Harvard Square, Not Just a University
I took a short trip down memory lane last week, wandering through the Village in New York, visiting the Café Wha and Bob Dylan, among others. Now I want to share some memories of a place called Harvard Square, which actually is not a square at all but a large triangular area near the center of Cambridge at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue, Brattle Street, and John F. Kennedy Street. It is the historic center of Cambridge and adjacent to Harvard Yard, the heart of Harvard University.
I got a large part of my education in Harvard Square, or the Square, as it’s often called, not at the University but in places like Jonathan Swift’s and Jack’s and the better known Club 47, now Passim. The folk revival movement of the 1960’s forever changed American music, and that change manifested itself solidly in Club 47. One Tuesday night performer was listed as the anonymous “Girl with Guitar.” That performer turned out to be Joan Baez, who at 17, soon after Club 47 opened, gave her first performance.
The Harvard Square of the 60’s and 70’s saw hundreds of performers making the pilgrimage to Club 47 to be part of the Cambridge folk music world: Judy Collins, Pete Seeger, Clay Jackson and Ethan Signer of the Charles River Valley Boys, and Taj Mahal. Some were students, or drop-outs, of Harvard, Boston University, and Radcliffe, such as Tom Rush, Joan Baez, and Bonnie Raitt, respectively, and others came because they knew someone here. Joan Baez brought a good, young singer to Club 47, but it was booked, so Bob Dylan played for free between sets, never playing an official gig.
When I first strolled the streets of Harvard Square, it was a lot funkier than today’s upscale version, not unlike the Village, where Cafe Wha still stands on McDougall street but the falafel is now out of reach for a poor musician. My Square was in the early 70’s: the Vietnam War was over, and it felt like a time of peace. There was a gentler flow of energy then, and on hot summer nights, musicians played on every street corner. Maybe the Taurus in me resists change, but I liked the funky version better.
There are more musical memories and other stuff on the shores of Rambling Harbor. Stop by, grab a driftwood seat, and give a listen.