Village People: Dave Van Ronk
(This post is part of a series called Village People: A Who’s Who of Greenwich Village, which will explore some of this intern’s favorite Village people and stories.)
Dave Van Ronk came to the Village in the 1950s, after twice shipping out with the Merchant Marine. He lived at 15 Sheridan Square, a section of which is now named ‘Dave Van Ronk Street’ in his honor. He was nicknamed the ‘Mayor of MacDougal Street’ for his leadership in the folk music community in the late 1950s and 1960s: he was an inspiration to Joan Baez, who was still getting her start singing in Boston and Cambridge at the time. He was later a mentor to Joni Mitchell, and to Bob Dylan, who spent a good deal of time crashing on his couch.
As his nickname suggests, he was a fixture in the cafes and bars of MacDougal Street, where folk music was played. He and his friend Paul Clayton often played at the Gaslight Café at 116 MacDougal Street, and hung out downstairs at the Kettle of Fish at No. 114 between sets. He could also be found at Izzy Young’s Folklore Center at 110 MacDougal Street, Café Wha? at 115 MacDougal Street, and anywhere else folk music was being played. Although he spent a short time in California in the 1960s, he was known for refusing to leave the Village for any extended length of time.
In the 1960s, Van Ronk he was involved in anti-war protests and radical left-wing politics, joining the Libertarian League, the Trotskyist American Committee, and the Industrial Workers of the World. He was also among the thirteen people arrested at the Stonewall Inn on 28 June, 1969. Although he was heterosexual, he had joined the crowd from the Lion’s Head two doors away, eager to take the opportunity to stand up against police violence. He was grabbed from the crowd (it took three policemen to drag him away), and pulled into the bar along with the police who barricaded themselves in.
He died in 2002, while undergoing treatment for colon cancer.