Bob Stane has turned the lights off. The microphones are silent and the lights have been turned off. Those of us who have had private conversations with him this past year knew it was coming. He told us. So now it’s done. The Ice House has… oops, I mean The Coffee Gallery Backstage, well, it’s closed its doors and every folkie and near folkie who ever took the stage at one of Bob’s venues feels it somewhere deep. Me? I can’t separate Pasadena from Altadena…I can’t stop looking back to my nights seeing Tom and Dick Smothers, Steve Martin, the trios, duos, and countless guitar and banjo wielding wannabe’s who took their turns on Bob’s stage on Lake Street in Pasadena to entertain folks who sat and tapped their feet to the rhythms of Michael Row Your Boat, laughed at bad jokes and became part of a family. I keep thinking where I might be now if not for folks like Bob Stane – add Doug Weston and Ed Pearl to make that holy trinity – impresarios who carved a personality out of a generation of seekers and wanderers here in Southern California. I was one of them when I arrived in Los Angeles in 1961. I had left Greenwich Village and its rapidly congealing commercial folk scene. The frontier was here in California, and Bob, Doug, and Ed were wrangling the gang that would someday become part of a nation’s vocabulary. Steve Martin? Roger Miller? I used to introduce them at Monday Night ‘hoots’ at the Troubadour. Then I’d jump into my Dodge with the leaky convertible top and race down the Pasadena Freeway to The Ice House on Lake Street in Pasadena to see Tommy and Dickie Smothers and Rod McKuen.
“Hi Bob! Who do you have that I haven’t seen yet? I was never disappointed. Bud and Travis, The Travelers Three, The Fairmont Singers, Phil Campos (he sang a song about a “Street Fight” that made you cringe with terror). Jerry and Myrna Music, countless others, some destined for fame, others for obscurity. And yes, me and my partner – us, Art and Paul…I think that perhaps one of the first times anyone ever heard “Puff The Magic Dragon” in California might have been us singing it at the Ice House with Bob Stane running the sound and the lights.
Then, years later when we all were convinced that era was over and yesterday was yesterday after all, Bob Stane fired up The Coffee Gallery Backstage in Altadena. That took nerve. “Chutzpah”, my mother would call it. Years after the folk and acoustic era seemed to have disappeared, the machine came to life and a hidden space behind a coffee shop next door to a barber shop at the end of a suburban street awakened: “It’s back!” he told us. “I’m back”, he declared, and like zombies in some B movie we came, peeked in, and stayed for the show. Old timers from way back, the curious, the wannabes hoping for a slice of the action. And suddenly it was happening again. “The son of a gun has played tricks with time!” I came to the show, an aging folk singer, and each time I left I can remember thinking “I can make it to The Troubadour in half an hour if I hurry.”
Bob Stane turned me and countless members of my generation into time travelers.
So now the clock has stopped like all clocks eventually do, and a fellow old folkie is gathering his thoughts and settling in for some much-needed rest. He had to. We all knew it would happen sooner or later, didn’t we? So now what? Oh, I know, a person has his limits and time catches up with us all. Yada yada… but it’s tough when something as deep rooted as that ends. Oh, there are places I guess…a few here and there but they’re not the same. They won’t have Bob sitting in the hallway winking the old timers through the door into a venue that takes them back to a time when their world was young. And youngsters with their dreams on their sleeves won’t walk past an old guy leaning back in his chair smiling silently as he welcomes them to a world that stretches back through time and gives them a precious glimpse of the magic that lies ahead.