The Big City Folk Collective – A Short Anthropology of the Music Scene in NYC: Part 2

I first ran into the Big City Folk collective at a bar, ironically called “Buskers,” in the Village – just south of NYU Law.  (The business no longer hosts the open-mic there).  The man in charge is Niall Connolly – a singer-songwriter with considerable pop skills that he nevertheless masterfully subdues in service of folk song craft.  The name of the collective is a bit of a misnomer, I would say, as the open-mic run by Niall (now at The Path Cafe) brings in a wide variety of artists – poets, rappers, and the occasional electronic-based musician with their beeps and borps.  That said, while Sidewalk and Antifolk tend more on the side of spectacle (a unique art in and of itself), the mood at Big City Folk is more straightforward.  The Path Cafe is, by my estimate, the second biggest true open-mic in New York City (the largest being the Sidewalk Open Stage, mentioned in the previous post), and given its quality of singer-songwriters, makes it another of the three grand music scenes of New York City.

What is it that makes these particular music scenes so grand, you might ask?  I think a good indicator of a nice music scene is whether there are singer songwriters there who actually can talk song craft.  It’s pretty difficult to find singer-songwriters who can talk critically and with facility on the topic.  Many of the singer-songwriters that come through the underground scene in NYC are musicians still working on their first 10 or so songs.  Many are there to just perform covers, or write music as a way to showcase their voice.  Some are there just to participate in the experience of having played an open-mic.  There’s nothing wrong with any particular motivation to go – but if you don’t have a critical mass of singer songwriters who study song craft, then you don’t really have a music scene.  What makes this indicator a good-making property is that these discussions about song craft are the very thing that help songwriters to improve.  So, if you find someone who can capably talk about songcraft, hold on to them for dear life.  If you find a group of them, then you’ve found a home.

Anyway, I ran into Niall a week ago at a new weekly songwriter’s event at Union Hall.  I’ll be performing at it in a few weeks, which is how I remembered to continue this account of the NYC music scene.  (Part 1 is Here).  The event is a bit different from the open-mic format at Path Cafe – more of a songwriter group (open to all to listen) that you need some vetting to participate in.  The sound system used at the Union Hall weekly event is, from my experience, the best sound system I’ve seen used in a songwriter gathering setting.  So it’s worth going for that, as either a participant or audience member.  Even more valuable as a place to talk to songwriters about songwriting.

In addition to the Path Cafe Open Mic, there are a number of other events that Big City Folk does music programming for.  This makes the the collective a good group to become a part of, from a practical perspective, for any budding young songwriter.  Anyway – the Big City Folk collective – one of the three grand music scenes of New York City.

Some choice listens from the Big City Folk crowd: Niall Connolly, E.W. Harris, Ryan Morgan, Warren Malone, Caitlin Marie Bell, Trey Powell, Don Paris Schloctman, Caitlin Mahoney, Jasper Lewis, Sterling RhyneCraig Kierce, James Margolis, Anthony Mulcahey.  (Obviously, not exhaustive, subject to edit on a rolling basis).