C is for Coffeehouse Fridays. Third of 26 posts in the April 2023 Blogging From #AtoZChallenge. Theme: Endwell: My High School Years— adding my story to the family history mix. Please join me on the journey.
During the 1960s, small, intimate, liquor-free coffeehouses were a thing. There were many famous ones, especially in big cities, where folk singers got their start or published poets declaimed their verses.
By the time I was in high school (1965-68), coffeehouses had proliferated across the country as a safe space where teens could gather for culture or just to hang out.
In my area, the Central United Methodist Church in Endicott, N.Y., (shown below) began hosting a coffeehouse on Friday nights – probably as part of their youth outreach program. During high school, I went there regularly with some of my more politically engaged friends.
Mixing, mingling, talking politics
A Library of Congress blog post on Coffeehouses: Folk Music, Culture, and Counterculture describes what typically went on in these coffeehouses — and ours, on a smaller scale, was no different:
Coffeehouses tended to be small, intimate spaces—so single performers playing quieter instruments – guitars, for example – and smaller ensembles were a plus…coffeehouses were also thought to be liberal-leaning, slightly ‘bohemian’ places.
The connection between folk music and progressive ‘message music,’ which was already present in urban folk revival circles during the 1930s and 40s, found a welcome home in the coffeehouses of the 1950s. By the late 1950s and 60s, many of the folk music coffeehouses springing up across America were on or near college campuses.
By senior year, many of my friends had their drivers’ licenses — and gave rides to those who didn’t. So on Fridays evenings we’d head over to the church, go through the street-level door, down the stairs, and into a room with tables and chairs, decorative lighting, background music, coffee and snacks — and a cloud of cigarette smoke, the one vice allowed.
There I deepened relationships with like-minded classmates and made new friends, too — including younger students from the classes after mine and some Jewish teens who knew one another from synagogue, but who I hadn’t crossed paths with at school.
It was in the coffeehouse mix and mingle that the idea for the The Star Spangled Avocado, an underground literary and art publication, was born.
Finding my voice
Much of the time, we just hung out and chatted about our week – but there were political discussions, too, about world events and our opinions of them. One heated exchange stays with me.
Among the coffeehouse regulars was a nice-looking guy from my school — longish dark hair, sunglasses, leather jacket, broody energy, drove a sporty car, someone I might normally have found attractive.
But one night we got talking politics, and it turned out he supported Barry Goldwater — a conservative Republican who rejected the New Deal’s social programs, voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act and supported using tactical nuclear weapons in Vietnam!!
What?? I campaigned for anti-war candidate Eugene McCarthy in the 1968 presidential primary (more in Letter E) in hopes of ending the Vietnam war — so I argued forcefully against Handsome Guy’s opinions. He remained unconvinced, but I was proud that I stood my ground.
And that’s how the coffeehouse was — social, yes, but also a place to find one’s voice and, in some cases, to form friendships that have lasted into adulthood.
“I’ll never forget our coffee house discussions,” wrote my friend Gary in my senior yearbook. How right he was!
Up next, D is for Dave Clark Five concert in Endicott, N.Y. Please stop back.
© 2023 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.