshares Coffee House. Different styles and uses of music arrived with each demographic shift. Country music first came to California with the Oakies during the 19360’s. New waves of migrants from the south and Midwest during the 1940s urbanized the genre. Black migrants established Oakland as the center for raw country-style blues during the same period.[17] Camarillo notes that Hispanic immigrants from Mexico brought their own music in the 1990s.[18] Of course, the Black Friday anti-HUAC rally on May 12, 1960 included songs as well as shouting.[19] Folk musics document where we have been, in both the recent and distant past. They influence our personal, social, and national identities and document this complexity, as well. We can use them to change where we are going. Plowshares Coffee House was a meeting place, an incubator, and a community center.

I tried to find a video of one of the opening night performers, singing one of their songs from that night. I had no luck with that. Instead, here is Kate Wolf, singing her song I Never Knew My Father with Nina Gerber and Rick Byars in 1980, the year after she performed in the opening concert at the Plowshares Coffee House.[20]

[Word Count: 2030]


[1] San Francisco Folk Music Club & East Bay Folk Music Club. Bay Area Newsletter, October 1959 and December 1959. San Francisco Folk Music Club, the folknik, October 1964 through May/June 2013.

[2] San Francisco Folk Music Center, Inc. Plowshares Grand Opening, November 6, 1977, Plowshares Coffee House Concert Series. San Francisco: unpublished, 1977. Concert Recording.

[3] Kyvig, David E., and Myron A. Marty. Nearby History: Exploring the Past around You. American Association for State and Local History Book Series. 3rd ed. Lanham, Md.: Rowan & Littlefield Publishers, 2010, 122-123.

[4] San Francisco Folk Music Center, Inc. Pop Wagner & Bob Bovee Concert, May 6, 1979, Plowshares Coffee House Concert Series. San Francisco: unpublished, 1979. Concert Recording.

[5] Kyvig & Marty, 122-123.

[6] Williford, Amanda. “Re: From Nps.Gov: Personal Use of Photo.” 2013.

[7] Cook, Mary Ann. “Los Gatan Produces Upcoming Pete Seeger Show.” Los Gatos Weekly-Times, January 14, 1998.

[8] Hamlin, Jesse. “Summertime Blues — and Opera, Samba and Bebop.” San Francisco Chronicle (pre-1997 Fulltext), 1992, 0-C8.

[9] Lundstrom, Mack. “Susan Udell, Singer and Songwriter Her Painful Anthems Were Slowly Drawing a Following.” San Jose Mercury News, February 12, 1994, 6B.

[10] Scully, Michael F., Rounder Records (Firm), and North American Folk Music and Dance Alliance. The Never-Ending Revival: Rounder Records and the Folk Alliance. Music in American Life. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2008. Cantwell, Robert. When We Were Good : The Folk Revival.  Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996. Donaldson, Rachel Clare. “Music for the People: The Folk Music Revival and American Identity, 1930–1970.” Ph.D., Vanderbilt University, 2011.

[11] Finnegan, Ruth H. The Hidden Musicians : Music-Making in an English Town.  Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989. Turino, Thomas. Music as Social Life : The Politics of Participation. Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008.

[12] Lee, Tanya Su-Kyung. “Music as a Birthright: Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music and Participatory Music Making in the Twenty-First Century.” Ph.D., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2011. Lee, Tanya Su-Kyung. “Music as a Birthright: Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music and Participatory Music Making in the Twenty-First Century.” Ph.D., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2011. Malkoski, Paul Alexander. “Folk Music in Denver.” M.A., University of Colorado at Denver, 2007.

[13] Camarillo, Albert M. “Cities of Color: The New Racial Frontier in California’s Minority-Majority Cities.” Pacific Historical Review 76, no. 1 (2007): 1-28.

[14] Johnson, Marilynn S. “War as Watershed: The East Bay and World War II.” Pacific Historical Review 63, no. 3 (1994): 315-31, 317.

[15] Paddison, Joshua. “Summers of Worry, Summers of Defiance: San Franciscans for Academic Freedom and Education and the Bay Area Opposition to Huac, 1959-1960.” California History 78, no. 3 (1999): 188-201, 201.

