Joni Mitchell, in a Bleecker Street Cafe
We here at Off the Grid are obviously big fans of the Village folk scene of the 1960s, and today we’re thrilled to spotlight one of its biggest stars. Singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell was born on November 7, 1943 in Fort Macleod, Canada. As with so many aspiring musicians of her day, she came to New York to hone her craft, and performed in various venues on and around MacDougal Street in the spring of 1967.
Let’s try and retrace Joni’s steps to some of her old Village haunts.
According to one source, her first performance in the city took place at the Café Au Go Go, which was located in the basement of 152 Bleecker Street. Sadly, this building no longer stands (it, along with several other buildings, was replaced by an apartment building). The Café Au Go Go would have been located just across the street from the Bitter End where fellow folk singers Peter, Paul, and Mary got their start in 1961.
This is located within the South Village Historic District GVSHP proposed and fought to get designated — you can learn more about that here.
In Sheila Weller’s book, “Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon—And the Journey of a Generation,” Joni frequented the Tin Angel Café on Bleecker Street with Blues singer Roy Blumenfeld. It’s believed that their bittersweet relationship led to the song “Tin Angel,” which happens to be one of my favorites of Joni’s.
Here are some of the lyrics that likely reference this old Village haunt (does anyone know where on Bleecker Street it was located?):
There’s a sorrow in his eyes
Like the angel made of tin
What will happen if I try
To place another heart in him
In a Bleeker Street cafe
I found someone to love today
Joni was also known to have stayed at the Albert Hotel at 23 East 10th Street (corner of University Place), which was just listed on the State and National Register of Historic Places earlier this year. The Albert was built in 1875-76, and it’s remembered for attracting countless artists, musicians, and political radicals for most of its history.
In more recent memory, Joni made a guest appearance at the Bottom Line on November 7, 1995 during an Eric Anderson performance. Located at 15 West 4th street, this music venue was forced to close down in 2004 after its landlord, NYU, raised the rent. In a particularly sad ending for this great Village venue, the building now houses NYU classrooms.