Early this summer a slew of local musicians and press met up at the location of the iconic La Figaro Café—Bleecker and MacDougal, which is now the reopened reimagined Figaro Café (more on that later).
The high-spirited gathering, fueled by mocktails— they didn’t have their liquor license yet— and inspired by a trio of stellar musicians was a heads-up sneak peek of what will be coming in a little more than a month—the Village Trip Festival. It’s not too early to announce this cultural fete that will run from September 10 to September 24.
Brit Liz Thomson is obsessed with Greenwich Village and years back began to think about paying homage to the musical legacy and creative roots of the neighborhood. This is how the Village Trip began.
In 2018, a 3-day festival honored the Village’s history of music, art, culture, and activist spirit included a walking tour, discussion, poetry and music.
With a hiatus during COVID’s peak, the Village Trip is back, now in its fourth year and expanding its footprint from GV to the West Village and the East Village in a 10-day festival. Thompson and Cliff Pearson are Joint Artistic Directors.
Festival programming features jazz, rock and classical music performances, local neighborhood and history walks, topical talks and panel discussions as well as an exhibition of neighborhood artists, and the return of David Amram as Village Trip Artist Emeritus.
The signature event on Sept. 24 will be a free concert in Washington Square Park featuring The Klezmatics and gospel singer Joshua Nelson, along with Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping.
Lorin Sklamberg, founding member of The Klezamatics, performed at the sneak peek and is excited how the kinetic energy of the East Village and a huge part of the band’s genesis is now a part of the Village Trip Festival.
A panel discussion honoring Eleanor Roosevelt—long-time Washington Square Park resident, an on-site tour of the James Beard Townhouse on West 12th Street, and a panel discussion exploring freedom of speech in contested times, are all part of the varied programming in this historical/contemporary fete.
There will also be a unique celebration of Leonard Bernstein’s musical Wonderful Town with Jamie Bernstein, the Maestro’s daughter, and Janis Siegel, Grammy-garlanded vocalist and member of The Manhattan Transfer.
Other highlights are Jack Kerouac at 100 (a series of Village Trip events), Global Greenwich Village (Inaugural Village Trip Lecture), and I’ll Take Manhattan, a celebration of NYC in song with Janis Siegel.
On Sept. 16 at Joe’s Pub, a jazz salute to Jack Kerouac —Children of the American Bop Night will be performed by David Amram and Latin jazz virtuoso Bobby Sanabria.
An outdoor free concert will kick off the Festival as in years past with a line-up of musical hooligans led by David Amram and friends on W. Eight Street at MacDougal, Saturday, Sept. 10.
As for La Cafe Figaro, it’s in its third incarnation. It opened in 1957 and became a locale that drew 50s and 60s Beat Generation pioneers such as Jack Kerouac, Lenny Bruce and also Dave Van Rock, and Bob Dylan. It closed in 1969, a victim of rising rents
Summer of 1976 the Figaro reopened with a new owner Ben Fishbein who got a local guy to recreate the original decor. He hired actors, artists, & musicians, giving then free reign to manage themselves. The barrister was a session drummer, the cook sang opera. Staff produced their own art shows that hung on the walls. They performed poetry readings and concerts in the back garden room. It closed in 2008.
“I’m still close friends with many of the people I worked with although we have all gone separate ways and had independent lives,” says Villager (now a Covid emigrant to L.I.) Sara Jones who worked there during that time. “The bond that was created in that very dynamic time in NYC was akin to an art school education.” They even have a FB page to share memories.
Restaurateur, Croatian Mario Skaric and his wife Marta, and investors are adding another transformed life to the Figaro. “It’s never going to be the same,” says Marta, who read and loved Keroac’s On the Road. We hope to bring our vision of La Figaro back,” she says.
Adding authentic touches to a joint that is way more upscale than earlier versions, original pages from the French paper Le Figaro serve as wallpaper.
Between Covid and supply chain issues, it took until this past May for the restaurant to open—an extended soft opening while waiting for its liquor license, which it received Aug. 1.
Figaro Café is a partner for 2022 the Village Trip Festival. Other presenting venues and partners include East Village Community Coalition, Drom, HB Studio, Joe’s Pub, Pangea Restaurant and Cabaret, St. John’s in the Village, La Sala de Pepe & Foto Espacio Galería, and the NYPL branches at Jefferson Market and Tompkins Square Park.
Stay tuned. More info: www.thevillagetrip.com