[16] Anderson, Douglas Firth. “”We Have Here a Different Civilization”: Protestant Identity in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1906-1909.” The Western Historical Quarterly 23, no. 2 (1992): 199-221, 201.

[17] Johnson, 322-323.

[18] Camarillo, 20.

[19] Paddison, 197-198.

[20] kennethrm. “Kate Wolf – I Never Knew My Father,” http://youtu.be/3K0DqO3jJrI, accessed May 13, 2013. SFFMCenter PGO 11/6/77.

The Historical Conversation > Where Did This Folk Music Come From?

Image

In our class, we talk about how historians argue with each other. Whatever the subject of their research, historians describe how it fits with the research of others. Then, they argue about how their new research fills gaps in the knowledge about their subject, presents a perspective that no one had noticed before, or contradicts what other historians have described. Many people have been curious about how they arrived at their todays. Many people have invested lifetimes in trying to figure out what happened in the past and what it all means. I certainly feel like this project could take a lifetime, rather than a few weeks. Maybe it will (and that is fine with me). I just have to keep track of all the cool stuff I find while I use just what I need for my blog. Ultimately, this blog is just the beginning.

Over the last two weeks, I have searched through more than a dozen sources to gain a better understanding of how the Plowshares Coffee House fits within the context of folk music history and the broader landscape of sociocultural change. I will argue that the music of the Plowshares Coffee House represents a, by no means complete, yet extensive, cross section of the musics that have been known as folk. During a brief lull in popularity, it kept alive a variety of folk traditions in San Francisco, exposing local audiences to the masters and providing a training ground for those who would carry on these traditions into the future.

There has been an enormous amount of research on folk music. The first argument in nearly every tome is about the meaning of the terms “folk song” or “folk music.” Over time, the term “folk song”—or “folk music”—has evolved through a variety of meanings so that neither scholars nor folk music aficionados (in my experience) agree on the meaning.[1] To some, it is the “music of the peasant class, ancient and anonymous.”[2] It may be the music of a particular ethnic culture passed down through oral tradition or a recent composition in a particular style.[3] Folk music may include ballads, blues, spirituals, dance tunes, nineteenth century popular songs, gospels songs, and the works of singer/songwriters.[4] Nettl & Myers use the term “folk musics” to emphasize that this music actually represents a group of musical repertoires, rather than a single type of music. They argue that America provides an unmatched resource for the study of folk music because of our great diversity of folk musics and their constant evolution as immigrants introduce new traditions, mainstream culture assimilates heritage, and others work to revive old traditions.[5]

Norm Cohen traces the origin of the term “folk song” to the late seventeenth century, when scholars became interested in the broadsides and chapbooks of songs that were popular with “common folks.”[6] As the pace of change increased at the beginning of the twentieth century, preservation movements developed to save rural music traditions that might be lost through urbanization, leading to the establishment of institutions such as the Archives of American Folksong in the Library of Congress in 1928.[7] In the United States, collectors such as Cecil Sharp, Olive Dame Campbell, and John and Alan Lomax focused on rural areas, particularly in Appalachia, the South, and the West.[8] The phonograph and radio brought the Carter Family, Jimmie Rogers, Mamie Smith, Charlie Patton, Mississippi John Hurt, Lead Belly, Jelly Roll Morton, and other folks who had learned their music through oral tradition to the public.[9]

As early as 1909, the International Workers of the World began publishing books of songs that set activist messages to popular and religious tunes. The Socialist Party and various unions followed suit.[10] By the 1920’s professional musicians were creating their own folk songs to support social justice and labor movements.[11] Woody Guthrie is perhaps the best-known activist folk singer of this period. His song, The Union Maid, uses the popular tune Redwing.[12] Although many people think of his song, This Land is Your Land, as a benign patriotic song, it actually was commentary on the disparities of society.[13] I learned this song as a child, but only recently learned about the last three verses that comment on property rights and social inequities.

