A history of the Princeton Folk Music Society

In the fall of 1965, Yvonne Aronson and Jim Floyd Jr. met with a lawyer to legalize the inception of the Princeton Folk Music Society. Its roots, however, began in the spring of ’64, and have woven themselves into the fabric of Princeton’s music community.

According to Justin Kodner, PFMS veteran and member-at-large, the society began when Aronson, a local potter, guitarist and music teacher, organized a “folk sing” at the Princeton Y with Floyd, then a junior at Princeton High School, and some of her other students. It was a place to enjoy music.

After awhile, the group began to include house concerts as part of the event, which often drew 15 to 20 people. The group decided to promote one of its first concerts at Richardson Auditorium on the Princeton University campus and was able to book folksinger Dave Van Ronk. At this time, it was still just a group of young music lovers looking to provide a good venue with great folk tunes.

“A short time before the concert, Van Ronk notified the Princeton people that he had injured his arm and hand and would not be able to play guitar,” Kodner said. “A Princeton professor called his friend Danny Kalb for help. Kalb showed up to accompany Van Ronk, and the concert was a huge success.”

The concert happened on Jan. 9, 1965, when Kalb was only 22 years old. Around that time, Kalb also formed The Blues Project, a band that came to be known as one of the early sounds of psychedelic rock and, along with the Grateful Dead, one of the first “jam bands.” Kalb went on to be a session guitarist and played with musicians such as Bob Dylan, Judy Collins, Phil Ochs and Pete Seeger.

Nearly half a year later, Floyd – who at this point had begun his collegiate education at Princeton – received a call from Aronson asking him to meet with a lawyer on behalf of the group. It was then the Princeton Folk Music Society became official.

PFMS hosted its first show as a legally incorporated club in January 1966 with a performance by Doc Watson, who has won seven Grammy Awards for Best Ethnic or Traditional Recording, Best Country Instrumental Performance and Best Traditional Folk Recording.

In February 1967, The Muddy Waters Blues Band came to Princeton for a society-organized show. Waters is known as one of the most influential American musicians – having his foot in blues, rock and roll, country and folk. The Rolling Stones even named their band after one of his songs. Deemed the “father of modern Chicago blues,” Waters won six Grammy Awards throughout his lifetime and had four songs inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

According to Kodner, the oldest season of monthly concerts on record is between October 1971 and March 1972. This season included Jean Ritchie, The Reverend Gary Davis, The New Lost City Ramblers, Malvina Reynolds, Rosalie Sorrels, Louis Killen, Strange Creek Singers and Elizabeth Cotton.

In September of this year, the society will continue with its 2016-2017 season from September to May. Musicians to perform include Tom Lewis, Andy Cohen, Joe Jencks, The Jamcrackers, Christine Lavin and Don White, Steve Gillette and Cindy Mangsen, Kevin Burke, Bryan Bowers and John Roberts and Deb Cowan.

Concerts are held the third Friday of each month at the Christ Congregation Church at 50 Walnut Lane. Admission, at the door, is $20, $15 for members and $5 for children. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. for an 8:15 p.m. show. For more information about the society, call (609) 799-0944, email info@princetonfolk.org or visit www.princetonfolk.org.

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About Erica Chayes Wida

Erica Chayes Wida is a writer, mom, and complete zealot when it comes to poetry, paella and globe collections. After graduating with a degree in Anthropology from UCLA, Erica moved to Italy where the seasons and old architecture inspired her journey back to the East Coast. Since then, she and her husband have created a nest egg locally and, over time, developed a rather grand love affair with the town of Princeton. Erica is senior editor at The Princeton Sun and enjoys fulfilling her Princeton affections on a daily basis. | View all posts by Erica Chayes Wida