Last night at historic Town Hall in New York City, the site of past concerts by Bob Dylan among many others (and certainly a long time gathering for a few House of Stathopoulo jazz events), T Bone Burnett hosted a four hour long performance honoring both the Cohn Brothers new film, Inside Llewyn Davis, and ongoing efforts to raise funds for the Recording Academy's preservation group.
Most of the songs were classics first heard at Town Hall 50 years ago--folk songs, spirituals, blues, and ballads--that were the gateway for musicians looking for something more meaningful than Pat Boone in the late 50s when rock and roll appeared to have fizzled out. Epiphone became one of the most popular acoustic guitars for the folk boom in New York City and last night Epiphone was represented by Gillian Welch and long time Epiphone Olympic fan Dave Rawlings who also backed up Bright Eyes, Joan Baez, and even actress Carey Mulligan. John Goodman (when he could be found) presided as MC. The Punch Brothers, featuring Chris Thiele, were the main back up band. Jack White brought his own quartet with Epiphone's Fats Kaplin on banjo and guitar and covered Tom Paxton's classic ode to Mississippi John Hurt as well as "Mama's Angel Child," a rare side by Paramount artist Sweet Papa Stovepipe before signing off with The White Stripes' "We're Going to Be Friends." Rhiannon Giddens, respondent in a red lace dress, covered spirituals first performed by Odetta at Town Hall and stole the evening. But the ghost in the room all night was Bob Dylan who was either not asked or is somewhere out on the road. But Dylan's presence was there nevertheless, not only in producer T-Bone Burnett's scoring choices of folk songs like "Rock, Salt, and Nails" and "500 Miles" (unreleased cuts from Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes), but also because it was in Town Hall on Halloween in 1964 that Dylan first premiered "Mr. Tambourine Man," his spellbinding original blend of folk, country, blues, and beat poetry that effectively killed folk music with a knife to the heart on the same stage. Elvis Costello, filling in for Justin Timberlake, perhaps summed up the ghost of Dylan best when he claimed to have found a new verse to the folk classic "Who's Side Are You On" in his "desk drawer." Folk music might still be alive, but singer songwriters are still close by ready to move in for the kill.