During the depression, federal programs supported the collection of folk music field recordings and the employment of musicians, just as it supported the painting of murals by artists. The Bonneville Power Administration employed folk singer Woody Guthrie to write songs promoting dams along the Columbia River. This effort produced many jobs for construction workers as well as the Washington state song, Roll On, Columbia. Just as the depression era muralists painted a grand vision of the contributions of laborers to American life, Guthrie sings of the grandeur of nature and technology coming together to bring power, water, and work to the people of Washington. Although this was essentially propaganda for the BPA, a careful listen to Guthrie’s Columbia River songs also reflects his progressive sensibility.[14]

During the 1950’s, folk music became more popular, at the same time as the Cold War and Red Scare were escalating. The Weavers, Pete Seeger, Lee Hays, Ronnie Gilbert, and Fred Hellerman, had a string of folk song hits including Lead Belly’s Goodnight Irene and the African song, Wimoweh. But, their activist past and suspicion of communist associations stopped their career. Some folk musicians and collectors, including Alan Lomax, left the country to avoid potential exposure to the House Un-American Activities Committee. Folk singer Burl Ives ultimately informed on his former friends when he testified before the Committee. He told Variety in 1955, “Folk songs are the articulated expression of the experience of a people (a nation). These songs are a shared heritage, and when the people of a country can sing of these things together, it can only strengthen their national bonds.”[15] Activist folk music morphed into a national treasure. The “folk music revival,” with its plethora of bands, genres, publications, nightclubs, coffee houses, folk clubs, hootenannies, and sing-a-longs, lasted well into the 1960’s. Alongside the revivalists, activists for peace, civil rights, and social justice emerged again. Bob Dylan decried war in Blowin’ in the Wind. Joan Baez led University of California, Berkeley students in singing The Times They Are A-Changing and We Shall Overcome. Then, Fairport Convention melded rock and roll with traditional English folk songs to create folk rock and the Rolling Stones, inspired by American electric blues bands, created a new form of blues-rock.[16]

The revivals continue to this day. Alan Jabbour argues that revivals tap the past to intensify the values of the present. “We in our revival sought out—and created—a music to express simultaneously our quest for cultural roots, our admiration of democratic ideas and values, our solidarity with the culturally neglected, and our compulsion to forge our own culture for ourselves.”[17]

The Plowshares Coffee House provided a place for San Francisco Bay Area folks to connect with cultural roots of all sorts between 1977 and 1998. The name reflects Isaiah’s prophecy of peace that “they shall beat their swords into plowshares,” a fitting name for a music venue located on a former military base.[18] Programming during just the first two years was rooted in the folk movement and a diversity of cultures. On July 15, 1979, Art Peterson, Bruce Greene and Ed Robbin presented “An Evening with Woody Guthrie.”[19] Jean Ritchie is a traditional ballad singer and mountain dulcimer player from Kentucky, born in 1922. Cecil Sharp collected songs from her family and Alan Lomax helped her get a BBC show when she was collecting songs in the British Isles. She played the first Berkeley Folk Festival in 1958 and played at Plowshares on November 19, 1978.[20] Bruce “U. Utah” Phillips had been a hobo, a soldier during the Korean War, and a union activist and social worker who used songs to inspire the workers. Phillips became a professional musician in the late 1970’s.[21] He performed at Plowshares on April 22, 1979 with Fred Holstein.[22] Other shows during the first two years featured bluegrass, old time and country music, Western swing, ragtime and jazz, French bourees and polkas, Cajun and South American Altiplano music, railroad and cowboy songs, sea shanties, vaudeville and music hall acts, music from Russia, Kentucky and Hawaii, and folk songs.[23]

The tradition continues. The San Francisco Folk Music Club will present the 37th Annual San Francisco Free Folk Festival on June 8 and 9, 2013. I still need to do more research (beyond the first two years) to know if some of the musicians playing this year performed at Plowshares. I do know that thirty-six years ago, the 2nd Annual Free Spring Folk Festival was at Fort Mason Center on May 20 and 21, 1978. The Festival featured more than 60 musicians, dancing, workshops, crafts, and an open mike. The regular Sunday night Plowshares concert wrapped up the Festival with the Any Old Time String Band playing traditional, country, blues, and Cajun music.[24]

Now, please feel free to join U. Utah Phillips singing Joe Hill’s Pie in the Sky.[25]

[1] Nettl, Bruno, and Helen Myers. Folk Music in the United States: An Introduction. Wayne Books Wb41 Humanities, 3d ed., Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1976, 20.

