Almost as soon as the inaugural issue of The Broadside hit the streets on March 23, 1962, it reached required-reading status among folk-music performers, venue owners and fans in Boston and Cambridge – and eventually all across New England – and that remained the case until its final issue in February 1969.
Expanding from the four mimeographed pages of its first issue to as many as 16 pages on newsprint at its peak, The Broadside was a treasure trove of information about folk artists, performances, albums and venues, covering coffee houses, concert halls, festivals and radio and television appearances, and it stood alone as the go-to source in the region as the folk revival rose to its peak in the mid-60 before waning as the 70s approached.
The free bi-weekly was the brainchild of former MIT student turned Air-Force reservist David Wilson, who’d watched the folk scene explode in Boston and Cambridge in the mid-50s, at first driven by the hootenannies held at the YMCA and local hotels, then by the growing number of live-music venues on the ubiquitous campuses of the area’s colleges and universities. With the number of New England folk performers, venues and fans expanding dramatically in the early 60s, Wilson saw the need for a publication, both reliable and creative, that would appeal equally to artists, venue owners and fans.
Launched almost simultaneously – but entirely coincidentally – with other folk-centric publications called Broadside in New York and Los Angeles, The Broadside included performance schedules for well-known coffee houses in Boston and Cambridge such as Club 47, the Unicorn, and Yana, but also for venues outside those cities like the Carousel in Hyannis, the Loft in West Yarmouth, the Mooncusser Speakeasy on Martha’s Vineyard and the Silver Vanity in Worcester. It featured news on artists’ upcoming radio and television appearances, announcements and reviews of their latest albums, features on and profiles of artists and venues and regular columns by Wilson (“Ramblin’ Round”), Casey Anderson (“Folk Scenes New York”), Ed Freeman (“Notes from a Variant Stanza Collector”), Peter Stampfel (“Holy Modal Blither”), Robert J. Lurtsema (“On the Scene”) and Jan Chartier (“Coffeehouse Theatre”).
One of the most popular sections in the early days of The Broadside was “Spotlighting,” which featured in-depth interviews with internationally known folk artists like Woodie Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez as well as a host of others with New England roots and varying degrees of national recognition such as Tom Rush, Eric Von Schmidt, Sylvia Mars, Greg Hildebrand, the Charles River Valley Boys, Guitar Nubbit, David Greenberg, and the Boston Bluegrass Group.
The Broadside also ran full-length features on folk-music events in the region including the Newport Folk Festival, the New England Folk Festival, Folklore Weekend at Sturbridge Village, Pinewood Camp Folk Music Week, the Brandeis Folk Festival and the Folk Music and Guitar Festival, in addition to stories on the Folk Song Society of Greater Boston, AM station WEEI, FM stations WBZ and WTBS and television station WCVB.
The Broadside’s official circulation reached its peak at around 5,000 copies, but its actual reach was far broader due to circulation among friends and folk-music aficionados. The final issue was dated February 12-23, 1969, after which it merged with Free Press Boston and became Broadside & the Free Press. Distributed as an insert in newspapers across New England, that publication focused on social and political issues, not music, and its final issue was in September 1970.
(by D.S. Monahan – May 2022)