[2] Seeger, Pete, Michael Miller, and Sarah H. Elisabeth. Where Have All the Flowers Gone : A Singalong Memoir, Rev. ed., New York: W. W. Norton, 2009, 16.

[3]Nettl & Myers, 11-27.

[4] Cohen, Ronald D. Folk Music : The Basics. New York: Routledge, 2006, 3 & 17.

[5] Nettl & Myers, 11-19.

[6] Cohen, Norm. Folk Music: A Regional Exploration. Greenwood Guides to American Roots Music, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2005, xxii.

[7] Nettl & Myers, 138. “About the American Folklife Center.” The American Folklife Center, The Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/folklife/aboutafc.html, accessed May 6, 2013.

[8] Cohen, R., 19-29.

[9] Cohen, R., 29-38.

[10] Cohen. R., 67-70.

[11] Nettl & Myers, 151.

[12] Place, Jeff, and Guy Logsdon. Woody Guthrie: Hard Travelin’ – the Asch Recordings, Vol. 3. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Folkways, 1998. Guthrie, Woody. Union Maid (Excerpt), Woody Guthrie: The Asch Recordings. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Folkways, 1946. Recording, v. 3, track 24.

[13] Guthrie, Woody. “This Land Is Your Land.” The Richmond Organization (TRO), http://www.woodyguthrie.org/Lyrics/This_Land.htm, accessed May 7, 2013.

[14] Cohen, R., 56. Gregory, James, Mark Jenkins, and Sarah Nash Gates. “The Great Depression in Washington State Pacific Northwest Labor & Civil Rights Projects: Culture & Arts During the Depression.” Pedelty, Mark. “Woody Guthrie and the Columbia River: Propaganda, Art, and Irony.” Popular Music & Society 31, no. 3 (2008): 329-55. University of Washington, http://depts.washington.edu/depress/culture_arts.shtml, accessed May 6, 2013. Gelber, Steven M. “Working to Prosperity: California’s New Deal Murals.” California History 58, no. 2 (1979): 98-127. “Woody Guthrie’s Biography:  1941 – Columbia River.” Woody Guthrie Foundation & Archives, http://www.woodyguthrie.org/biography/biography5.htm, accessed May 6, 2013.

[15] Cohen, R., 103-113.

[16] Cohen, R., 129-167.

[17] Jabbour, Alan. “Foreword.” In Transforming Tradition: Folk Music Revivals Examined, edited by Neil V. Rosenberg, xi-xiii. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993, xiii.

[18] “Isaiah 2.4,” The Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments, King James Version. New York: American Bible Society, 1999. http://www.bartleby.com/108/, accessed May 7, 2013.

[19] the folknik, San Francisco Folk Music Club, Jul/Aug 1979.

[20] Cohen, R., 96-97, 121. the folknik, San Francisco Folk Music Club, Nov/Dec 1978.

[21] Cohen, R., 176-177.

[22] the folknik, San Francisco Folk Music Club, Mar/Apr 1979.

[23] the folknik, San Francisco Folk Music Club, Nov/Dec 1977 through Jul/Aug 1979.

[24] the folknik, San Francisco Folk Music Club, May/Jun 1978.

[25] gasslamp. “Utah Phillips Covers Joe Hill’s “Pie in the Sky” “the Preacher and the Slave,” http://youtu.be/PJ236CwhlPw, accessed May 8, 2013.

[Word Count: 1922]

Getting Started > In Search of Plowshares History Online

Fort Mason Building 312 (Building C)

Fort Mason Building 312 (Building C)
Courtesy: Golden Gate National Recreation Area, National Park Service[1]

Research is like an odd sort of treasure hunt that reveals all sorts of unsought gems along the way. However, like many treasure hunts, there is no way to know if the treasure really exists. The main challenges for me are to remember exactly which treasures I seek and to avoid getting lost down one of those fascinating side trails along the way. Last quarter, I began exploring the vast array of databases that are available to students through the Cal State East Bay Library. During our most recent history class, Diana Wakimoto, Archivist at the CSUEB Library, walked us through several of the resources available to students and provided an extensive list of online archival resources, which offer many opportunities for getting lost.[2]

I set out in search of materials directly related to the Plowshares Coffee House and the San Francisco Folk Music Center. I had already downloaded the founding documents for the San Francisco Folk Music Center from the California Department of Justice Registry of Charitable Trusts.[3] This is a handy database for accessing basic primary information for nonprofit organizations in the State of California. However, most of the material I have found is not available electronically. Since I had noticed some inconsistencies in spelling among the archival documents I have seen, I searched various permutations of “Plowshares,” “Ploughshares,” “Coffee House,” and “Coffeehouse,” as well as “San Francisco Folk Music Center.”

I still need to learn more about the context and historical significance of the Plowshares Coffee House, so I also searched for information on Fort Mason, where Plowshares was located, and folk music during the 1970’s through 1990s. In addition to the key words “Fort Mason,” I used the key words “folk music” combined by “AND” with “San Francisco,” then “coffee house.”

I worked my way through the lists of databases and online archives. I found a few newspaper articles in the LexisNexis Academic and ProQuest Newsstand databases. In most cases, I did not find any relevant materials. I was more successful in my search for context. I found four dissertations and two theses on aspects of American folk music during the Plowshares years in the ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Full Text: The Humanities and Social Sciences Collection. I had been hoping that one of the many databases of images might contain Plowshares photos. I found various Fort Mason buildings on Flickr and in the San Francisco Public Library collection. I wondered what I might find if I searched for “Fort Mason Center” AND “Building 312,” where Plowshares was located.[4] The first result via Google search was a PDF, “Cultural Landscape Report Part II – Fort Mason Center.” When I searched for “Fort Mason cultural landscape report,” I found the Cultural Resources Publications page on the Golden Gate National Recreation Center page. In addition to historical context about Fort Mason, I found the photograph of Plowshares, which begins this post. Although it is difficult to read, the dark colored Plowshares sign is the fourth one beyond the “Feedback Productions” sign.[5]

In 1972, Congress transferred San Francisco military land, including Fort Mason, to the National Park Service, establishing Golden Gate National Recreation and creating the first urban national park.[6] The first Superintendent, William Whalen, and his staff identified a need for additional public space, community development, and programs in the area. The Park’s Citizen’s Advisory Committee recommended that Fort Mason become a cultural center, providing space for performing arts, fine and craft art, education, and research. Whalen engaged the nonprofit Fort Mason Center in May 1976 to develop and administer this new facility.[7]

According to the November 1976 folknik newsletter, The Fort Mason Foundation invited the San Francisco Folk Music Club to participate in this community project. Paul Foster was taking the lead in developing a proposal which might include, “a possible concert series; the beginnings of a folk-music switchboard (Who plays what, who needs what); an outreach program to prisons, hospitals, schools, — music instruction; and (dream of the future) a coffee house.” The article closed with a call for volunteers, “Come on in! There is room for any number of folk-music related activities if there are people to get & keep ‘em going.”[8]

The Gala Benefit Opening of Plowshares Coffee House was on November 6, 1977 in Building 312, Room 2-G at Fort Mason Center.[9] Thirty-six groups were active at Fort Mason Center by 1979.[10] By 1988, more than 50 arts and environment organizations operated out of Fort Mason Center and Plowshares had a reputation for presenting folk musicians from across the country.[11] Folk musicians Kenny Hall, Gordon Bok, Ed Trickett, Jean Ritchie, Malcolm Dalglish & Grey Larsen, Rosalie Sorrels, Paul Geremia, and U. Utah Philips all performed at Plowshares within the first two years.[12] Plowshares audiences enjoyed the New England folk songs of Bill Staines whenever he was in the area, until the venue closed in 1998.[13] One of the best-known folk singers, Pete Seeger, performed a concert to benefit the San Francisco Folk Music Center and the Woodie Guthrie Foundation on February 25, 1984.[14] At a time when folk music venues had become rare nationwide (in the 1970s and 1980s), Plowshares presented the best local and national folk talent at Fort Mason in San Francisco.[15] Moreover, some of today’s venerated folk musicians graced the stage of Plowshares three decades ago.

The research has just begun. I have twenty years of folknik newsletters full of Plowshares concert listings, archival collections to explore, and dissertations, theses, and books to read. As people in the folk music communities learn of my project, they are seeking me out to share stories. For now, please enjoy Pete Seeger singing “Broad Old River” at the Speak Easy in New York’s Greenwich Village for the February 1984 issue of  Fast Folk Musical Magazine.[16] Who knows, maybe he performed this song at the February 25, 1984 benefit for the Folk Music Center. All I need is to find the set list, a recording of the concert, a review, or, maybe, someone who kept a very detailed diary.


[1] Farneth, Stephen j., Hisashi B. Sugaya, David P. Wessel, and Gordon 0 . White. “San Francisco Port of Embarkation Historic Structure Report, Golden Gate National Recreational Area, National Park Service.” San Francisco: Architectural Resources Group, 1991, 57. Accessed April 21, 2013, http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/goga/embarkation_hsr.pdf.

[2] Wakimoto, Diana, and Liz Ginno. “History 3503 Primary and Secondary Source Research Information,” Hayward, CA: California State University East Bay, 2013.

[3] State of California Department of Justice, Office of the Attorney General. “Registry of Charitable Trusts,”  Accessed April 22, 2013, http://rct.doj.ca.gov/MyLicenseVerification/Search.aspx?facility=Y.

[4] San Francisco Folk Music Center, Inc. “Founding Documents,” Sacramento, 1978. Accessed April 14, 2013, http://rct.doj.ca.gov/MyLicenseVerification/Download.aspx?document_name=00079F78&saveas=00079F78.pdf.

[5] Farneth, et.al., 57.

[6] “Fort Mason Center Fact Sheet,” San Francisco, CA: Fort Mason Center. Accessed April 23, 2013, http://www.fortmason.org/assets/File/Fort%20Mason%20Center%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf.

“Fort Mason Center History Tour,” U.S. Department of the Interior National Park Service, Golden Gate National Recreation Area: National Park Service. Accessed April 23, 2013, http://www.fortmason.org/assets/File/Fort%20Mason%20Center%20History%20Tour.pdf.

[7] Rothman, Hal K. “The Park That Makes Its Own Weather: An Administrative History of Golden Gate National Recreation Area,” San Francisco: Golden Gate National Recreation Area, 2002, 164. Accessed April 21, 2013, http://www.nps.gov/goga/historyculture/publications.htm.

[8] “SFFMC Gets Involved” the folknik, Nov/Dec 1976, 8.

[9] “The San Francisco Folk Music Center Presents … Traditional and Contemporary Acoustic Music … Plowshares … Coffee House Concert Series ….” the folknik, Nov/Dec 1977, 1.

[10] Rothman, 165.

[11] Chatfield-Taylor, Joan. “San Francisco’s Military Base with Scenery.” New York Times, October 16, 1988, A.21. Accessed April 19, 2013, ProQuest Newstand.

[12] the folknik, Nov/Dec 1977, Jan/Feb 1978, May/Jun 1978, Nov/Dec 1979, and Mar/Apr 1979.

[13] “Community Notes: SF Folk Music Center/Bill Staines.” the folknik, Sept/Oct 1998. Accessed April 14, 2013, http://www.sffmc.org/archives/sep98/f09commu.html.

[14]Murphy, Thomas. “Folk Music Chronicle Still Alive, Still Poor after 34 Years.” The Associated Press, February 24, 1984 1984. Accessed April 19, 2013, LexisNexis Academic.

[15] Gruning, Thomas Robert. “Crossroads of the Ordinary: Contemporary Singer/Songwriters and the Post-Revival Folk,” Ph.D. Dissertation, The University of Texas at Austin, 2003, 9. Accessed April 22, 2013, http://search.proquest.com/docview/305300081?accountid=28458.

[16] Hardy, Jack, editor. “Credits,” Fast Folk Musical Magazine, February 1984, 20. Accessed April 24, 2013, http://www.folkways.si.edu/TrackDetails.aspx?itemid=287.

unaradiolina. “Pete Seeger – Broad Old River (Live 1984).” Accessed April 24, 2013, http://youtu.be/gJH1daJdYwM.

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Biography and Background > Introductions

Welcome to my Plowshares blog! My name is Susan Wageman. I am a student in the California State University, East Bay Interdisciplinary Studies Master’s degree program, studying music, history, and anthropology. This blog is the project for my San Francisco Bay Area History class. This blog also is the first opportunity I have had to do some focused research and writing about one of the many music communities that have developed in the Bay Area.

About six years ago, I began participating in several different music communities in the region.[1] The variations in cultural norms and unique characteristics (and characters) of the different groups fascinate me. I enjoy concerts by exceptional local, national, and international music acts, dance to live music, and jam with other musicians. In nearly every music community I have known, people are welcoming, enthusiastic, encouraging, and passionate about their music. Although many of the communities, such as the Bay Area Country Dance Society, San Francisco Folk Music Club, and Freight & Salvage Coffee House, have an organizational core, the experience of participation depends to a great degree, if not entirely, on dedicated volunteers. My impression is that this type of organization builds a deep sense of community among the most active participants. Someday, I would like to conduct a much broader study of Bay Area music communities. For now, it is critical to focus my project so that I can complete my research and writing within the brief timeline of less than two months.[2]

I will focus my research on the Plowshares Coffee house, which was located at Fort Mason in San Francisco. Horace Browder, Charles Fenton, and Faith Petric, the founding directors, organized the San Francisco Folk Music Center, Inc. in 1977 to encourage and present folk music.[3] The “Gala Benefit Opening” of the Plowshares Coffee House on November 6, 1977, featured The Any Old Time String Band, Kenny Hall, Tony Marcus, Faith Petric, and Kate Wolf & Don Coffin. Mike Elliott, Lost Ridge, and Ray Bierl played the next three concerts. [4]

The title graphic for this blog comes from the first concert announcement in the San Francisco Folk Music Club newsletter, the folknik. The accompanying article describes the relationship between the Center and the Club, “The SFFMCenter is a legal entity (a California non-profit corporation no less) quite separate from the SFFMClub (which is no legal entity at all). But the SFFMClub sponsors the SFFMCenter (confusing? sorry) so it’s still us, kids. Same old folks just taking on more work is all.” [5] Although the Plowshares concert series at Fort Mason closed down by October 1998, its influence continues.[6] Two of the three founders and many of the musicians who played there are still actively involved in music communities – volunteering, performing, teaching, and inspiring others. Many community members have told me that Plowshares was their first connection with the Folk Club and that it was once an important part of their lives.

Over the next few weeks, I will share more of the Plowshares story. I have newsletters to read and people to interview. The last manager of the San Francisco Folk Music Center has invited me to go through the old files. With any luck, I will find some photographs. Tapes recorded from the soundboard exist, but that is probably a future project. For now, I will leave you with a video from Faith Petric’s performance at the 2012 San Francisco Free Folk Festival.[7]


[1] My personal definition of a “music community” is a social group of people who have a common interest and approach to participating with a type of music.

[2] Kyvig, David E., and Myron A. Marty. Nearby History: Exploring the Past around You. Nashville, TN: American Association for State and Local History, 1982.

[3] San Francisco Folk Music Center, Inc. “Founding Documents,” Sacramento, 1978. State of California, Department of Justice, Registry of Charitable Trusts, accessed April 14, 2013, http://rct.doj.ca.gov/MyLicenseVerification/Download.aspx?document_name=00079F78&saveas=00079F78.pdf.

[4] “The San Francisco Folk Music Center Presents … Traditional and Contemporary Acoustic Music … Plowshares … Coffee House Concert Series ….” the folknik, Nov/Dec 1977, 1.

[5] Ibid.

[6] “Community Notes: SF Folk Music Center/Bill Staines.” the folknik, Sept/Oct 1998. Accessed April 14, 2013, http://www.sffmc.org/archives/sep98/f09commu.html.

[7] wooac. “Faith Petric You Ain’t Been Doin’ Nothin’ If You Ain’t Been Called a Red SF Free Folk Festival 2012,” YouTube, accessed April 14, 2012, http://youtu.be/wIu29su9Xr8.

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